Copyright (c) 2017 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.
By R. Peterson
I dropped the gun on the ground and rushed forward, but the heat was impassible. I couldn’t get through to save my dog or the hideously deformed girl from my home-room class. The stray bullet, discharged from the rifle that I had wrestled from the sadistic bully’s arms, had severed a gas line and turned the whole basement home into a raging inferno. I collapsed on the ground coughing and sobbing at the same time. Tommy Everett stood there gaping. “Look what you done!” he blubbered.
“You were going to shoot my dog you bastard!” I was still furious. “Call the fire department!” I yelled between fits of coughing.
Tommy picked up his gun and ran toward his house. “You did this – it’s your fault!” he yelled just before he slammed and threw the bolt-lock on his back door.
The smoke stung my eyes. Blindly I staggered to my feet, ears still ringing. A figure engulfed in flames made a rocket sound as it streaked from the burning doorway. It sounded like a fourth of July firework just before it explodes. When Ug dropped on the ground and began to roll I realized what the immigrant from China had done. The sound of a distant emergency siren was coming closer.
Steam rose from the dripping wet sheets Ug Lee had wrapped herself and my dog in and mixed with the burning tar from the roof of the dwelling. I learned later Ug had been loading laundry in a washing machine filled with water when the fire started. Sparky yelped and ran in circles around her when she released him. My dog’s fur was on fire.
I wish I could say I ran to Ug first, but I didn’t. I caught Sparky and rolled him in the dirt until I stopped seeing flames. The smell of scorched hair was everywhere mixed with the pungent odor of boiled flesh. Ug lay on the ground smoldering and moaning.
I don’t remember how I got the garden hose from Tommy’s house. It must have been coiled on the ground, already connected and I just turned it on. When the fire truck arrived I was spraying cold water on my dog and the girl. Before she had been so ugly before that she took your breath away. I wondered what second-degree burns would add to her already hideous facial features. “I’m so sorry!” I said over and over as a fireman took the hose from me and two others loaded me into an ambulance beside her. Two paramedics that looked ready to vomit were treating her for burns when Ug turned to me. Her entire face was charred black except for the area around her one blue eye. “I didn’t get my newspaper,” she whispered.
I was treated at Cloverdale General Hospital for smoke inhalation, but other than that, I was okay. When my parents showed up, my mother was frantic. “What were you thinking trying to run into a burning house?” I didn’t have an answer.
My father said Sparky was at the vets and he was going to be okay. “How is Ug?” I asked.
“Is that the name of the Chinese girl who got burned in the house?” My mother gave my father a guarded look. “We talked to Mr. and Mrs. Lee outside the emergency room. The doctors say she will need extensive plastic surgery … if she survives.”
“Did you know the Lee girl well?” my father asked. “I heard the doctors tell her parents there was only a five percent chance due to infection and respiratory complications.”
“She is in my home-room class at school,” I told them. “Ug was born horribly deformed … and nobody likes her.”
“Except you?” My mother hugged and gave me her proud of my son squeeze.
“I guess so,” I said, wondering if it was true. “At least she must think I do.”
My doctor came in and said there was a law enforcement officer in the hallway and that he wanted to talk to me.
Comanche County Sheriff, John Walker, came in the room and shook both my parent’s hands. “I’m glad you survived,” he said removing a grey Stetson hat and setting it on a table next to a bucket filled with crushed ice. “I understand you were on-site when the fire started … the neighbors reported hearing … a gunshot?”
“It was me. I started the fire,” I told him, closing my eyes and choking on a sob as I remembered the waking nightmare. “Tommy Everett had my dog tied to a tree and was going to shoot him. When I tried to wrestle the gun from him it went off by accident and I think it ruptured the gas line going into the Lee’s house.”
“That’s odd,” the Sheriff said taking notes on a pad. “When my officers interviewed Butch Everett he claimed neither he nor his son Tommy were home at the time of the fire.”
“He’s lying,” I told the sheriff. “When the fire started, Tommy picked up the gun from the ground and ran inside his house. He locked the door so I couldn’t use his phone.”
