Yellow Mama Archives

Morgan Boyd
Home
Abbott, Patricia
Aclin, Ken
Adhikari, Sudeep
Ahern, Edward
Alan, Jeff
Aldrich, Janet M.
Allen, M. G.
Allen, Nick
Allison, Shane
Ammonds, Phillip J.
Anderson, Peter
Andreopoulos, Elliott
Anick, Ronald
Anonymous 9
Arab, Bint
Arkell, Steven
Ashley, Jonathan
Aymar, E. A.
Ayris, Ian
Babbs, James
Baber, Bill
Bagwell, Dennis
Baird, Meg
Bakala, Brendan
Baker, Bobby Steve
Baker, Nathan
Balaz, Joe
Baltensperger, Peter
BAM
Barber, Shannon
Barnett, Brian
Bates, Jack
Baugh, Darlene
Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
Beale, Jonathan
Beck, George
Beckman, Paul
Beloin, Phil
Benet, Esme
Bennett, Brett
Bennett, Charlie
Bennett, Eric
Berg, Carly
Bergland, Grant
Berman, Daniel
Berriozabal, Luis
Beveridge, Robert
Bickerstaff, Russ
Bigney, Tyler
Blair, Travis
Blake, Steven
Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
Bolt, Andy
Bonehill, L. R.
Booth, Brenton
Boran, P. Keith
Bosworth, Mel
Bowen, Sean C.
Boyd, A. V.
Boyd, Morgan
Bracey, DG
Bradford, Ryan
Bradshaw, Bob
Brady, Dave
Brannigan, Tory
Brawn, Jason D.
Brewka-Clark, Nancy
Britt, Alan
Brock, Brandon K.
brook, j.
Brown, Melanie
Brown, R. Thomas
Brown, Sam
Bull, Warren
Burton, Michael
Bushtalov, Denis
Butler, Janet
Butler, Simon Hardy
Butler, Terence
Cameron, W. B.
Campbell, J. J.
Campbell, Jack Jr.
Cano, Valentina
Carlton, Bob
Cartwright, Steve
Carver, Marc
Castle, Chris
Catlin, Alan
Chen, Colleen
Chesler, Adam
Christensen, Jan
Christopher, J. B.
Clausen, Daniel
Clevenger, Victor
Clifton, Gary
Coffey, James
Colasuonno, Alfonso
Compton, Sheldon Lee
Conley, Jen
Conley, Stephen
Connor, Tod
Cooper, Malcolm Graham
Coral, Jay
Corman-Roberts, Paul
Cosby, S. A.
Crandall, Rob
Criscuolo, Carla
Crisman, Robert
Crist, Kenneth
Crouch & Woods
Crumpton, J. C.
Cunningham, Stephen
Curry, A. R.
D., Jack
Dabbe, Lyla K.
Dallett, Cassandra
Damian, Josephine
Danoski, Joseph V.
Daly, Jim
Daly, Sean
Dalzell, Randy
Davis, Christopher
Day, Holly
Deal, Chris
de Bruler, Connor
De France, Steve
De La Garza, Lela Marie
de Marco, Guy Anthony
Deming, Ruth Z.
Demmer, Calvin
DeVeau, Spencer
Dexter, Matthew
Di Chellis, Peter
Dick, Earl
Dick, Paul "Deadeye"
DiLorenzo, Ciro
Dionne, Ron
Domenichini, John
Doran, Phil
Doreski, William
Dorman, Roy
Doherty, Rachel
Dosser, Jeff
Doyle, John
Draime, Doug
Drake, Lena Judith
Dromey, John H.
Duke, Jason
Duncan, Gary
Dunham, T. Fox
Dunn, Robin Wyatt
Dunwoody, David
Duxbury, Karen
Duy, Michelle
Elias, Ramsey Mark
Elliott, Beverlyn L.
Elliott, Garnett
Ellis, Asher
Ellman, Neil
England, Kellie R.
England, Kristina
Erianne, John
Erlewine, David
Esterholm, Jeff
Fallow, Jeff
Falo, William
Fedigan, William J.
Fenster, Timothy
Ferraro, Diana
Filas, Cameron
Flanagan, Daniel N.
Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
Folz, Crystal
Franceschina, Susan
Funk, Matthew C.
