What Others Say about “The Boy”
“like a delicious piece of chocolate that you want to savor forever . . . captivating plot, great characters and sophisticated writing style . . .” (Non-m, Fictionpress)
“Characters are amazing. Complex, intriguing, captivating, . . .” (Fictionpress)
“The plot is absolutely amazing and the characters stand out. . . astounding with its twists, its emotion, its power . . . I feel for the characters. . . . Hell, I’m attached to them! (the) writing is just brilliant. . . . I’ve teared up . . . The way it’s written, the development, the characters, the twists. Outstanding work . . .truly is a piece of art. Not many writers can do this to a reader – fiddle with their hearts and make them feel so riveted and addicted to read more. –Aevium (fictionpress)
“. . . . a roller coaster ride with so much raw emotion. Twists and turns abound. Mulitple cliffhangers. . . .touched my heart. Excellent job.” (A_Reader, fictionpress)
“the story is intriguing, the plot seamlessly tied together, and the character/location descriptions are amazingly clear. “ (Anonymous, Fictionpress)
“Amazing story. . . a little bit of everything. Love. Hate. The hate of love. The love of hate. Racism. Equality. Adventure. Action.. Suspense. Horror. Happiness. Beauty. Violence. Peace. Tears. Joy. Crime. Justice. Corruption. Innocence. The corruption of innocence. The beauty of love. Errors in judgment, and truth. Twists . . . Ironies and double meanings. Singular points of truth. Symbolisms. Reality. Fantasy. Dreams. Nightmares. Bad and good. Dark and light. . . . plays on my heartstrings . . .” (reader, fictionpress)
Dedicated to survivors of child abuse, those who did not survive – and those who have yet to escape.
DID: Where One is Many – And Many Can Be One
This book was written by five inner selves (souls, beings), with the help of 8 others. Therefore, we must say this has been a joint effort by the whole of us – one and all; and all who are many. I wish to thank them – and those of you – who have embraced us with love and understanding – or just love.
Persons, businesses, locations, and events depicted in
this story are fictional and are a product of the author’s imagination..
Any resemblance to persons living or dead , businesses, or events, are coincidental.
However . . .
The effects of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse are real.
I should know. I’ve been there.
It was a late summer afternoon when he found him. A Georgia thunder burst had just finished grinding its swollen belly across the pine studded countryside, spitting spiteful lightning. Matt turned his face towards the sun, relishing the warmth after the storm’s quick chill. He listened to the distant thunder in the distance, his mind pleasantly still. Glistening puddles were beginning to steam, their glossy backs mirroring a clearing sky. Like lost souls, ghostly gray streamers spiraled through the tassels of the emerald pines.
Matt dropped his gaze from the cloud streaked horizon and peered past the weed lined ditch into the beckoning shade of the forest across the road. He knew soon the sun would blaze through the rising mist, turning it into a hot moist glove, smothering the land. He sighed, brow creasing as he looked for a way through the tangled weeds and towering brambles on forest’s ragged edge. Then he saw him.
He would have missed him completely had it not been for the foot protruding from a thin palisade of weeds. Matt froze, heart clenching. His face creasing with suspicion, he squinted. Slowly he unshouldered his faded backpack and let it slide down his arm, fingers catching the frayed strap with familiar ease.
He started across the road, gravel grinding beneath his boots. Pale steam caressed his legs as he walked to the road’s stoney edge. Barely above his subconscious was a dark and enigmatic turning, warning him away, yet drawing him closer. The tall grass painted damp lines across his legs as he stepped through the weeds of the road’s shoulder. Taking a deep breath, he parted the thick growth lining the ditch and looked down.
A boy was sprawled like an unwanted rag doll, arms awkwardly protruding from a muddy t-shirt. He was a mere wisp of a child, about seven or eight, Matt guessed, letting the backpack fall. Long blond hair swayed in the trickling water, and clumps of clay clotted the face. Matt eased into a squat, studying the body. It looked dead. Too bad, Matt thought, glancing at the deserted road, he was a decent looking kid. But dead is dead. There isn’t anything we can do. Let somebody else find it.