“What kind of firearm was it?” the sheriff asked.
“A rifle,” I said, “a big gun like you hunt deer with.” I was trying to remember the details of something that had happened so fast. “It had some kind of tube attached to the end of the barrel … with lots of tiny holes.”
“We’ll check out your story and get back to you,” John Walker said looking thoughtful. “I’m glad you weren’t seriously hurt. We would like you come to the sheriff’s office inside the county courthouse in the morning … and make a formal statement.”
I said I would be there. My parents thanked him and he left.
The doctor said it was okay for me to go home, and my mom was helping me get dressed when Huang and Chun Lee appeared outside the door. “So sorry to disturb,” Mr. Lee bowed his head looking at me and then addressing my parents. “Ug say she want talk to your son … doctors say no visitors … but they okay one time.”
“It wasn’t Jeff’s fault … it was an accident,” my father blurted.
“No blame … want thank!” Mr. Lee insisted with a smile. His wife stood behind him … shy and silent. There was no way I could refuse.
My parents waited in the hall while I visited the intensive care section of the hospital … I was dreading having to look at her. Two nurses hovering over her gave me fake smiles that said everything was going to be okay … as they hurried from the room.
Ug lay in an ointment smeared bed with an IV attached to her arm. Every part of her body was covered with loose gauze except for her mouth and one eye. I could smell Aloe Vera, antibiotic gel, and other medicine odors. That was the first time I ever noticed the color of her blue eye. It was a shade of cerulean sapphire with tiny flecks of gold and it reminded me of the way water looks on Caribbean travel brochures. “I still haven’t got my newspaper,” she whispered. Her voice sounded like air blowing through a paper tube.
I couldn’t help thinking that with the rest of her face covered she looked okay … almost beautiful. “I’m working on it,” I said.
“How is Sparky?”
“He’s going to be fine … he lost some fur but it will grow back,” I wondered how she knew his name.
“He was biting my pant leg in the middle of the flames trying to drag me out of the house then I remembered the wet sheets,” she said. “I wrapped them around us before I ran up the stairs.”
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “Tommy Everett was going to shoot my dog and the gun fired accidentally when I tried to take it away from him.”
“I know,” she said. “I was watching from a window while I was doing the laundry. “Tommy Everett is an Èmó a bad person.”
“He’s the biggest bully at school,” I agreed.
“He’s more than that. He comes from a family of evil,” Ug insisted. “I think that is why Mìngyùn brought us together … to stop him and his father from doing more bad things.”
The nurse came in and said I would have to leave … the doctors were scheduled to do more treatments on her burned skin. Ug tried to smile when I left, but the bandages held her mouth in one position. “You will come back?” she whispered.
I nodded … not sure what I was getting myself into.
The Lees were talking to my parents in the hall. “What does Mìngyùn mean?” I asked Huang.
“Mìngyùn is destiny that guide all things,” Huang said. His eyes took on a far-away look as if he was remembering something from his past. “It was fate we accept when Ug was found in forest outside of Fēnmiǎn in Qinghai Province of China. Many villagers say divine light come from sky. She found in tree-branch like bird nest. She newborn. The Shén have reason for all things they do … it not for us to challenge Tian … only accept Ēndiǎn.”
“Ug is not your real daughter?” I blurted. I should have known with her one blue eye.
“She is gift,” Mr. Lee smiled again before they left.
My mom wanted to stop for ice cream on the way home; she thought I was depressed and was trying to cheer me up. I wasn’t feeling low … just bewildered. I couldn’t help thinking about Ug. The one blue eye that she had left was just about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Tommy Everett wasn’t in school the next day and when I went to do my paper route, minus Sparky tagging along – he was at home recovering, I found out why. Police cars and scads of FBI vehicles covered nearly all of the block. There was crime scene tape stretched around both houses. A half-dozen police officers were sifting through the ashes of the Lee’s basement home …. three times that many were removing things from the Everett residence and even digging holes in the backyard. “You can’t bring that in here,” an officer told me when I walked toward the porch with the newspaper rolled up in a plastic bag. “That would be crime scene contamination.” Sheriff John Walker saw me and walked over. “What’s going on?” I asked him.
