Friday, April 30, 2010

Chapter 3

Eyes of The Watcher

With their father’s grey cocoon so convincingly escape-proof, Mike and Callie took their time and stocked the faded green station wagon to capacity: food, beverages, blankets, pillows, extra clothes, etc. When they finished, it was dark outside.
Plumb exhausted, they sat themselves down at the back of the open wagon on lawn chairs taken from the front yard. The single bulb garage light cast its flickering illumination down upon them.
Callie clamped her hand over her mouth and yawned deep. It had been a long day even before this whole stupid mess had erupted, and Callie found herself nodding off. She shook her head and turned to Mike, who was already snoring lightly. She gave him a shake.
He grunted to wakefulness. “Hmm? What?”
“It might not be wise for us to take off like this.” Callie said.
“Like what?”
“All tuckered out and sleepy.”
“What do you suggest?” Mike asked.
“Dad can’t escape from under all that rope and duct tape, so it isn’t like we have to leave tonight. Maybe we should get some sleep and head off early tomorrow morning.”
“You’re crazy, Cal. Do you really want to sleep there ever again?” Mike asked, and pointed his thumb at the house.
“Perhaps we don’t have to.”
        She motioned to the station wagon behind them. Mike looked perplexed (though perhaps it was mere drowsiness), so she got up and retrieved some light blankets and pillows from the cargo behind them, and handed one of the bundles to Mike.
        “Sleep in the wagon?” he asked.
        “We’re gonna have to get used to it anyway, on the road,” she said, “Might as well start now.”
        “I suppose…”
        He was unsure about it, but was too sleepy and thickheaded to argue. He shrugged his shoulders, which was as good as a yes between the siblings. He got up and took his batch to the driver’s side of the wagon, opened the door, and set up his bed across the single-unit front seats. Callie did the same across the back seats.
        Callie made herself comfortable right away, while Mike went back and closed the wagon’s back hatch. This done, he folded the lawn chairs, and put them aside.
        “While you’re at it, go turn off the lights in the house.” Callie called out.
        “What---? Why?”
        “Wouldn’t want the neighbors to get suspicious, would we?”
        “Our neighbors are idiots. They wouldn’t get suspicious if we parked Dad out in the front yard.”
        Mike grumbled, and walked into the house to turn off the lights.
        He went to the rooms first, his and Callie’s, followed by his father’s room. He gave each a cursory glance, before he switched off their lights. The thought that he would never see these rooms again after tomorrow elicited no nostalgia. He was glad to be leaving.
        He and Callie had talked about running away many times, but somehow had never felt ready to do so. Almost as if an interior clock had held them back year after year. “Not now.” it would whisper in its insistent voice, “Not yet.”
        Perhaps it was procrastination, perhaps it was a lack of courage on his part, but the time had never felt propitious for such a dangerous venture. Now it was going to happen, thanks to Callie’s spur-of-the-moment act of violence; something HE should have done a long time ago. 
        He felt no little shame in that.
        He came to the living room, and looked over at the man in the chair facing the wall.
        “G’night dad.” Mike whispered. He hit the switch and cast the living room and its captive occupant into darkness.
        The kitchen was the last to go. Mike then walked out into the adjacent garage and looked through the window into the back seats of the wagon.
Callie was already in a fetal position under her blanket. Mike grabbed for the grease-stained string that hung under the bare bulb, gave it a tug, and clicked off the light.
        He stumbled his way over to the driver’s side, and into his new bed. The seats weren’t too uncomfortable, and after some fidgeting, he at last found a good position.
        “G’night, Cal.” he said.
        “G’nigh, Mi…” came the garbled reply.
        Within minutes they were both asleep.