He stood, stared, turned, then paused. You can’t just leave him, his conscience was screaming, and other parts agreed. Squatting, he slid down the wet embankment. Did he drown? Matt wondered, shoving reluctance aside, or was he dead when he got here? We’ll just check him – then go. He crouched. So young. Maybe someone had dumped it here like a bag of trash; a used up item to be discarded. Matt unconsciously bit his lip.
Come on, what the hell, it’s only a dead body, a harsh voice said. You’ve seen plenty, what’s one more?. Just check it and go. ‘Cause I’m tellin’ you, you damn sure don’t wanna be around when this thing turns up. There was hard truth to the thought. He forced his fingers against the boy’s neck. Warmth greeted him, followed by a faint flutter. For a moment Matt was paralyzed, then he whipped his hand away as though he’d touched a snake.
He’s alive! It shocked him, and foreboding trickled along his spine. He exhaled, not realizing he’d been holding his breath. You can’t stop now, he realized. Not if he’s alive. He took a deep breath and again forced his fingers against the boy’s neck. His scalp tingled as the slender pulse telegraphed a message of life. Unbidden and unwanted, the thought came: I have to help him. A mental torrent of protests swelled.
He rocked back on his heels and stared at the body, unmindful of the water filling his boots. This would be easier if he was dead, someone said. Then we could leave. He heard muttered agreement. Maybe we should leave, he told them. But what if another storm comes? He might drown. Then it would be our fault.
Matt shook his head, trying to quiet the quarreling voices. It’s a wonder he didn’t drown. I’ll just get him out. That’s all. Then I’ll leave. Someone else can find him. But he had to hurry. The boy came from somewhere – and somebody’s bound to be looking for him. The thought made Matt uneasy. He didn’t want to be around when they found the boy. It would mean questions. Questions were trouble, especially official questions. And he didn’t want any trouble. Especially the official kind
Matt surveyed the boy, then ran his hands over the slack limbs. He knew it would take x-rays to be certain there were no breaks. He gingerly rolled up the loose T-shirt and frowned. A wide bruise ran the length of the boy’s side, disappearing below the waist. Somebody hit him, a voice whispered. A hit and run. He gently palpated the abdomen.
“Maybe you’re okay,” he whispered. He hadn’t felt the rigidity of internal injuries. He let his fingers rest on the boy’s wrist, his face knotted in concentration as he checked the pulse again. The beat rang strong and steady.
Matt sighed, regretting his decision. Leaning forward, he worked his arms under the limp body. This’ll be real good if he has a broken neck, Matt thought, tensing, but then again – what choice do I have? A vision of the empty miles ahead and behind careened through his mind. For a moment it seemed the boy stirred, then he was lifting the child free. He cradled the boy, water running from his elbows.
Turning awkwardly, he laid the boy on the bank’s edge. He eased his arms from beneath the child and shook his hands, sending droplets flying, then wiped them on his pants. His worn boots slipping on the bank, he climbed up beside the boy,. The boy looked out of place in the tall wet weeds.
Matt felt another heavy sigh coming, crushed it, and knelt. He watched the boy’s chest rise and fall. Lonesome cicadas surrounded him with a shrill pulsing song . The sun was hot and the air thick. He felt himself drifting, and he looked at the sky. Far above a crow arced like a dark comma, wings tattered. After a moment he shook himself and glanced at the distant horizon. The subliminal drone of a faraway car echoed against the sky’s brittle bowl.
“Okay, kid.” Matt whispered as if afraid to break the dreaming landscape’s spell. An ominous disquiet had come over him. “You’re on your own. I gotta go.”
He stood, wincing. He had been crouched longer than he thought. He looked at the frail form, frowning. I hate to just leave him, but there’s no other choice. Just let them find him with me and what happened will be my fault. They always blame the nigger.
Matt picked up the pack, eyes sweeping the road. Out there lay the mindless emptiness he craved. Stepping forward, he glanced at the body. A fly was exploring a nostril, hopping in alarm at each exhalation. Matt suppressed an urge to shoo the fly. Best you shoo, an urgent voice declared. Matt knew it was right. He had no stomach for this kind of trouble, nor a desire to see if the horror stories about Southern jails were true. But even so – Matt studied the boy – how could he be certain the boy would be found by someone who would to take him to the authorities? Like a worm crawling from a hole, a voice whispered: What if it’s some pervert who’ll just use him, abuse him, and toss him aside? Or worse – what if that’s what already happened?