“You haven’t been in contact with Tommy Everett or his father have you?” the Sheriff asked. “We haven’t been able to locate them.”
“Not since the fire yesterday,” I said. “Why?”
“You describing a silencer on the end of the rifle made me check out a few things. Last night, the ballistics unit in Butte matched a bullet the fire department found in the Lee’s home with others from a string of murders from here to California. We believe Tommy’s father might be a serial killer.”
“A silencer?” I gasped. “But I heard a pop like a car backfiring.
“What you and the neighbors heard was the bang when the gas pipe exploded.”
“But Tommy’s father is a Marine officer … a hero!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“The United States Marine Corps trains people to kill,” the sheriff said. “Sometimes they do it too well.”
“We got another one,” a man called from under the same tree that Tommy had tied Sparky to. I didn’t want to look but I did. Three men pulled what looked like a young girl from a hole in the backyard. I had never seen her before. Long brown hair covered in dirt and insects dragged almost to the ground as they placed her on a gurney. “It looks like she’s only been in the ground a couple of days,” a deputy reported to his boss.
“We’re going to need your statement about the fight yesterday as well as anything else you know about Tommy Everett or his father,” the sheriff told me. “Come on, I’ll let you ride in my car,” he said and then added with a smile, “in the front seat.”
It was two months later on the last day of school when Ug’s parents met me just outside the Junior High School. They had been retrieving summer school make-up work for their daughter. I was almost enjoying my classes with Tommy absent. He and his father had been arrested by federal agents in St. George, Utah two weeks earlier. There was no word on a trial. Butch Everett was still in State Hospital North undergoing a psychiatric evaluation and Tommy had been placed in foster care in another town. “Ug very sad you not come see her,” Mr. Lee said. “You best friend … we busy all time. Hospital, doctors … very expensive!”
“I’m sorry,” I told them. “I’ll try to stop by tonight.”
“You want go our car?” Mr. Lee asked hopefully. I looked at the rusty 1952 Ford Crestline sitting next to the curb, one rear passenger-door was tied shut with bailing twine, and shook my head. “I’ve got to ride my bike home,” I said.
I was surprised to see Ug walking in the hospital corridor with an attendant by her side. The loose gauze was gone from her face and the transformation was remarkable. She looked like she had undergone extensive plastic surgery, but I couldn’t see any scar lines. When I approached her, two doctors from a clustered group rushed over. “Are you a friend of Miss Lee’s?” One of them asked. Ug smiled at me and I’ve never seen anyone look more beautiful. “Yes,” I stammered and then blushed. The face that had been horribly deformed was now the classic impression of a Greek goddess.
“You can talk to her … but try not to get too close,” a doctor told me. “Ug is progressing extremely well … but we still worry about infection and other complications.”
“How did you do that … make her look so beautiful?” I stammered. Ug grinned and the cerulean sapphire eyes with tiny sparkling flecks of gold around her pupils made me catch my breath.
“The medical staff here and reconstructive surgeons as far away as London are still trying to figure that out,” the doctor said. “It was as if she healed herself … in some phenomenal way.”
“It’s about time you showed up,” Ug said with a grin. “I’ve been missing my newspaper.”
I couldn’t help noticing the stacks of magazines and the score of attendants who surrounded her. I’m sure she had access to any kind of reading material she wanted.
“I’ve been busy,” I said. “I’ve got twenty-six new subscribers to my route … most of them want to question me about Tommy Everett and his father … a few have even asked about you.”
“They’re talking about me.” Ug said. Her voice sounded like an early Beatles’ melody. “What do they say?”
I tried to remember what kinds of questions people had asked me. The words miracle and stunning kept coming up … at the time I remember thinking it was all a sick joke. “They say you are different,” I told her. “No longer deformed … but moving rapidly in the opposite direction.”
Ug laughed and I felt my heart miss a beat. “It’s almost time for my journey outside,” Ug said. “I’m tired of doctors and nurses fussing over me all the time … will you go with me?”
