I know this is hard to believe but...
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|Fri, 05-21-2004 - 12:26pm|
I have made a few more changes, added a bit more to Frankie's story, and tightened up a few things.
I really hope this is good.
I would like to ask for anyone qualified, to check my use of punctuation, and grammar.
Thank you. =)
–– 1 ––
WELL… HERE’S MY STORY. The walls in my study are curiously warm and inviting this morning, but it does little to change things. A chilling breeze creeps through the open window of my den, brushing the dry skin of my face as I sit up in my easy chair––the product of last night’s rain, I suppose. It’s still dark, the moon hangs low in the western sky, and as the rest of the world lies asleep, I write.
As much as I would love to tell you that none of this is true––I can’t, it really is, and I must get its suffocating weight off my chest, in the hope it might bring closure to one of the darkest chapters in my life, and maybe––just maybe, my soul may carry on.
I have everything a man could ever dream for, and more, two beautiful daughters, a wife that would knock your socks off, and a best selling novel––my third to date. But I find myself slipping away––quite often nowadays. This is why I'm writing this. The slightest thing sends me back––back to Frankie––back to the game.
My youngest daughter, Katelyn, had a hand in this journey back, just over a week ago. Kate’s a wonderful child, a real floodlight, in a dark sinister world. She and her sister Carly get along like cats and dogs, but that’s to be expected––they’re teenagers.
Her teachers love her to death, she aces just about every class she attends; but lately she has developed a real serious problem; she’s been going far out of her way, to capture as much attention from her classmates as she possibly can––gets that from her mother.
Well, one day I got a phone call in my home office, (I was in the middle of my latest novel; a guy named Bradley, gets lead through a terrifying high school initiation by a scared ruffian named Frankie––go figure) At the other end of the line was the Auburn Middle School principle; her voice was far from pleasant––quite the contrary actually. If she could have reached through the phone line and strangled me, I’m quite positive, she would have.
“Mr. Kimball, your daughter Katelyn has been launching spitballs at her classmates, she even hit a teacher during lunch hour. She’s been told to stop on several occasions, but she persists to fire those grotesque things all through the school. You must come. You must remove her from the premises immediately. She will be allowed to return in two days––but only if she hand writes an apology, to each student, and to the teacher in which she hit. I am thoroughly disgusted with this sickening behavior Mr. Kimball. I do hope, you will have a serious talk with your daughter.”
I guess some might find this a bit humorous. I know a couple parents I’ve talked to about it, found it so, but it wasn’t all that funny to me––not at all, in fact it nearly brought me to tears. It was the mention of the spitballs that did it to me––brought me back to that dark place.
–– 2 ––
THE SPITBALL WHIZZED BY, just missing my right ear, quite possibly the last remaining spot on my body––besides the obvious target––not hit by the SOB. I crouched down, retrieving the straw-gun that had fallen from my lips, from the dirty floor of the dilapidated barn, and ducked for cover––hiding behind a tall bale of hay.
I knew Frankie was close, I could always tell. I swear if that guy were to bathe, the filth would rot a gaping hole through the town septic, and poison the water supply. I kid you not, it was that bad. I could smell him; he was coming; his stench slowly began to fill the vast space, covering the foul odor which already reeked throughout the large barn––once home to many a racehorse, back when we were kids. I knew I had little time before I was found.
Frankie ran through the huge open doors of the barn. He was out of breath and extremely tired––he was damn near dead; he had chased me for nearly two hours, and I could barely breath myself. He stopped in the doorway, and plopped his hands to his bent knees, looking wearily into the darkness of the barn.
I quickly turned off my flashlight, and moved so very slowly––like a stalking cheetah, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce my prey. Creeping through the darkness, sure to stick close to the side of the bales, I crouched even lower, covering myself in some loose straw that was sprawled over the dank floor. I got a good lock on my target through the veil of straw that covered my face, and waited, patiently––aiming––focusing.