Gallik, Daniel
Gann, Alan
Gardner, Cheryl Ann
Garvey, Kevin Z.
Genz, Brian
Gilbert, Colin
Gladeview, Lawrence
Glass, Donald
Goddard, L. B.
Godwin, Richard
Goff, Christopher
Goodman, Tina
Goss, Christopher
Gradowski, Janel
Grant, Christopher
Grant, Stewart
Greenberg, Paul
Grey, John
Grover, Michael
Gunn, Johnny
Gurney, Kenneth P.
Haglund, Tobias
Hamlin, Mason
Hanna, J. T.
Hansen, Melissa
Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
Hanson, Kip
Hardin, J. Scott
Harrington, Jim
Harris, Bruce
Hart, GJ
Hartman, Michelle
Haskins, Chad
Hatzialexandrou, Anjelica
Hawley, Doug
Haycock, Brian
Hayes, A. J.
Hayes, John
Hayes, Peter W. J.
Heatley, Paul
Heifetz, Justin
Heimler, Heidi
Heitz, Russ
Helmsley, Fiona
Hendry, Mark
Henry, Robert Louis
Heslop, Karen
Heyns, Heather
Hilary, Sarah
Hill, Richard
Hilson, J. Robert
Hivner, Christopher
Hobbs, R. J.
Hockey, Matthew J.
Hodges, Oliver
Hodgkinson, Marie
Hogan, Andrew J.
Holderfield, Culley
Holton, Dave
Hor, Emme
Houston, Jennifer
Howard, Peter
Howells, Ann
Huchu, Tendai
Hudson, Rick
Huffman, A. J.
Huguenin, Timothy G.
Hunt, Jason
Huskey, Jason L.
Irwin, Daniel
Jacobson, E. J.
Jaggers, J. David
James, Christopher
James, Colin
Jensen, Steve
Johanson, Jacob
Johnson, Beau
Johnson, Moctezuma
Johnson, Zakariah
Jones, D. S.
Jones, Erin J.
Jones, Mark
Kabel, Dana
Kaplan, Barry Jay
Kay, S.
Keaton, David James
Keith, Michael C.
Kempka, Hal
Kerins, Mike
Kerry, Vic
Keshigian, Michael
Kimball R. D.
King, Michelle Ann
Kirk, D.
Klim, Christopher
Knapp, Kristen Lee
Koenig, Michael
Korpon, Nik
Kovacs, Sandor
Kowalcyzk, Alec
Krafft, E. K.
Lacks, Lee Todd
Lang, Preston
La Rosa, F. Michael
Larkham, Jack
Leasure, Colt
Leatherwood, Roger
Lee, M.A.B.
Lees, Arlette
Lees, Lonni
Leins, Tom
LeJay, Brian K. Jr.
Lemming, Jennifer
Lerner, Steven M
Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
Lifshin, Lyn
Lin, Jamie
Lodge, Oliver
Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
Lorca, Aurelia
Lo Rocco, Brian
Loucks, Lindsey
Lovisi, Gary
Lucas, Gregory E.
Lukas, Anthony
Lynch, Nulty
Lyons, Matthew
Mac, David
MacArthur, Jodi
Macor, Iris
Madeleine, Julia
Malone, Joe
Manteufel, M. B.
Manzolillo, Nicholas
Marcius, Cal
Marlin, Brick
Marlowe, Jack T.
Marrotti, Michael
Martyn, Clive
Mason, Wayne
Massengill, David
Mattila, Matt
McAdams, Liz
McBride, Matthew
McCabe, Sinead
McCartney, Chris
McDaris, Catfish
McFarlane, Adam Beau
McGinley, Jerry
McElhiney, Sean
McLean, David
McMannus, Jack
McQuiston, Rick
Mellon, Mark
Memblatt, Bruce
Memi, Samantha
Merrigan, Court
Miles, Marietta
Miller, Laurita
Miller, Max
Mintz, Gwendolyn
Monaghan, Timothy P.
Monteferrante, Luigi
Monson, Mike
Mooney, Christopher P.
Moore, Katie
Morgan, Bill W.
Morgan, Stephen
Moss, David Harry
Mullins, Ian
Mulvihill, Michael
Murdock, Franklin
Muslim, Kristine Ong
Nardolilli, Ben