Matt felt a familiar nausea. A face emerged from the depths of his mind and he grimaced. Focusing on the boy, he forced the face back into the darkness, frown deepening as he realized a part of him had made a decision. He knew better than to argue – it would be futile, and even if he won, he would pay in long sleepless nights and bouts with his conscience. Matt sighed in disgust, tossing the pack down. It thudded next to the boy. The suspicion he was making a terrible mistake gnawed at him. But you can’t leave him like this. After all, what if he was your kid? It was a sly voice. He bit back bitterness, eyes stinging.
“Damn” Matt whispered, angry at the insidious demon that continued to plague him despite all the miles and years. Resigned, he squatted, studying the body.
“Well, I guess I should check you out before they haul me off, eh?”. There was a fatalistic edge to his cynicism. “After all, I can’t have you dying on me. They’d lynch me for sure.”
The boy gave no response. Expecting none, Matt sighed and edged closer. For a moment he simply stared. I’ve got to get that off him, Matt decided, eyeing the mud. He could be dying and I wouldn’t know it. Kicking aside an empty bottle, he opened the pack. Digging, he pulled out a ragged shirt. He unshouldered the canteen, turning. The fly had given up on the boy’s nose and was exploring an ear. Matt knelt, shooing the fly. He gingerly rolled up the boy’s shirt.
“Jesus,” Matt breathed, tracing fingers over a row of knots pebbling the smooth curve of the boy’s chest. Broken ribs, he realized, counting. Five – but long healed. There was nothing he could do about it, though they were a curious aberration. They had mended out of kilter, as though the boy hadn’t received medical treatment. Curiouser and curiouser, a dry voice said.
Grabbing the T-shirt, he began washing the face, scraping the mud with his hand. He was calm now that he had a task. He watched his hands, contemplating their message. He knew the examine he’d made was neither thorough nor definitive. But why was the boy in the ditch? How had he gotten there? The questions nagged like a river eating at its banks.
Despite rising urgency, Matt methodically worked. He wet the rag and dabbed, concentrating to keep the voices at bay. Under his ministrations eyebrows appeared with wet lashes below. Waving at the unintimidated fly, Matt smiled at the nose’s impish turn. The fly focused its attention on Matt. Matt quietly cursed and kept working, occasionally pausing to wipe sweat from his eyes with water shriveled fingers.
As he’d anticipated, the humidity had risen to an unbearable level. A blue-gray haze in the distance, up close it suffocated its victims, drowning them in sweat. Already the fresh clean feeling left by the storm had evaporated, replaced by sweltering dampness. Matt rocked back to wring the rag and wipe his face, apprehension singing. He leaned forward and trickled water through the boy’s matted hair, watching the clay dissolve. The grit leeched away, leaving behind a pale harvest blond.
Suddenly Matt froze, eyes narrowing. He turned the boy’s head and gingerly parted the hair above the temple. The boy’s scalp was bloated and bruised. There was a ‘V’-shaped laceration, bone deep. He could see skull through the gaping lips. Matt frowned, wondering if it was broken. He stared, listening to the cicadas. Then with the edge of a mud stained fingernail he picked at the side of the wound. To his disgust, but not surprise, it kept coming up. What had appeared to be a bad gash was a ragged flap of meaty skin, held by slimy knots of congealed blood and translucent mucilage streamers. Matt grimaced and laid the flap down, trying to shake the sight of capillaries and smooth white bone; the slime, gunk, and gore.
“Damn,” Matt said flatly. So young to be hurt like this! He couldn’t handle it. This boy needed a hospital room with curtains and gowns and parents hovering nearby – not a social outcast crouched in the weeds by a ditch. He fervently wished a car would come so he could flee into the woods and escape. We got here by taking that first step, you know. Everything’s led to this. It struck Matt as bitterly humorous. There was no turning back – ever. Just another step on the road, he thought, wondering. Walking away would be best, a voice said. The less involved the better.