It was him all right––ant murderer, that’s what we called him; got the name when we were boys. He would light the little buggers on fire with a magnifying glass in the grade school playground. Some kids thought it was a blast, watching the little suckers flare up in those scorching beams of magnified sunlight. Others––me included––called him a murderer; it was in my mind, as simple as that. He was a murderer––don’t you agree?
It all starts somewhere, my mother would say. Frankie? He was well on his way up the killing ladder. I remember her saying; soon he’ll move from ants, on to much larger things––maybe cats… dogs perhaps… even people. This scared me to death. Frankie wouldn’t kill me––would he?
There was no way to know for sure. Who could know just where these feelings would take him, but I saw it in his eyes, back there, in the school playground––he was crazy, and it wasn’t just me who thought so. Ms. Marsh used to look at him with concerned eyes too––she knew.
“I know you’re in here.” Frankie said, shining his flashlight from one dark corner of the barn to the next, before entering. As the light flooded the wall opposite of me, I noticed Frankie’s straw-gun; it dangled lazily from his lips. “I saw you run in here. I hit you––didn’t I?”
Frankie flashed the light in my direction. Swiftly, I dropped my stance and tucked in even closer to the bale. The light passed on, flashing off into the back corner of the barn.
“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.” He said, pacing a circle in the open area at the center of the barn. “Surrender to me, and I’ll have mercy on your petty soul.”
I raised the straw-gun to my sore cracking lips, and took aim for his head––right between the eyes––that was the target. I was an ace shot too; just needed the right opportunity; the right line. If I missed, not only would the sickness not fall, but also my cover would be blown, and most certainly, I would lose––to a murderer.
Come on… turn your damn head.
“Thomas,” he said in a patronizing tone. “I know you’re in here; I’ll get you, you know that, don’t you? One way or another, you’re mine. Why don’t you make it easier on yourself––surrender. No one needs to get hurt. It’s mine––you know that. There’s nothing you, or anyone else can do to change that fact. Surrender it, and yourself to me and I will let you walk.”
There was simply no way in hell I was giving it to him, and even less chance, I was going to surrender. I had him locked in my sight; he was going down.
Damn you man––turn your head.
I remember; my eyes started to blur; I struggled to keep focused on the uncooperative target. I just needed him to turn his head a few degrees in my direction and all this would finally be over. The game would be something I could hide away, somewhere in a dark place in my past, and I could finally continue on with my life; but he wasn’t turning, and I was growing impatient.
I bolted up from my shadowy hideout, the straw-gun still in my mouth––still focused on the target––still ready to fire. I inhaled deeply, and made a purposeful cough sound with my throat. Frankie turned. I fired.
Frankie gazed at me, with an odd look of shock and despair, then started to shake, his hands falling to his sides in sudden tremor, and the straw-gun––which had caused so much pain and destruction––lost the security of his lips, and fell, tumbling to the dirty, hay covered floor of Mr. Hadley’s old barn.
It was over. Frankie turned slowly, without a single peep; faced the broken doors, which where held open only by iron rods, sunk deep into the earth––the ends sticking up through the ground, propping them firmly in place. I won, and he knew it. He pulled the flag from his belt-loop and released it; it glided gracefully, like a feather, to the floor.
A prodigious sigh, slipped franticly passed my lips––which were now bleeding from the cracks that fashioned around their borders, as I lowered my squelched straw-gun, and vigilantly made my way toward that red flag, which now lay lifeless, in a mound of dirt.
He never said a word––Frankie. He just stood there, in that old, tattered barn, gazing into the frigid blackness of an autumn night. I can still feel that awful air. It was then, I think, when I became aware of that bitter coldness––made my bones ache, and my teeth chatter.
Frankie sauntered toward the doors, never looking back, not even for a quick glance; he just walked, disappearing into the night––into that youthful autumn blackness that haunts me still today.