Nazar, Rebecca
Nell, Dani
Nelson, Trevor
Nessly, Ray
Nester, Steven
Neuda, M. C.
Newell, Ben
Newman, Paul
Nielsen, Ayaz
Nienaber, T. M.
Ogurek, Douglas J.
Ortiz, Sergio
Pagel, Briane
Parr, Rodger
Parrish, Rhonda
Partin-Nielsen, Judith
Penton, Jonathan
Perez, Juan M.
Perl, Puma
Perri, Gavin
Peterson, Rob
Peterson, Ross
Petroziello, Brian
Pettie, Jack
Petyo, Robert
Picher, Gabrielle
Piech, JC
Pierce, Rob
Pietrzykowski, Marc
Plath, Rob
Pletzers, Lee
Pluck, Thomas
Pohl, Stephen
Pointer, David
Polson, Aaron
Power, Jed
Powers, M. P.
Price, David
Priest, Ryan
Prusky, Steve
Pruitt, Eryk
Purfield, M. E.
Purkis, Gordon
Quinlan, Joseph R.
Ram, Sri
Ramos, Emma
Rapth, Sam
Ravindra, Rudy
Rawson, Keith
Ray, Paula
Reale, Michelle
reutter, g emil
Rhatigan, Chris
Ribas, Tom
Richardson, Travis
Richey, John Lunar
Ridgeway, Kevin
Ritchie, Bob
Ritchie, Salvadore
Roberts, Paul C.
Robertson, Lee
Robinson, John D.
Robinson, Kent
Rodgers, K. M.
Roger, Frank
Rogers, Stephen D.
Rohrbacher, Chad
Rosa, Basil
Rose, Mandi
Rosenberger, Brian
Rosenblum, Mark
Rosmus, Cindy
Rowe, Brian
Rowley, Aaron
Ruhlman, Walter
Rutherford, Scotch
Saus, Steven M.
Savage, Jack
Sawyer, Mark
Sayles, Ryan
Schneeweiss, Jonathan
Schraeder, E. F.
Schumejda, Rebecca
Scott, Craig
Scott, Jess C.
Scribner, Joshua
See, Tom
Seen, Calvin
Servis, Steven P.
Sethi, Sanjeev
Sexton, Rex
Seymour, J. E.
Sfarnas, John
Shafee, Fariel
Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
Shea, Kieran
Shepherd, Robert
Sim, Anton
Simmler, T. Maxim
Sin, Natalie L.
Sinisi, J. J.
Sixsmith, JD
Slagle, Cutter
Slaviero, Susan
Sloan, Frank
Smith, Adam Francis
Smith, Ben
Smith, C.R.J.
Smith, Copper
Smith, Daniel C.
Smith, Paul
Smith, Stephanie
Smith, Willie
Smuts, Carolyn
Snoody, Elmore
So, Gerald
Sojka, Carol
Solender, Michael J.
Sortwell, Pete
Sosnoski, Karen
Sparling, George
Speed, Allen
Spicer, David
Spires, Will
Spitzer, Mark
Spuler, Rick
Squirrell, William
Stephens, Ransom
Stewart, Michael S.
Stickel, Anne
Stolec, Trina
Straus, Todd
Stryker, Joseph H.
Stucchio, Chris
Stuckey, Cinnamon
Succre, Ray
Sullivan, Thomas
Swanson, Peter
Swartz, Justin A.
Sweet, John
Tarbard, Grant
Taylor, J. M.
Thoburn, Leland
Thomas, C. T.
Thompson, John L.
Thompson, Phillip
Tillman, Stephen
Titus, Lori
Tivey, Lauren
Tobin, Tim
Todd, Jeffrey
Tolland, Timothry
Tomlinson, Brenton
Tomolillo, Bob
Tu, Andy
Ullerich, Eric
Valent, Raymond A.
Valvis, James
Vilhotti, Jerry
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Walsh, Patricia
Ward, Emma
Ward, Jared
Waters, Andrew
Weber, R.O.
Weil, Lester L.
Weir, G. Kenneth
White, J.
White, Judy Friedman
White, Robb
White, Terry
Williams, Alun
Willoughby, Megan
Wilsky, Jim
Wilson, Robley
Wilson, Scott
Wilson, Tabitha
Wright, David
Young, Scot
Yuan, Changming
Zafiro, Frank
Zapata, Angel
Zickgraf, Catherine
Zimmerman, Thomas
Znaidi, Ali