Maybe it isn’t as bad as it looks, he thought. At least the part he’d seen wasn’t broken. Then again, maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe the boy would die anyway. As if we all don’t, someday. Matt ignored the somber voice, concentrating on the child.
He turned the face up. Grasping an arc of eyelashes he gently opened an eye. For a second he was startled by the iris’s green clarity. Then he shrugged, and peering, passed his hand over the boy’s face. He repeated the procedure for the other eye. Satisfied, he grunted. Disturbed, the gash trickled blood. Matt felt an instinctive fear at the sight. How much blood has he lost? Matt wondered, realizing he couldn’t know. Nor could he correct it.
The odds are against you, buddy, Matt thought, shaking his head. The child would live or die with what he had. Your poor parents; you poor kid, a voice whispered. Matt felt a sudden empathy for the parents. He could envision an uncomprehending young couple staring in horror at their dead son, naked on a cold chrome table, surrounded by the sterile callousness of an even colder medical establishment. He shoved the image away, vainly trying to maintain detachment.
Wadding the muddy rag into a ball, he turned to the pack. Dropping the rag, he rummaged for his first aid kit. Laying the beaten box by the boy, he edged closer, hesitant. After a glance at the empty road, he opened the box. Damn, he thought. I need gloves. But he had none, so tipping the boy’s head, he began feverishly working.
He cautiously peeled back the thick slab of swollen flesh. Tipping the canteen, he trickled water across the wound, rubbing gently at the filth. Red gel slid across the boy’s skull, carrying dirt. Matt put down the canteen and flushed the wound with peroxide. He settled back, watching the foam sizzle. After a moment he wiped the foam away. He applied a few strips of styptic to close the wound, then a layer of greasy antiseptic. Pulling out a roll of gauze, he shut the battered box, and swiveling on his heels, tucked the kit under the backpack’s flap.
He turned to find the boy’s eyes open, their crystalline gaze on Matt. Matt felt his breath stop, and he had the sensation of being transfixed in their clear depths like a diver in an emerald pool. There was a hauntingly strange, yet familiar quality in them, like a soft wind whispering things sad and forgotten. For a long moment they stared, silence betraying mutual paralysis of thought. Then with deer-like swiftness the boy rose on his elbows, gathering his legs as he poised to flee.
“Whoa!,” Matt yelped. The boy froze, eyes locked on Matt’s face. Then he began slithering away, back-pedaling with his legs while his arms crabbed to keep up.
“Wait!,” Matt barked, leaning forward and grabbing the boy’s foot. The boy jerked, then gasped, a hand shooting to his side. He stopped, eyes clenched in pain, his foot jerking with diminishing intensity. Matt noticed a glimmer in the corners of the boy’s frightened eyes.
“Please, mister, don’ hurt me.” The voice was barely discernible above the shrill cicadas. Matt was taken aback by the voice’s strange hoarseness. The rasping whisper, quiet as the rustle of dying autumn leaves, resonated in places he had long turned his back on and wished forgotten. He frowned inwardly, trying to control his surging selves. Control, control, he mentally whispered. Stay on top.
“I’m not going to hurt you – and take it easy. You’re hurt.” Matt said, clenching his teeth. He released his grip on the boy’s foot. “That’s some nasty cut you got on your head, you know.”
The boy looked at him in confusion, then a trembling hand slowly crawled to his temple, touched, then drifted down. The boy looked in incomprehension at the crimson traces. He began slithering away, his fearful eyes swiveling at Matt. The desperate wariness in the boy’s green gaze reminded Matt of a car-struck cat. Wild. Feral. And filled with fear.
Time’s a-wasting, Matt reminded himself. Someone could come at any moment – and he didn’t want to get caught. He’d made it their business. Nothing but trouble, that’s what this is, a sharp voice pointed out, and now you’re in twice as deep.
“Stop,” Matt said. He wasn’t sure if he was talking to the boy or himself. The boy froze. I should walk – right now, Matt thought, regarding the face before him. For a long moment the two stared across the swaying grass. From the woods came a blue jay’s harsh cry.
