A large Coca-Cola from the Tastee Freeze sat on top of the game, and it was sweating a stream of water onto the control panel. I gripped the red ball of the joystick, flicking it back and forth in a flurry, alternating between the jump and hit buttons. Ghosts and Goblins wasn’t exactly my favorite game, but somebody had broken the stick on Spy Hunter, and there was nothing else to play. The Sugar Hill “Arcade” consisted of the two aforementioned games in the waiting area of Mr. Chee’s Laundromat, so there wasn’t a whole lot of culture to be had in the area of digital entertainment.
While hissing to myself, I threw lances at the dead rising from the ground, and blue crows with obnoxious beaks swooping down across the black background. A knight in shining armor threw an infinite number of gray sticks across the stereotypical graveyard of leafless trees, crooked tombstones, and lightning flashes. The little guy never got tired, and he never seemed scared, but the game still gave me the creeps. It always had. Maybe it was the combination of the unchanging, bleak atmosphere or the ominous music, but I’d just never really gotten attached to this game, not like Spy Hunter.
“Hey, you take a cup offa machine!” Mr. Chee came out of nowhere, scaring the hell out of me while jabbing a finger toward the cup that was dripping.
“Okay, Mr. Chee, okay! Give me one minute. I can’t exactly pause this thing, you know.”
The small man proceeded to get on tiptoes and reach across me in order to pull the cup down, snatch the cup down was more appropriate. Some of the water hit me in the face, but the watered-down Coke stayed under the plastic lid.
“Heah!” he put the cup in my face, forcing me to move my head around it before he lost me a life. “Heah!”
“Just put it on the floor, Mr. Chee, Jeez!” He placed it beside my button hand, and I was forced to catch it before it slid off. A zombie got me mid jump. “Awww, come on, man! That is absolutely not cool, Mr. Chee. You owe me a quarter!”
“No quarter!” he yelled, placing his hands on his hips and looking out the door at the street that was behind me. “No drink on a machine!”
He smiled at me after that like he always did. Mr. Chee had a headful of thick black hair that was gray at the temples, and he always wore an apron folded over at the waist like he owned a butcher shop instead of a laundromat, but he was always a nice guy. We both stood now, looking out the open door, huge windows on both sides. It was quiet out, and after a couple of cars passed, Mr. Chee nudged my shoulder and nodded.
“You walk home inna dark?” It came out dock. He was right, the days were getting shorter, and it was already sundown.
“Yeah, I better get going, Mr. Chee,” I nudged him back and he chuckled. He was so small it was like nudging a kid. “You still owe me a quarter too.”
“No, no quarter for you, Jacob. No drink on a machine.”
“Yeah, no drink on a machine. Take it easy, Mr. Chee.”
The wind was picking up, and all I had on was a red flannel shirt over a gray Dukes of Hazzard T-shirt. I fixed a couple of the buttons on the flannel to keep it closed and turned my hat around backward. Leaves skittered past my feet as I made my way up the sidewalk, careful not to step on any cracks and alternating which foot crossed the joints. It was an aggravating process but the sanest way to navigate a sidewalk.
The houses on this side of town were not exactly the ones used on any tourism brochures (if there was any possibility of tourism in Sugar Hill). They sat ten feet off the street with unkempt yards spotted with grass, old toys, plastic chairs, and the occasional car. One or two might have had a Dollar General hummingbird feeder or plastic wind chime, but most just had the chair with a five-gallon bucket half-filled with dirt as an ashtray. Nobody was sitting outside now to watch the traffic. The sun was hanging on by its last rays, and the wind had picked up. There were just the leaves and the occasional barking dog. I’d really waited too late to head home. When I got to the edge of the cemetery that sprawled out into the growing darkness across the street from the Methodist church, I stopped to tie my shoe, but I was really gearing myself up to get across. I hated this part of the walk at twelve noon in July, so it was most unwelcome at this near dark in fall. I stood up and started at a half trot, and I’d almost made it halfway when I heard a squeal that was far scarier than any ghoul or ghost could manage from anywhere in the cemetery. It was the loud cry of a whining fan belt that preceded tires on the asphalt behind me.
“Hey, shit eater!” I knew the voice as soon as I heard the H in hey, and I cursed silently, wondering what angelic figure I’d tortured and killed in a past life for time to conspire against me so vehemently now.
“Hey, Chet,” I said between breaths. I turned to see him leaning out of the window of Mama’s Buick Century, well used to be Mama’s. Not the chick magnet dreamed of by a young man, but it did have electric windows and a working radio. Something by AC/DC came through the window along with him, but the sound had to battle to be heard over the whining fan belt that had been hanging on for dear life for the last ten thousand miles.
“Whatcha doin?” he asked, always the astute observer. I never could help myself.
“Trying to catch this damn fish,” I said nodding in front of me, and he actually looked. One of his buddies, Shmoop, a.k.a. Donald Mulroney, giggled in the passenger seat beside him, and Chet’s ears went back which wasn’t good.
“Always a smartass, aintcha?” he said, pulling the car across both lanes and blocking the sidewalk in front of me. Such disregard for vehicular rules made me anxious, but Chet never gave a shit about anything. Two brothers couldn’t be less alike. He was also twice my size, which wasn’t saying much because I was small for my age.