rivernevertells.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2016

The River Never Tells

 

Morgan Boyd

 

 

 

I was passing through town when I met a woman at Broncos Bar and Grill.  Janet wasn’t the prettiest filly in the stable, but looks aren’t everything.  What she lacked in the beauty department, she made up for with an understanding ear and an ample bosom.  By the third beer, I showed her the scar on my neck.  By the fourth beer, she invited me to her place. 

 

Janet lived by the river.  There was something magical about that waterway.  I didn’t know what it was yet, but I felt fated to that tributary.  Janet had a six-year-old son named Jimmy.  That was weird.  He was a little guy with red hair, and fully devoted to superheroes and Frosted Flakes.  He ignored me, giving a batman movie his undivided attention, which was convenient on account of what Janet and I were about to do in her bedroom.

 

This was a good deal.  I wanted to stay.  Janet was onboard, but said I had to pull my own weight.  She’d had several freeloading men in the past, and wasn’t interested in supporting another deadbeat.  I asked around town about work, and it wasn’t long before I was pointed toward the sawmill up the hill.

 

I hitched a ride early one morning, but nobody was there.  I wandered around the woodpiles, and looked down a steep and misty ravine beyond the back of the lumberyard.  A car approached, so I returned to the parking lot.  A small truck passed, carrying three men.  They parked, leaned against the side of the pickup, and scowled at me while spitting tobacco.

 

I was about to scratch this job opportunity when another truck pulled into the parking lot.  A massive man oozed out of the cab, and heaved my way.

         

Morning,” he said.  “What’s your business?”

 

Heard there might be work.”

 

You staying somewhere?  Ain’t camping out?”

 

I got a roof over head.”

 

Them’s the magic words.  We pay the minimum.  You ever worked in a mill, used a saw?

 

No.”

 

Perfect, we’re looking for somebody to pile lumber.  How’s your back?”

         

Fine,” I said, and stood up straight.

 

Welcome aboard,” he said, but didn’t shake my hand.  “My name’s Big Henry.  You’ll like it just fine around here.”

 

My name’s Jake.  Will they like me just fine around here?”  I asked, shifting my eyes toward the three men, staring at me across the parking lot.

 

That’s Karl, Jerry and Kemp.  Don’t worry.  They’re looking at you funny because they think you’re homeless.  The bums camping in the gorge behind the stacks steal our wood.  The boys are getting mighty tired of it.”

 

I set to work hauling lumber from the mill to the yard.  Most of the other workers were friendly, and when Karl, Jerry and Kemp learned I held residency, my presence was tolerated.  I wouldn’t say we were peachy-keen or anything, but they didn’t look like they wanted to kill me anymore.

         

I didn’t have gloves, and my hands blistered. I was sore from head to toe, and dog-tired by the end of my shift.  When I got to Janet’s, the pain dissipated into her smile, and her low-cut blouse.  I sat on the back porch in contemplation, watching the water, and wondering why I felt so content.  The reason eluded me, but as I stared into that hypnotic current, it hit me: with Janet, I was no longer following in my father’s shadow.  With Janet, I was my own man.  Jimmy came out back, and disrupted my thoughts.  He wanted to play superheroes, so I became The Incredible Hulk, and although my hands and back ached, I lifted him by the ankles, and swung him back and forth as he giggled with glee. 

 

Jimmy gave me the lowdown on Bruce Wayne at the dinner table while Janet served hamburgers.  I felt like I could have eaten a half-dozen, but I stopped after three when Janet gave me a look of amazement.

 

I’ve never seen somebody wolf down so many hamburgers so fast,” she said.

 

After Janet tucked Jimmy into bed, we smoked a joint and watched TV before hitting the sack.  For the next several weeks, Janet would wake me on her way out the door with Jimmy. I’d pour a bowl of Frosted Flakes, make a pot of coffee, mourn my aching limbs and then thumb a ride up to the sawmill.

 

That’s the second pallet this week,” Karl said.  “They’re building a city down there.”

 

They cut a hole in the fence,” Jerry said.  “That’s how they steal lumber.”

 

Well boys, we need to mend that fence pronto,” Karl said with his thumbs sticking through his belt loops.  “And we need to nip this situation in the bud.  Once a pony gets a lump of sugar, he keeps on coming back for more.”

 

What do you suppose?”  Kemp asked.

 

We have ourselves a problem for sure,” Karl said.  “But it’s nothing a cold brew can’t solve.”

 

Okay everybody,” Big Henry said, coming out of his office.  “Get to work.”

 

At lunchtime we sat out back at picnic benches.  Most guys ate sandwiches, but I never packed a lunch.  Karl sat down, placed a six-pack of Budweiser on the table, and removed a beer.  Jerry and Kemp each grabbed one.  The guy next to me looked like he wanted to, but thought better of it, and left the table.  Two other guys cautiously grabbed bottles.  I was the last person, so I grabbed the last beer.  We all cracked them and clinked necks.  I took a sip, but noticed everybody chugging, so I did the same.