“Come. Here.” Matt forced each word, fighting his reluctance to help the boy. To his surprise, the boy’s lashes dropped in submission. Matt held his breath, then let it out nervously, hoping to relieve his rising apprehension. It didn’t work. He waited as the boy edged towards him, his body sagging with resignation.
“That’s good,” Matt said, holding out a hand. The boy stopped, flinching from Matt’s outstretched palm.
“What’s your name?” Matt asked, dropping his hand.
The boy remained silent, his gaze falling to the weeds. Matt waited, listening to his heart thud in rhythm to the cicadas’ pulsating whine. Perspiration beaded his forehead and danced on his chin. His calves were beginning to ache, and he shifted uncomfortably. Sweat quivered and fell, the drops glimmering like glass
“Fine,” Matt said, almost growling. “I don’t need to know who you are. Tell you what. Let me finish taking care of that cut, and then we go our separate ways. Okay?”
The boy stared, then nodded.
“This is gonna hurt,” Matt said. He picked up the gauze, opened it, and made a pressure pad. He looked up at the boy. “I’m going to put this on, tape it up, and we’re through.” Thank God.
“Lucky for you, you were out for most of it.” He tried not to imagine what cleaning the wound would have been like had the boy been conscious. Impossible, he realized. Matt sighed heavily, looking at the boy. Hopefully the boy would not fight too much.
“Okay, come here,” Matt said, motioning. The boy stared as if he spoke in tongues.
“It’s okay,” Matt reassured. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Much. “We just need to get this on to keep out the bugs.”
The fly had returned, landing on the boy’s head. It wandered in a spattering of gnats like a cow among crows.. Matt forced a smile, wondering: Given the conditions – the heat, humidity, bugs, and crud – how bad would the wound fester? He inwardly grimaced while tightly maintaining a false smile of reassurance.
The boy hesitated, then inched closer, the pain in his side clear. Another fly had joined the first to feast on the cut’s puckered edge. He froze as Matt’s hands came towards him. At first touch he flinched, then steeled himself.
Matt pressed the bandage on the wound, feeling the boy rock under the pressure. He quickly swirled the cloth around the boy’s head and taped it tight, hoping to slow the scarlet bloom on the gauze. That should help, he reassured his selves, pulling a hair from under the white band. At least it’ll keep the bugs out. The sweltering heat sprinkled beads of sweat across his forehead, and he glanced nervously at the road.
“Okay,” Matt said with a heavy sigh, “I’m done.” He began shoveling his supplies back into the pack. The boy turned, watching intently. A hand crept up, exploring the pristine white bandage.
“You okay?” Matt asked, glancing at the boy. The boy nodded, dropping his hand. Matt smiled wryly, knowing the lie, and picked up the canteen. He shook it, trying to guess how much water was left. Not much. Cleansing the wound had taken most of it. There was muttered anger from some of his selves, seeing it as a risk and a waste of supplies. He ignored them.
“That’s good,” Matt said, turning to the pack and pulling its wrinkled flap closed. He began threading the straps through the buckles. It’s gotta hurt, he thought, but there’s nothing we can do about it. A side of him wondered how the boy had gotten in the ditch – but in this case, ignorance may be bliss. The last thing he needed was getting caught with the child, or blamed for the boy’s condition.
“Okay,” Matt said, leaning back and regarding the boy. “I’m going. You just sit here and take it easy. Sooner or later somebody will come by, and then all you’ve got to do is raise your arm and flag them down. Okay?”
The boy blinked, eyes wary.
“Look – do this.” Matt raised an arm and waved vigorously at an imaginary car. “When they stop, tell them to take you to a hospital – a doctor – or something. Tell ‘em you’re hurt. They’ll check you at the hospital to make sure you’re okay, and then they’ll get your parents to come get you. Piece of cake. Okay?”
The boy nodded, his expression guarded.
“And do me a favor, all right,?” Matt stood, knees crackling. He looked at the boy. “You never met me, okay? You never saw me. Can you remember that?”
The boy glanced at Matt and nodded, saying nothing. Looking at the child, Matt knew the boy wouldn’t live up to the promise. The bandage would see to it. Hell, they’ll say you did this before it’s all said and done, a hard voice warned. Probably kidnapping, too! Best get – now!