I was speechless … all I could do was nod my dreamy head.
The gardens around Cloverdale General Hospital were rich in exotic flora thanks to endowments from Melania Descombey and Motha Forest’s extremely wealthy benefactor, Sean O’Brian. As the weeks went by, it became a favorite place for me and Ug to walk. “Do you remember much about your childhood?” I asked one day as we were examining a bed of Moth Orchids courtesy of Cloverdale’s infamous funeral director.
“People in my Cūn talked about strange lights in the sky before I was found,” Ug said. “Many of the villagers were very superstitious and though I should be killed or left for the wolves to eat … only my adoptive parents had the compassion to take me in. Few people in China could afford to take care of an extra child … especially one with two different colored eyes who looked like a monster!” Her posture conveyed a life-long acceptance of sadness.
“If only they could see you now,” I gushed. All of Ug’s reconstructive surgery had exceeded the surgeon’s wildest expectations … I had heard rumors to the effect that the only reason the ever increasing number of doctors and specialists kept her in the hospital was so they could study her one-of-a-kind regenerative metabolism.
“You think I’m pretty?” Ug could see the answer in my eyes even though I just shook my head. All the town ever talked about was how stunning the doctors had made her. “I’m glad … it makes it easier for us.”
“Why did you choose me … to be your friend?” I asked one sunny afternoon as we threw pieces of bread to a noisy ducks swimming in a pond.
“Ever since I was little I could read people’s minds,” Ug said. “I knew you regretted not being my friend in school because of the way I looked … but you were afraid of ruining your social status. That kind of thing was important to you … I understand that kind of pressure more than you know … because I have no social status of my own.”
“It’s not something I’m proud of,” I mumbled. “If it’s any consolation … I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Ug told me. “People are people … everyone is different whether we believe it or not.”
“I guess so,” I said. Ug grasped my hand and it felt warm and different … in a good way.
“When I was about nine, I discovered that not only could I read minds but that sometimes I could plant ideas in them.” Ug gritted her teeth as if I might be revolted.
“How do you do that?” I was intrigued.
“When my adoptive father was applying for immigration status for our family to come to America there were tens of thousands of people on the list ahead of us in our part of China. It usually takes a bribe of hundreds of yuan just to get your name moved up a little farther on the list. I thought about what I wanted the immigration official to believe … and the next day my family was selected.”
“That’s amazing,” I gushed. I wasn’t really thinking about her powers, my mind was on something else. “What am I thinking right now?”
Ug closed her eyes and smiled. “Go ahead,” she said. “I’ve been wondering when you would get around to it!”
I kissed her … and from that moment on … my life changed forever.
Ug was becoming a celebrity in Western Montana. The hospital staff agreed to have a picnic for all the long term residents plus a few carefully selected news reporters. The group was going for a nature walk along the Cottonmouth River where it bordered Motha Forest. Ug invited me to come along … as her chosen guest.
Reporters were already starting to call me her boyfriend … I found I didn’t mind. I was amazed to see my photo on the front page of the Vanishing River Tribune walking hand in hand with Ug as I slipped the newspapers inside the screen doors. My circulation was up to 212 and the paper’s editor said I had the largest route in town. The nature walk was a big deal and there was an article about it on page two. I had been saving my money and checking out a 90cc Honda motorcycle that was for sale at Jeppson’s Hardware. I could hardly wait to ride it and for the thrill of giving Ug her first ride.
I couldn’t believe a year had passed since her home caught fire. With all the publicity Ug’s adoptive parents were no longer working for the Hicks’ but had found good jobs in town. Strange that my own family had fallen apart. My mother died from cancer six months after the fire and my father was drinking constantly. He moved in with a fat slob of a barfly named Tina and I detested her. It was all he could do to keep his head out of water repairing cars at a makeshift garage next to a dilapidated double-wide trailer on the highway leading to Pal Sadie’s Lake. I tried to help him when I could.
“How’s everything going at home?” Ug asked as we walked along the river bank. We’d been trying to ditch the reporters and hospital officials all day … it looked like we had finally succeeded. It didn’t do any good to lie to Ug. She really could read my mind.