 

Bring a hammer or a crowbar tomorrow an hour before work, agreed?”  Karl asked.

 

Agreed,” they all said.

 

After lunch, Karl lent me gloves.  I was worried I’d be unprepared for tomorrow’s task, so I confided in him that I didn’t have the required tools.  He glared at me like we were back in the parking lot my first day, and then he laughed.

 

          “Not to worry,” he said.  “I’ve got you covered.”

 

          I sat on Janet’s back porch, drinking a beer and watching the river at sunset.  I was worn out and hungry as hell.  The routine was growing thin.  A shadow stretched across my mind, and I wondered, is this really what I want?  To be a broke roustabout, chained to a woman and child, or would it be better to be like Old Man River, and just keep rolling along?  It’d be a damn sight easier.  I could just wade out into the water, forget about the backbreaking work at the sawmill, forget about Janet and Jimmy, and float away.  Several mosquitoes bit me on the neck and face, so I went inside.  I turned on the game, and Jimmy threw a temper tantrum.  Janet promised him a Spiderman movie if he quieted down.  I promised him an ass whopping if he didn’t.

 

          “Turn off the game, and put the Spiderman movie on, and don’t you ever threaten him again,” Janet said.

 

Fine,” I said, putting on the DVD.  “He wants to watch a guy prancing around in colorful tights instead of football, who am I to judge.”

 

Football’s full of guys prancing around in colorful tights,” Janet said.

 

Enjoy your movie,” I said to Jimmy.  “Your mom and I’ll be in the back having private time.”

 

Not tonight Jake,” she said.

 

Come on,” I told her, but she wasn’t interested.  “Fine, I’ll watch this shit with the kid.  Any beer in the fridge?”

 

What did you just say?”

 

You cooking anymore hamburgers?”  I asked.

 

You can get out,” she yelled.  “And don’t come back if you’re going to disrespect my family.  You hear me, fucker?”

 

I spent the evening wandering along the river, thinking to hell with this town, this job and this woman.  I didn’t need any of it.  In the morning, I’d follow the river to somewhere else. 

 

I found a sandy spot and lay down.

 

The cool dark water rushed by, and the stars speckled the evening sky.  My troubles faded into the river’s tranquility, and I felt light as air.  A splashing sound nearby interrupted my momentary contentment.  I looked out over the black current, but saw only moving water.  I heard another splashing sound that caused me to sit up, and train my eyes into the darkness.  Something large and sinister with glowing yellow eyes crawled out of the river under the night’s shadows.  Its long razor sharp jaws grabbed me by the neck, and dragged me into the water.  I kicked and punched and flailed, but to no avail.  As the creature held me under, crushing my windpipe, I saw my father’s face.

 

          I woke in a cold sweat.  It was first light, and I was still on the sandy bank.  My neck was stiff, but intact.  I was groggy, but made my way to the highway, and caught a ride up to the mill.  My stomach growled.  I was haggard and irritable from sleeping on the ground.

 

About time you showed,” Karl said, handing me a crowbar.  “We was about to leave your ass.  Let’s get a move on.”

 

We walked through the stacks in the back of the lumberyard.  At the rear fence, we came to a locked gate.

 

Over there’s the hole they made,” Jerry said, producing a key from his pocket.

 

          A steep dirt trail wound down through thick shrubs and thorny blackberry vines.  The sun glowed through the treetops.  I hadn’t understood what the job entailed until we left the yard for the forest.  I thought this was on the up and up, but as we entered the brush, the gravity of the situation hit me.

 

The forest was dense, and the trail grew narrow.  I thought about my father, and how he had walked out on us so many years ago.  I took a deep breath, and thought about Janet and Jimmy.  I wished I were in bed with Janet, or pouring a bowl of Frosted Flakes for Jimmy instead of descending into the mist with Karl and the boys.

 

We hit the canyon floor, and came to a stream.  Around a bend, we got our first glimpse at the homeless camp.  Several shacks built from pillaged lumber leaned against large knotty pines on the away shore.

 

We crossed the stream on dry rocks.  As we landed on the far strand, a man stuck his head out of the closest shanty.

 

Goddamn thief,” Karl shouted, raising his hammer.