        Sometime around midnight, a pair of glowing eyes appeared in a dark corner of the garage. Silent, they hovered there; and looked down at the station wagon---through it---at the figures asleep within.
        Callie shuddered in her sleep and burrowed deeper into her blanket; Mike moaned as if caught in a nightmare.
        At last they are ready for the fire, the mind behind the eyes thought to itself, Come to me, children…the burning awaits.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chapter 2

Fit To Be Tied

Mike knelt down and tried to flip his father onto his back, but the floor was slippery, and every time Mike pushed, his father slid away.
Callie came in through the kitchen door from the adjacent garage with a prodigious coil of thin rope in her hand. "This was the only one I could find. Is it enough?"
"I think so. Here, help me with this."
With Callie’s help, they turned their father over.
“What now? Tie him up here?” Callie asked.
“No, we should tie him to a chair. The less freedom of movement he has, the better.”
Mike grabbed a chair from the kitchen table, and dragged it over.
“We don’t want him hopping around once he’s awake.” he said, “Grab his arm so we can lift him.”
Mike took one arm and Callie the other. Together they heaved their father up onto the chair and sat him down, only to have him fall forward like a sack of potatoes.
“Uhh…let’s try that again.” Mike said.
On the second try, the chair skidded away upon taking his weight, and slammed against the opposite wall. Mike and Callie looked at each other and, in spite of their peril, burst into laughter.
Then their father groaned, and they both jumped.
“Okay, let’s hurry it up!” Callie said, “Third time’s the charm.”
It was. Their father remained seated this time. Callie held him in place while Mike tied him up.
When he finished, Mike realized that it would not be enough.
“We need something else, Callie. I don’t know if this is going to hold him for long. We need to be sure he won’t be able to wriggle out of it.”
Callie gnawed on her thumbnail; her ritual for focused thought.
“We need…something like…” she mumbled, then snapped her fingers, “Duct tape! How many rolls do we have on hand in the garage?”
“Lots.” Mike said, “Dad’s a junkie.”
“Get ‘em all. We’re gonna tape him down.” she said, “And bring the dolly up here too, while you’re at it.”
Mike ran out the kitchen door and into the garage, which housed the station wagon, a work area, numerous rusty tools, and junk that had accumulated throughout the years. The garage door had been busted forever and remained always open, so it was all well lit and ventilated. Mike used a box of metal hinges to keep the kitchen door open, and picked out several rolls of duct tape scattered throughout the disarray. He wasn’t sure what Callie wanted with the dolly, but he went ahead and dug it out from under a morass of broken electrical fixtures and other such flotsam.
With the rolls of tape tucked in one arm, and the dolly pushed by the other, Mike re-entered the kitchen. He dropped the rolls at Callie’s feet.
“Let’s get to work.” he said.

When Charles Longstreet came to, he found himself strapped down tight. Only his head, fingers, and feet were free of tape.
He struggled and squirmed against his bonds, but they did not slacken. They had rolled him chair and all, with the dolly, over to the living room, facing the wall; so he could see nothing of their movements.
“MICHAEL! CALLIE!” he bellowed.
Mike appeared before him. “Ah, you’re awake.” he said, “As you can see; we’ve pretty much fused you to that chair. This is so you don’t follow us.”
“Follow you? Where do you think you're going?”
“Away from you…from here...anywhere.” Mike said. He removed the last nine inches of tape from the last remaining roll.
“You two aren’t going NOWHERE!” Longstreet roared, “NOW UNTIE ME WHILE YOU STILL HAVE A CHANCE OF---“
“Discussion time is over, pops.” Mike said, and slapped the strip of tape over his father’s mouth, “You can cram it.”
As Charles Longstreet yelled and cursed under the tape (which muffled his words into gibberish), Mike noticed the ring on the middle finger of his father’s left hand. It was the ring that had cut Callie’s face. The band was of some questionable metal that had once shined like silver, but had since degraded into a blotchy copper color, like a corrupted penny. The only thing interesting about it was its shiny black stone. It was set like a tiny black pyramid; its tip pointy and sharp.
The bastard had punched Callie in the face with that ring.
“I’ll bet Callie would love to have that as a trophy.” Mike said, “Mind if I borrow it?”
Without waiting for a reaction, Mike pulled the ring off of his father’s finger, and it slipped right off with unexpected ease (considering that his father had had it on as long as Mike could remember). Now, only a band of pasty white skin remained, to mark where the ring had been.
His father fell silent.
Mike put the ring in his shirt pocket and glanced down again at his father. There was something different about him now, though Mike could not say what; a sinister aspect about him that made every hair on the back of his neck rise. Nerves. Mike thought, and shook it off.
“Well, Dad. Gotta go get ready.” he said, “By the way, we’ll be taking your wagon, your wallet, as well as the cash you had hidden away in that hidey-hole under your bed you didn’t think we knew about.”
No reaction. His father just sat there and stared at him.
No, more than that. 
Was it possible his father was smiling at him, from under the tape?
Mike walked away. He considered slapping his father on the back in a final mocking gesture, but was now loathe to touch him for some reason. He went and rejoined Callie in their preparations.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chapter 1

