Ok, so here’s the thing. I was tagged by Unfocused Me in a viral short story project. Someone started one, and we’re trying to see how many ways it could branch out, and what hops tend to die out. I’m not sure who’s tracking this, but there it is. So, first, here’s the rest of the story, before it got to me:
The ground crunched beneath my feet. Besides my noisy footsteps, I heard only the sound of the gentle crackling fire behind me. Its faint orange light lazily revealed my immediate surroundings. Beyond the glow, there was total blackness. I whistled. I took the small rock I had been carrying and whipped it away from me, expecting a thud, crack or plop — but a soft yelp of a cry answered. (Splotchy)
“Crap! I forgot all about Monster,” I realized. “I must be drunker than I thought,” I spoke aloud to no one in particular, though an owl answered my drunken slur. Ever since my neighbors have been giving me grief for the way Monster chases their cats and poops in their lawn, I haven’t felt comfortable staying in my house. I’m pretty sure my landlady is thinking about evicting me, so I’ve decided to lay low for a while.
To the surprise of no one…
The night turned darker. A storm blew in. It was, in fact, a dark and stormy night. Too drunk to worry about Monster’s rock-inflicted head wound, I stumbled back to the campfire, where I found the ghosts of John Fante and Charles Bukowski roasting hot dogs, drinking whiskey and singing sad songs about women. The ghost of Fante whispered in my ear, tales of love and loss, and I found myself walking slowly down the trail to the river, where I suddenly found myself…
Falling down an embankment. Instead of rolling into the river, I landed on what felt like a raft. I crawled around it, the storm pelting down on me, adhering my thin clothes to my body like a second, very wet, skin, and discovered that it was indeed a raft. I could feel the huge humps of the logs (smooth and barkless, unlike Monster, the cur!) that had been lashed together with a waxy hemp. A pretty decent job, from the looks of it. Not that I could see anything; the storm had rendered the night blacker than the farthest corner of a monster-filled closet. If I could find where it was tethered to the shore, I could cut it loose, leave this place and all these drunken hallucinations for good. Hell, I could even…
… wreak my terrible vengeance on the people who had forced me into hiding in this crummy town, so small it didn’t merit a point on the map, so pointless that it didn’t even have a name. The farmers who fought the surrounding land for a living just called it Town; the townies didn’t call it anything except “this shithole” or, if they were ambitious or lucky enough to leave, “that shithole.”
I had come to this shithole after running out on an arrest warrant back home in River. I brought Monster, even though being so … distinctive, he made it harder to hide; I couldn’t just leave him behind. The crooked judge who signed the warrant, the weaselly sheriff who swore out the complaint against me, and most particularly old man Berringer; I’ll get them all.
My plan unfolded before me, surprisingly simple. With this raft, I would simply float down the filthy, slow-moving river to Springfield. The backyards of both the judge and Berringer each extended down to the river; taking care of them would be easy. The sheriff would be harder; even if he weren’t on duty, his home was on the other end of town.
No matter. I’ll figure it out when the time comes. They’ll pay for framing me for…
and now, mine, and I apologize for the fact that I am, aparrently, unable to limit myself to any sort of implied word count (i’m working on it!).
… no. Thinking about that wasn’t going to help me find the raft. Thinking about that was only going to blur up my eyes, which were already fighting that rainwater. And if I got any more upset, Monster would … well, Monster would react, and that wasn’t going to help things either.
Rebecca. Why could I not stop thinking about this, now that the thought was introduced.? That had always been my problem. Let some seed of a grudge in … it was over. This explained why I was no longer welcome in the state of Indiana, and why I’d been kicked out of three high schools and one community college. But Rebecca, she wasn’t a grudge, was she? She was …
… Her smile and her open hand, the first person I’d ever met who had not looked at Monster with animal fear, but come up to him, cooing, offering the friendship the animal yearned for. Me, spending an hour a day in that open park by the Carnegie Library, where Rebecca spent her days stacking and filing and putting away books. The librarians were her caretakers, though Berringer’s third wife, her mother, was supposed to be doing the job.
Berringer didn’t care. He had his twelve children, each of them planted in places of wealth and power in the town. One daughter married to the sherrfif, a son married to the judge. Others were doctors, lawyers, the superintendent of schools, head of the Chamber of commerce. Rebecca was the thirteenth. And she wasn’t wanted anyway. The fact that she was not like the others … that just made it easier for him to use her as a tool when he wanted. She was great for a photo-op, a heartwarming local interest story, when he needed the press.
Thirty years old in body, she had the mind and spirit of a seven-year-old girl. And me, just a little younger than she was, in town dealing with my Mom’s old house, getting it ready for sale so we could pay for her life in the nursing home. I knew no one in this town, but Rebecca welcomed me, met me for lunch in the park, played Frisbee with my old beast-dog, and brought me books she thought were interesting. She could read the picture books well-enough, better than a lot of people, actually , and read to Monster and me as we ate sandwiches on the grass. Maybe it was a little bit weird, this friendship, but there wasn’t anything wrong with it, either.
So, why had her body been left in my mom’s house? Why had they said I’d killed her? I knew what they’d done, that deputy, that woman who I’m sure even now has a bullet through the back of her head for helping me escape, had told me exactly that. Berringer had his own daughter strangled and dumped in my house just so they could arrest me for doing it. I just didn’t know why.
As he passed me, Monster kicked up muddy river-water. He gave a little whimper, and licked my hand, and this, as it usually did, calmed me down. Maybe he knew where the raft was … he ran ahead, an excited bark joining with the sound of rushing water. And something else now, a rustling in the reeds. He stopped, and barked again, and I sheltered my eyes from the rain so I could see who was coming out of the woods. I stooped and picked up another rock. One way or another, this would end. I didn’t care about adding a real murder to my crimes, not now.
Monster whimpered and pawed the mud as she stepped out of the woods. Rebecca.
I dropped the rock, as she said ….
there. I now tag Carre, Jennie, and Jasmine