“Okay,” Matt said, picking up the backpack. He thrust an arm through a strap and swung the pack across his back, his free hand catching the other strap. Tightening the straps, he picked up the canteen and hung it on his shoulder. He began to turn, then paused, glancing back. The boy looked lost in the weeds. Nearby a bottle gleamed, its curved green surface distorting the sky. Beyond glittered a crumpled can, its logo faded.
An urge to take the boy’s hand and lead him somewhere safe flashed through him; then he remembered the reasons he couldn’t. It’s too dangerous, a hard voice said. You’ve got to look out for number one – yourself. But even still . . . it’s wrong to abandon him. He’s hurt . . . so young!
Shoving aside the warring voices, Matt stepped towards the road, his feet moving with someone else’s will. For a moment he was tempted to glance back and he paused, then taking a deep breath he started walking, relieved to feel asphalt beneath his heels. He felt the boy’s eyes following him. He tried to throw off the sensation, keeping his eyes on the road, but the skin on his back tensed anyway. After a few minutes he came to the first curve; rounding it, he risked a glance back.
The boy was gone. Matt’s eyebrows arched as he stopped. Well, shit!, he thought, holding his hand over his brow and leaning forward. He squinted, his eyes searching. Nothing. Not a trace.
Never mind, a voice whispered. It’s none of our business. You shouldn’t have stopped to begin with. Now you’re involved. He’s gonna tell and they’re gonna hunt you down. He felt hair on his neck prickle, and he had the notion if he retraced his steps he would find nothing – not the first bent weed nor muddied footprint.
Or worse, he thought, you’ll just find your own. Matt tried to throw off the eerie sensation, feeling icy fingers trickle down his spine as he turned to resume his trek. Something was there. Something was watching. He could feel it! Keep on truckin’, he thought sternly. It really doesn’t matter. Nothing matters – never did, never will.
Several hours later Matt was sitting beneath a bowed oak on a hill, leaning against his pack with a bottle of cheap whiskey in his hand. From his vantage point he could watch the sun’s fading glory paint the horizon in radiant strokes of changing color. A small pile of flickering coals blinked like accusing eyes from the gray ash of his dying campfire. He tried to keep his attention on the clouds, but the incident with the boy kept creeping into his mind like a loathsome spider, one he couldn’t kill.
Where had the boy gone? Matt wondered. Where had he come from? How had he gotten hurt, and what put him in that ditch? His maps didn’t show any towns nearby – which was exactly why he’d chosen this route. He took a sip of whiskey, wincing at its bite, then set the bottle down. The questions circled like voracious vultures, eating at his peace of mind.
He halfheartedly scraped his spoon in the can of beanie-weenies he cradled, feeling the heat bake into his palm. He didn’t like beanie-weenies, but he hadn’t had time to hunt. The canned food was for emergencies only. The whiskey was for forgetting. Today had come close enough to justify both, he rationalized, scooping another bite with a frown. Had the boy wandered off? Had there been a boy? He’d found muddy footprints – but no boy. That the boy had been there – he sighed. No doubt.
“I didn’t imagine it,” he muttered angrily, chasing a bean clump. His spoon clanked against the can’s bottom. He had combed the woods, gone up and down the road – without finding another trace. After a few hours he’d given up and retreated to call it a day. You should have done more when you had the chance, a soft voice scolded. It sounded suspiciously like his mother. Why didn’t you help him when you could? He felt a guilty twinge.
Fear, from the hollows of his mind an accusing voice whispered. Fear of involvement. Fear of another human being . . .
“No,” Matt said bitterly, denying the accusations. I ran to survive. After all, the last thing I need is the law. They could keep him, throw him in jail – do anything. He remembered an old colored man talking over a burning barrel in a back alley of a small town. It had been winter, and the wind had been biting cold.
“Dey kin beat a man and get by with it, yes sirree, don’ you think they can’t. You in the South now, nigger. Dey kin do anything dey wanna do. Beat you, mistreat you, throw your black ass in a hole. Yes sir, po’ black folks like us don’ stand a chance.”