Bitter Tonic

Callie Longstreet grabbed the frying pan off the stovetop and walked up behind her father. She lifted the pan high and brought it down hard on the back of his head. A hollow “thonk” rang out upon impact, followed by a thud as he hit the floor.
Behind her, her brother Michael entered the house; bags of groceries in his arms. He saw his father laid out on the floor and dropped the bags.
“What the hell happened?!” he shouted.
Callie whirled around. Her black hair whipped across her face and formed a cage for her green eyes.
She sported a bloody gash on her right cheek.
“He hit me!” she said.

Long ago, when they were small, they lived in a big bustling city with both their parents (Callie had no memories of this era; Michael, two years the elder, did); until the night Charles Longstreet bundled his sleeping children into his battered old station wagon and sped them away from the city, and their mother.
He never gave reason or explanation, and his refusals to take questions on the matter grew violent as the years passed.
In time, Mike and Callie stopped asking.

The two now sat at the kitchen table.
Mike, a tall boy for his sixteen years, dabbed his sister’s cheek with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball. The gash was small, but deep; and would not stop bleeding.
“I was serving him supper, when I tripped.” Callie said, “I knocked over his mug, and his beer fell in his lap. When he stood up, it looked like he had wet himself. I couldn’t help it---I laughed!”
Mike groaned and shook his head.
“Anyway, he just froze. I knew I was in trouble then. I was---Ouch!---still standing close to him. And then he slugged me! Just like that!”
“You’re lucky he didn’t kill you.”
She waved this away, “I got so angry! I just couldn’t let it pass this time. So when he turned his back on me, I got up and---Ouch! Enough already!”
“Alright, alright! Don’t come crying to me if it gets infected!” Mike said, and threw away the cotton ball, “At least I got it to stop bleeding.”
“Anyway, you know the rest.”
“What cut your cheek?” Mike asked. He took out an adhesive bandage from a tin box and removed its wrapper.
“That ugly ring of his; the one he never takes off. It has that sharp black stone.” she said.
She probed the gash with her finger. “It burns.” she whined.
“Well don’t touch it, jackass!” he said.
He swatted away her hand and bandaged the cut. The nasty bruise around it would have to heal in its own time.
Callie looked down at her father.
“So what do we do now?” she asked, “He’s gonna be really pissed off when he wakes up---if he wakes up.”
“Your grasp of the possibilities comes a little late.”
Callie gave him an out-of-patience look.
“I say we get the hell out of here, Cal, like we always say we will; only this time, we really do it.”
“He’ll come after us if we run.” Callie said, “You know he will.”
“If he’s even alive.” Mike said. He got up, walked over to the lump on the kitchen floor, and squatted down by it. Charles Longstreet had fallen forward, but his face had turned to the side and rested on his cheek. Mike put his hand over his father’s mouth. Hot breath coated his palm.
“So did I kill him?” Callie asked. She winced at the hopeful sound in her voice, but couldn’t help it.
Mike looked up at her and wiped his palm on his pants leg. That was all Callie needed to see.
“I guess I shoulda hit him harder.” she said.