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.

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