 

The man hollered, and fled into the bush.  A din erupted as the occupants of the other shacks realized the danger, and scrambled into the safety of the woods.

 

Knock down these rat’s nests,” Karl said.

 

What’s the point?” Jerry asked.  “They’ll just rebuild them.”

 

Pile everything on the shore.  The lumber, all their garbage, everything,” Karl said.  “We’re having a bonfire boys.”

 

Wish we’d got our hands on those sons-of-bitches,” Jerry said as we dismantled the hovels, and piled their belongings next to the stream.

 

Mostly cardboard and blankets lined the floors, but there were also stoves and clothing.  I also found some stuffed animals and children’s books.  We heaped it on the shore, and Kemp lit a fire.

 

Hey,” Jerry yelled when he entered the last shack.  “We got one.  He’s piss drunk.”

 

Bring him over here,” Karl said.

 

They dragged the guy by his ankles to the bonfire.

 

You stealing our wood boy?”  Karl asked.

 

          The man’s head swayed on his neck.  He was dirty and in need of a shave and a haircut.  Like me, the poor fellow was late in comprehending his predicament.  Karl slugged him in the gut.  He gave out a bellowing yowl of pain mixed with fear.  The others fell on the inebriated guy, cursing and working him over with angry fists.

 

I stood back, watching them beat the transient.  That could have been me: some poor bastard, down and out, and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Come on,” Karl yelled.  “Don’t just stand there.”

 

Yeah, you fucking idiot,” Jerry yelled.  “We’re all doing this.”

 

I hesitated for a moment, and then walked over to the luckless man, and clocked him in the head with my crowbar.  I’ll never forget that hollow sound.

 

Jesus Christ,” Karl said.  “What did you do that for?  I wanted to rough him up.  Teach him a lesson, not bash in his brains.”

 

Hey guys,” Kemp said.  “The fire.”

 

Holy shit,” Karl said.  “It’s catching the brush.”

 

Let’s go,” Jerry said.

 

We crossed back over the stream.  Sweat poured down my face as we hustled up the narrow trail to the fence at the back of the lumberyard.  Jerry’s hand trembled as he locked the gate behind us.

 

What the hell you boys doing?”  Big Henry asked.

 

We was fixing that hole in the fence when we saw the fire,” Karl said.

 

Henry frowned, but didn’t ask any more questions.  He told us to evacuate the area.  Dark smoke clouds rose from beneath us into the sky.  It wasn’t long before sirens approached.

 

I went straight to Janet’s and apologized for last night’s behavior.  I wanted to make it up by taking her and Jimmy out to eat.  Janet liked that idea.  She dressed pretty, slicked down Jimmy’s hair, and we went to Broncos.

 

For dinner I had a double cheeseburger with bacon and a dark beer.  Janet had the fish and chips and a glass of white wine.  Jimmy had the macaroni and cheese with bacon and a root beer.  It was a nice meal, but we sat near the television in the bar, and everybody around us watched the news, and talked about the fire.

 

          “Those bums started it,” the bartender said.  “A couple of firefighters almost lost their lives.  Almost lost the sawmill.”

 

A homeless guy burned to death,” our waitress said.

 

Good,” A man at the bar said.  “Serves his freeloading ass right.”

 

We went back to Janet’s.  I tucked Jimmy into bed, and read him a Curious George story.  He fell asleep, and I went into the living room and cuddled with Janet.

 

After a few days, the mill reopened.  None of the guys would talk to me.  Karl asked for his gloves back, but that was it.  They treated me like a ghost, like a wood piling specter.  Before the weekend, a detective arrived.

 

Where were you when the fire started?”

 

          His name was Detective Banks.  He was old and wrinkled with a purple nose, but he had a severe stare that worried me.

 

I just arrived when I saw the smoke,” I said.

 

Can others attest to that?”  He asked.

 

Yes,” I said.

 

          I finished my shift at the mill, but I couldn’t catch a ride so I walked.  As the sun went down behind heavy cloud cover, the shadows from the trees grew into the road, and enveloped me in growing darkness.  With each step, my mood blackened.  There had better be some hot food waiting for me on the table, I thought, and Jimmy had better be on his best behavior.  I wasn’t going to put up with his shit tonight.  As I made my way down the road, I had the strange sensation that something was following me.  I peered into the gloom beyond the edge of the trees.