The small wizen man had cackled bitterly into the brisk wind, rubbing his chaffed hands vigorously above the flame-swept barrel; then, leaning forward he confided: “You listen boy, ‘an listen good. Stay clear o’ Johnny Law an’ if yer lucky you’ll be free the rest yo’ days. Don’ take trouble by the hand – trouble comes enough. You take care o’ number one, and he’ll take care of you. Don’ put your nose where it don’ belong and maybe it won’t get whacked off . ‘dat goes ‘specially fo’ white folks. You deal with them, you dealin’ with the devil. You hear me, boy?”
Matt had nodded goodnaturedly, absently muttering agreement so he could share the fire’s warmth. But as time crept by he’d discovered the dark truth behind the wizen man’s utterance, and the further south he went the truer it got. Jails here were brutal, decades behind the rest of the country, justice slow, and the system ruled by back room politics, cash, and prejudice. Despite their reputation for hospitality, Southerners did not take well to what they saw as ‘Northern invaders’. Especially ones on foot, black, and “just passing through”. He sighed, looking at the bottle. It was barely half full, but despite the numbing effects restless ghosts stirred in his mind’s recesses.
Oh well, he thought, stifling a yawn, he’d had a narrow escape today. Not as narrow as the boy’s, a cynical voice sneered. And you just left him sitting there, hurt, alone, without water, help, or anything, a softer voice accused.
Matt groaned. Leave it be!, he ordered, sitting up with a frown, I did all I could do. He laboriously stood up, knees popping. He was drained by the trek in the woods, coupled with the troubling encounter. Instead of a pleasant fog there was only fatigued apprehension. He leaned and wrestled the blanket and poncho from the pack. Finding a patch of level ground, he used his foot to sweep aside loose acorns and twigs.
He spread the poncho on the ground, topping it with the blanket. Then he went to the fire and kicked sand over the coals, banking it. He gave no thought to what his simple behaviors betrayed – how he knew to bury the fire to survive night, his keen eye for a patch of level ground – unaware how his nearly instinctive actions indicated time-worn habit. You’ve been doing this too long, a voice said and he was inclined to agree. He sat on the blanket, dragging the pack close, and stared at the emerging stars. Only a sullen red band remained in the west.
The boy, a voice said as he leaned against the pack. I wonder what became of him? Matt was angry he couldn’t put the event behind him and took another long pull from the bottle. And what about the kid’s parents? He could just see them, two faceless people, quietly desperate, sitting by a phone in a dim room, waiting for a call to free them from an uncertain nightmare.
You should’ve stayed – made sure. Anybody – anything – could have picked him up and done whatever. It happens every day. You know it! The sharp accusation sent a guilty spike through him.
“It’s not my fault I found him!,” he shouted furiously at the approaching night. “I wish I hadn’t found him! But just because I found him, that doesn’t mean that we have to get involved. After all, he’s not ours, right?” His voice had dropped to a mutter, and he took a furious pull from the bottle.
Right? He wondered, his eyes going to the star-studded dome in a futile effort to ignore his twisting emotions. Right? The voice echoed in his head. Matt ignored it, forcing himself to concentrate on the sounds of nightfall.
A swollen ruddy moon was emerging from the black horizon. In the darkness below a whippoorwill sang fragments of a forlorn song, as if vainly trying to call back the day. Hearing shrill notes, Matt fancied he could see shrieking bats flitting across the stars in a hungry pursuit. All around the constant chorus of a million bits of stalking crawling slithering life shrilled, chirped, and creaked in a mysterious dance of life and death.
Matt felt the brittle edges of his mind softening at the night’s reassuring sounds, and he closed his eyes, willing the voices away. As long as crickets sing and frogs croak it will be all right, he thought, capping the bottle. Life goes on. For some reason, the thought did not reassure him.
He turned on his side and pulled the blanket over his hip. Sighing, he shoved at the lumps in his pack and laid his head down. Tomorrow I want to be out of here, he thought sleepily, and on down the road.
If, for some reason, you find this compelling enough to want to ‘buy the book’, you can find it <a href=”
“>HERE for “hard copy” or HERE for the Kindle version. Proceeds are going to go to help abused children. And yes, again – we appreciate any comments you have . . . hope you have enjoyed . . . will be putting Chapters 2 and 3 up on our blog over the next few days . . .