“Not good … Bill and Tina fight all the time … and they only time they don’t is when they are ganging up on me,” I told her.
“So it’s Bill now and not father?” Ug asked with one eyebrow raised.
“It’s like I don’t know him anymore,” I said. “Sometimes I wonder what’s going to happen to my life.”
Ug looked puzzled for a moment … and then she smiled. “You’re Mìngyùn lies up there in the stars,” she said pointing beyond the blue sky. “You will be able to visit thousands of worlds … many infinitely more beautiful than this one.”
I couldn’t resist her smile. “Nothing on any planet could be more beautiful than you are,” I told her. We had just slipped behind a clump of Mulberry bushes and I was sure that none of the reporters or the hospital officials could see us … then I kissed her … for the last time.
“Well what do you know … little Jeffy Bland has a girlfriend!”
The voice sounded familiar … and not in a good way. I turned. Tommy Everett was holding a large butcher knife in an outstretched hand. “I talked my adoptive parents into letting me come along for this wildlife dance,” Tommy said. “I told them I wanted to see some old friends. You don’t know how long I’ve waited to look at you again.”
“I’m sorry about your father,” I said. “That doesn’t mean you have to become like him!”
“Become like him?” Tommy laughed. “It was my idea to kidnap those women and kill them … my father just went along because he is stupid. I was never charged because no judge will ever believe that a thirteen year-old can be a serial killer.”
“Put down the knife,” I pleaded. “I’m sure we can work this out!”
“I’ve already worked everything out …” Tommy’s smile was like the one on the demented marionette hanging in the window of a second-hand store in town … it sent chills running down my spine. “You put an end to what I love … and now it’s pay back time!”
Tommy lunged toward me with the knife and Ug threw herself between us. We both screamed at the same time. I could hear people running toward us but my eyes were locked on Ug’s. The deep cerulean sapphire eyes with tiny sparkling flecks of gold around the pupils were already beginning to turn gray. I was aware of the knife sticking in her chest but I couldn’t look away. I held her as if I could keep her from going. “A soul never dies … but is born on other worlds,” she whispered. “Find me … find me in the stars,” Then the lights in her eyes faded … and she was no more.
Tommy didn’t run … he sat on the ground laughing at the blood on his hands as the doctors and reporters arrived. This time, no amount of medical magic from any specialist could save my wonderful Ug Lee.
Ug never got to ride on my 90cc Honda motorcycle; She never got to go to prom or any other school dances. It wasn’t easy living without her. I mostly drifted through High School while things at home continued to deteriorate. I became a hood and had a handful of close friends … but that was it. Gary Manning, the school jock, Todd Baker and a few others became my whole word. The few dates that I had, I was after a good time and sex but that was it. It wasn’t as if I was trying to run away … it was as if I was always searching for something. I picked flowers and put them on her grave in Black Rose Cemetery and spent hours behind the oily Quonset hut that my father used as an automotive repair shop at night staring at the stars. Find me Ug had whispered just before she left.
It wasn’t until the night before a scheduled fishing trip to Pal Sadie’s Lake with my pals that I began to have any hope. A falling star flashed across the sky and I was reminded of the glistening gold specks in Ug’s eyes. It was more than coincidence it was what Ug called Mìngyùn and I knew that something was going to happen. She was still in my life. I ground a cigarette butt on the ground with my motorcycle boot next to a pile of dripping oil cans and went back in the falling-apart double-wide house in the woods … my father and my step-mother were once again fighting. Good thing we had no close neighbors.
I closed my bedroom door, kicked off my boots, fell on my bed and dreamed of Ug.
Something told me tomorrow was a beginning ….
THE END ????
Note: Jeff Bland's strange adventures continue in "Fish Story" one of fourteen shorts in the volume "Cloverdale Tales of Terror" available from Amazon .... https://www.amazon.com/CLOVERDALE-Tales-Terror-Randall-Peterson/dp/1493696637
and in the later "Keeper" stories that keep falling into my computer. Thank you for reading ... you are the reason that I go on.