 

I stepped off the side of the road into the duff.  A chill wind cut through me.  In the shadows, a set of yellow eyes appeared, staring at me from within the forest.  I took another step toward the trees as a drop of rain hit my forehead.  I looked up at the sky.  Storm clouds ran overhead like the river’s current.  I stepped back onto the road, and quickened my pace.

 

I was soaked by the time I reached Janet’s front door.  Detective Banks stood in the living room.  Janet sat on the couch.  Jimmy was on her lap.  Tears flowed from her eyes.  The detective squinted at me.  My pulse quickened, and my face reddened, and the scar on my neck burned.  I clenched my teeth and fists as dread filled my chest.

 

It’s Sean,” Janet said.

 

Who?”  I asked.

 

Jimmy’s dad,” she said.

 

What about him?”

 

He’s dead,” she sobbed.

 

They identified him as the victim of the fire,” Detective Banks said.  “We suspect he was high, and trying to cook another dose when he passed out and started the blaze.”

 

I breathed a sigh of relief, releasing the bad thoughts inside.  I tried to ease Janet and Jimmy’s grieving.  I did the dishes, swept the floor, and made hamburgers.  They didn’t turn out good like Janet’s, but they were edible.  I put on Spiderman, and let Jimmy tell me about Peter Parker.  After he went to bed, I stayed up consoling Janet.

 

          The next morning after making breakfast for Janet and Jimmy, I thumbed it up to the sawmill.  The rain had stopped in the night, and the ground was wet and fresh smelling.  My ride let me off in the back of the parking lot.  I walked toward the main building as Karl’s truck passed me.

 

Good morning,” I said as I reached the front of the parking lot.

 

They leaned against the automobile, spitting tobacco.

 

          “For some,” Karl said, wiping spit from his chin.  “For others not so much.”

 

I’d hate to be you right now,” Jerry said.  “In a world of shit.”

 

What are you saying?”  I asked.

 

What you done to that homeless guy,” Kemp said.  “I wouldn’t want to be wearing your shoes.”

 

Hold on a second,” I said, looking at my sneakers.  “We’re all to blame for what happened.”

 

Not according to us,” Kemp said.

 

Who started the fire?”  I asked.

 

Depends,” Karl said.

 

On?”

 

Payday.”

 

I smell where you’re stepping,” I said.

 

Knew you would,” Karl said.

 

I went about piling lumber.  At the end of my shift, Big Henry paid me in cash.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough to show Janet that I could pull my own weight.  I tried to hitch it down the hill, but I couldn’t catch a ride, so I walked.

 

Jake, where you been?” Karl asked, pulling along side me.  “Thought we were squaring up.”

 

That’s right.  I almost forgot,” I said, and kept walking.  “I tell you what.  Now’s not a good time.  What say we square up later?”

 

Hop in the back of the pickup, and we’ll discuss,” Karl said, leveling a handgun at me.

 

All right,” I said, and climbed in the bed of the truck.

 

Karl turned onto a bumpy dirt road.  We went down the gnarled path for several miles.  Scanning the bed for a weapon, I saw only old beer cans, empty bullet shells and fast food wrappers until I found a tire iron under a ripped up tarp.

 

The sun ducked beneath a row of pine as Karl pulled over.

 

Give me your money,” Karl said, pointing the gun at my chest.

 

You’ll have pissed your pants when we get done with you,” Jerry said.

 

Doesn’t seem like a square deal,” I said.  “Giving you my money, and getting the piss beat out of me.”

 

Sure it does,” Karl said.

 

How do you figure?”  I asked.

 

The money buys our silence.  The beating lets you know that you should move on.”

 

What if I keep my money, and beat the shit out of you instead?”  I asked.

 

They laughed, closing in around me.  I picked up the tire iron, and flung it at Karl.  Diving out of the truck, I tackled Jerry, and knocked him to the ground.  He instantly went limp, so I got to my feet, and went for Karl, but he was already in the truck, turning over the engine.  He sped off as Kemp tried to open the passenger side door, but was dragged to the ground, and flipped onto his head.

 

          I went for the tire iron, but noticed the gun beside it.  Kemp picked himself up out of the road.  He was covered in mud, and blood dripped out of his ear.  He limped over to Jerry.

 

What was the play?”  I asked.

 

Neither man said anything, so I cocked back the hammer, and repeated myself.

 

Take your dough.  Leave you for dead,” Jerry whispered with his eyes closed.

 

What if instead,” I asked.  “I take your dough, and leave you for dead?”