–– 3 ––
A LITTLE OVER A WEEK HAD PASSED, and nobody had seen or heard from Frankie––not at work, or at church. It was as if he had just vanished. It was just a game; though it was much more than that to Frankie. Up until that day––a week ago; back in Mr. Hadley’s barn––Frankie had never lost a game of Spitball, much less lost a game of Spitball to me––his best friend.
I know… you’re probably thinking–– Best friend? Think what you will; Frankie was a good guy. Sure, he was a character all right; an outright loon even––at times, but he grew on me. We became the very best of friends, shortly after his father passed away. He was nothing like I once thought––like I was once led to believe.
–– 4 ––
FRANKIE NEVER MISSED A DAY of church. For years it was because his father wouldn’t allow for it, but it didn’t take long; soon it became his only place of comfort––a place to think––a place to drift, far away from a painful reality that ate at his soul. A reality he successfully hid from us for nearly three years––that is ‘till the nervous breakdown. Very quickly things started to surface then, and the boy that once was so odd, so irrefutably different––even dangerous, became the closest thing to our hearts.
We talked a great deal about his father during those days. I remember his father––Frank Senior is what we all called him. He was a well-respected man, and Frankie treated him like gold. He was everything in the world, and aside from church, he was all he had left in his life.
He never knew his mother. He grew up believing she was dead––died of a heart attack, that’s what he remembered being told once. But reality would finally catch up with him, on the eve of his fifteenth birthday.
He cried for hours that day, called in sick from work, the first time in two years, and disappeared for a few days. She was a hooker. His father had tried to remove her from the streets. Wanted to help her find herself, is how he put it.
But soon after Frankie was born, she returned home, to those dark––always-cold streets. The only place she ever really felt any comfort. That was her life, and she didn’t need anyone to help her find herself––she already knew.
She disappeared one night. Slipping off into the past like a dark secret. Didn’t leave a note, or any sign at all to where she was going; she just vanished. His father never spoke of her; he had nothing to say. She was not the type of conversational piece he wanted in his home. He was a good man––Frankie’s father. He was a churchgoer himself––every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and with faithful attendance, just like Frankie.
Senior really tried to drive home the wonderful moral values of his religion, and in many ways he was successful, and it helped Frankie get over many of the pains that ailed him. But nothing he learned within those glorious confines of grace and God-sent light, prepared him for the death of his father. He never was the same after that. He still attended church with divine devotion, and held his job at the market, but his face was always long––his eyes in another place, wet and ready to flow.
I came to find with time that Frankie was a little on the slow side. He had a heart of gold, and a brilliant mind––when it came to things like math, and fine literature, but he constantly struggled to portray those emotions with words, and often came off as crazy, or just plain retarded. Sure, I felt sorry for him, but that wasn’t the reason I took such a strong liking for the kid. He was a lot of fun. As silly as it was, playing that stupid Spitball game of his, I enjoyed it quite a lot, and we played it a lot. He was good too––damn good, he always won. It wasn’t just me; Jerald Wishymer used to play with us too, when he lived in town, and he never beat Frankie either.
I loved Frankie, and I could tell he was in some serious trouble. He was acting just like that troubled little boy again––the one scorching ants, back in the grade-school playground. We had grown; we were nearly adults, for Christ sake. Why was he running off like a little baby? Where the hell was he?
The first place I checked was probably the most obvious––the barn. I found myself visiting that damn place nearly every day, for at least a week, hoping he would show––he never did.
–– 5 ––
AFTER A MONTH OF TIRELESS, drawn-out searches, and the daily congregations with the local folk, police, and neighboring townships. Everyone in the small town of Auburn had begun to fear the worst for Frankie.
He never showed up at work––Mr. Marks replaced him at the register, at the Auburn Village Superette. His family grew increasingly concerned; he never turned up at Sunday meetings at the Fellowship Church––and he never missed those meetings.
We were all beginning to fear that something horrific had happened to Frankie. It was not like him to simply disappear. He would run off at times––sure, sometimes for days, but he always came back; and if it were a church day––regardless of mood––he would still manage to sneak in for a minute or two.