 

Kemp reached into his pocket, and tossed me his money.  I noticed a dark pool forming around Jerry’s head.  When I knocked him to the ground, he must have cracked his skull on a rock.

 

You sure the second part of your plan was to leave me for dead?”  I asked.  “Sure it wasn’t to leave me dead?”

 

Don’t matter,” Jerry whispered.  “Karl’s heading straight to the police to tell them what you did.”

 

What I did?  What we all did.  You’re both as guilty as me.  Karl too.  I never wanted to hurt anybody.”

 

That’s your story,” Jerry said in a low tone.  “I don’t remember it that way.”

 

How do you remember it?”

 

You smashing that guy’s head in with a crowbar.”

 

Is that how you remember it too, Kemp?” I asked.  “Do you remember starting the fire?”

 

          “I can’t remember nothing,” he said.

 

But back in town, your memory returns, right?”

 

Don’t matter the way I feel right now,” he said, touching his bloody ear.

 

Then let’s have the truth,” I said.

 

Take your dough.  Make it so nobody finds your body,” he said.

 

I thought about pulling the trigger, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do it.

 

I left Jerry and Kemp on the side of the road, and walked at a quick clip.  I wished Karl hadn’t gotten away.  Soon he’d tell the police I murdered Jimmy’s dad, and set the fire.  It was only a matter of time before Janet found out what they were accusing me of, and for that, she’d never forgive me.  Time would have bought an engagement ring, a wedding, and a proper upbringing for Jimmy, but now time was the enemy.

 

I ditched the gun, and walked for hours in the dark until I came to the main road.  I heard an automobile approaching, so I hid behind a large tree.  A sheriff’s truck drove passed.  I stayed put, and another went by.

 

In a short time the sheriffs would find Jerry and Kemp, and they’d corroborate Karl’s story.  I was a wanted man.  Heading to Janet’s on the main road was no longer an option, so I started up the hill along the side of the road, skirting the edge of the forest.

 

The parking lot at the sawmill was empty except for a truck near the front.  I walked around back through the stacks, and was just about to reach the fence when somebody lurched in front of me with a shotgun.

 

Hold up, Jake,” Big Henry said.  “Police radio says you’re wanted in connection with arson and homicide.”

 

I didn’t do it,” I said.

 

That might be so, but you’re staying put until the cops arrive,” he said.

 

I can’t,” I said, and ducked behind a stack of lumber.

 

I reached the back gate, but it was locked, so I felt my way down the side until I came to the hole in the fence.  As I crawled through, buckshot ripped into my thigh.  I fell onto the other side as another blast stung my shoulder, neck and face. I tumbled down the ravine and over an embankment.  Fortunately, a tangle of vines and reeds broke my fall.  I thrashed around, and when my shoes touched the ground, they filled with water. 

 

I limped downstream.  With every step the current grew deeper and stronger.  I waded in the cold water until the stream became a river, and I swam with my head bobbing out of the runnel.

 

The river’s gradient steepened, and I struggled to stay afloat in the turbulent white water. The rapids pushed me through several narrow sieves, and over submerged boulders until I was caught in a powerful eddy, and an undercurrent pinned me beneath the water.  After a short time, my struggles for oxygen evaporated into peaceful blackness.  I thought about Janet as my limbs relaxed.  Just before I lost consciousness, the undertow relented, and I rose to the surface, gasping and choking.

 

The river calmed as the waterway widened.  Stars shone bright overhead, and every so often a meteor flashed across the sky.  I was cold and tired as I reached my destination, and swam to the shore.  My body shivered as I staggered to my feet.  Tiny blood rivulets trickled down my face, arms and legs, mingling with my wet garments.

 

I threw myself into the backdoor, and it burst open.

 

Don’t move.  Stay where you are,” Detective Banks shouted.

 

I stumbled through the kitchen, and barreled into the living room as he opened fire.  It felt like a mule kicked me in the chest, and I fell backwards.  The detective stood over me, pointing his weapon.  I closed my eyes, and was about to quit when I heard screams coming from the bedroom.

 

I said don’t move,” Detective Banks ordered as I turned onto my belly, dragging myself through the hall.

 

He fired several shots into my back, but I was able to reach the knob and open the door. 

 

Janet huddled in the corner holding Jimmy.  I took a deep and labored breath. 

 

I made it. 

 

I was home.





Morgan Boyd lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife and two cats.  He collects carnivorous plants and enjoys the outdoors.  He has been published online at Flash Jab Fiction

In Association with Fossil Publications