The thought of murder, honestly never crossed anyone’s mind until that point. There had never been a murder, which anyone could recall, in Auburn. It was such a peaceful, friendly town. Murder was unheard of.
–– 6 ––
ONE DAY––A GOOD SIX MONTHS after Frankie’s disappearance, and long after many of us, including myself I’m saddened to admit, had started to push good ol’ Frankie into that dark place in the mind––Mr. Hadley entered that old dilapidated racehorse barn of his, eager to start clearing it out for renovations.
I can still recall what he told us––as clear as if his words had been spoken yesterday.
–– 7 ––
MANY YEARS HAD ESCAPED HIM––sneaking off, like a gang of kids on a Friday night. He was tired, and for many years, lacked the needed desire to fix her up––the barn that is. But Mr. Hadley felt his days running thin. The big Seven-O was creeping up fast, and racing horses was a tireless pride that still burned in his blood. He longed to rekindle that dying family tradition with his grandchildren––Lord knows his own children could care less.
The barn had always smelled bad––it reeked of animal feces, rotting wood, and dirt, but Mr. Hadley’s stomach grew ill upon entering the barn on that day. His senses were attacked by an odor, the like of which he had smelled only once before; the time he returned from vacation to find his favorite racehorse––I think Dasher was her name––dead in the field behind his ranch. Her body was maggot infested, and the stench never did leave him––this was a strong reminder.
Mr. Hadley flicked on his flashlight and shined it around the barn. There were the usual bales of hay, and in the back right corner, rested the old tools he had stored away for safe keeping, but never did find a use for them after Dasher passed on.
But it was the image dangling high above his head, hidden by rodent infested rafters, tucked almost entirely out of site, that would stick so vividly clear in his mind for eternity. It was the rotting, animal savaged remains of whom he instantly recognized––as Frankie. He could tell only by the clothing, which clung loosely to the blackened, maggot festering remains––for there was no identifiable body left. They were the clothes Frankie wore, the day of the game.
–– 8 ––
IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE I realized just what had happened that day, and when the answers finally came rushing in, flooding my thoughts like a raging tsunami, I found it almost impossible to breath. It was me.
After all that had happened, all the endless searching, digging for answers that never would surface, and all the empty wondering; in the end, it was me. Looking back on it now, it’s so damn clear. I took the one thing he had left, the one thing he always had to look forward to, the one thing that was his, and his alone… his game.
I know this now, and have lived with the haunting guilt of his death for over fifteen years; I can’t live it, no more. Each waking moment I drift back to a time; a time when kids were kids, and life was all an endless game. To most, this is a comforting place; a place to hide away when the struggles of daily life get to rough. But for me, this is a horrifying place, a dark place, locked in a state of endless peril. A living, breathing darkness, tearing gaping holes through my mind, and will remain, long after the body that holds host to it, is gone.
Kids will be kids, and Kate will grow to be a fine woman one day––I know this. She will be the type to return frequently to her school-days, visiting those honorable teachers, who had guided her through those tough times, known to most, simply as adolescence.
I wish I could be there, holding her hands, guiding her through the thick, and the thin. But I am trapped; trapped in the confines of my mind.
My wife is king here; she’s the one to take youths bucking head by the horns. She’s the one with the magic––her glorious magic. This is no place for me. I am but a man, trapped in a foreign place, held captive by the female alien species, about to reveal my dark tragic secret.
It’s cold. My pale skin tightens, stretching painfully taut over my frail aching bones; the hairs that have taken refuge there stand at attention; hailing one final solute, to the frigid air. The clicking of the hammer ricochets off the stone of the sleeping fireplace and the cool brick of the family room wall––numbing my ears in the deafening silence that follows.
“Forgive me Frankie. Forgive me.”
Edited 5/21/2004 12:33 pm ET ET by magicalempire