“I was just playing, Chet,” I made to walk around, and the light came on in the interior of the car. He had opened the door just a crack.
“Where’d you get the money for Tastee Freeze?” I looked down at my hand and frowned. I forgot I was still holding the cup of Coke that was mostly melted ice now.
“I didn’t buy it,” I said quickly, hoping he’d believe me. I had managed to get seven dollars from Daddy for getting rocks out of the garden and successfully hid it from nimrod here. I spent three forty-two at the Freeze and now I had the remaining in my pocket. Amateur move, I knew better than to keep all my money in one spot, even if it was on me. “Mr. Chee gave me this. He got it with his meal and didn’t want it.”
“Is that right?” he said, planting one of Daddy’s old work boots on the sidewalk, the door halfway open now. “Then you won’t mind if I turn outcha pockets, will ya?”
He’s big and unholy strong, I’ll give him that, but I’m fast. Like, ridiculously fast. It is an attribute that got me through most of childhood with this one. The problem right now was location. When I’d made to walk around the car, I’d chosen the front, which was the wrong end. The other Nobel contender, Shmoop, saw what the plan was and now got out of the passenger side, making it impossible for me to continue in the direction I was going. Chet was too close for me to consider the path from which I’d come. The car was in front of me, and my escape was behind. The problem was, so was the cemetery. The sun was all but down, and I had time to ask myself if it was worth going into this cemetery for three dollars and change. It took me less than a second to come to the conclusion.
“Both uh y’all kiss my ass,” I said in a flat voice then I turned and scaled the wrought iron fence that surrounded the graveyard like a squirrel up a pecan tree. I was agile as hell too.
As soon as I hit the ground, I knew that my exiting line was not only unnecessary but detrimental to my success here. I could’ve just hopped the fence and run without further enticing the genius squad, but I was a smartass. He was right on that account, and I really liked getting the last word. Also, I liked to pretend that I was always in a movie, and the kiss my ass line really felt like it made the scene. I heard cursing along with car doors slamming and tires squealing, but I didn’t turn around to look. What I did do was turn and hit the tombstone of a confederate soldier so hard that my knee actually felt like it broke. I don’t know if a knee can be broken, but I know a hundred-year-old headstone won’t if you kick it.
After literally sobbing for two full minutes, I wiped my face and flexed my leg a few times before gingerly applying weight to it. Youth and genetics had saved me this time it seemed, so I began walking again albeit much more slowly. I limped past the two confederate graves and headed between two stone vaults brandishing the Hackworth name in matching white stone above each. I could only make out the shapes in this light, but I knew the name on them. Everyone in Sugar Hill did. It was probably much of the population’s property taxes that ended up paying for the ostentatious crypts, and everyone knew it, but they still appreciated it for the simple fact that it gave simple people something to feel proud of.
With the light pretty much gone, my eyes adjusted well. The glow of a streetlight gave me just enough to make out shapes and give me a heading. I looked back toward the light now, deliberating whether or not to return to the street. The high-pitched whine of the Buick’s fan belt stopped me from standing up. Then I heard the sound of tires hitting gravel. Followed by something worse than the whining fan belt: the sound of it stopping.
“You go that way!” Chet hissed somewhere off in the distance. This just kept getting better. Closing my eyes, I mapped out my options.
The Crooked Branch Cemetery was massive considering the size of Sugar Hill, but when the county is large, and the town is small land is never an issue. There was no ordinance for in-ground slabs or headstone shapes or sizes, so the setting was a typical country churchyard, though smaller than some and bigger than most. A gravel drive entered and exited both edges of the cemetery on Alexander Street. Wrought iron gates stood at both entrance and exit, but they hadn’t been locked um—ever as far as I knew. They probably didn’t even have hinges and were set up for show. The gravel drive was it. There was no other way in or out, and the road formed a massive horseshoe, losing its shape only once to veer inward toward the great oak tree at the center of the graveyard. A security light had been mounted beside the tree after kids kept throwing toilet paper in it. The two scientists chasing me now undoubtedly were part of that shit paper throwing group.
Footsteps slapped the sidewalk from the other side of the fence behind me. Shmoop was cutting me off from the best route. Chet was the one who’d hissed to my left, where the gravel drive lay. The only thing to do now was head into the graveyard, toward the great oak with the security light in the center. The moon was nearly full, and it was coming through the drifting breaks in the clouds. I could see well enough to traverse the cemetery, but it was a gray world, a colorless world, not much unlike what this place was on a sunny day in my eyes. All I had to do was get somewhere away from my brother and his friend for long enough for them to lose interest. Considering their attention span, it shouldn’t take more than about thirty seconds.
Light rain on and off throughout the day made the ground damp and thankfully the leaves too, so crunching under my feet wasn’t an issue. With one hand in front and one by my side to catch me should I stumble and knock my teeth out on a slab of granite, I picked up my feet just enough not to drag the ground. When I came to the first stone border to a family plot, I walked it around and stepped off the other side. This was my plan to move to the center of the cemetery. Not exactly a beeline, it was the most effective way for me to protect my very tender kneecap.
“Jaaacooob,” Chet sang my name, which somehow made it sound even worse coming out of his mouth. “Jaaacooob, come on, dude. I was just playin,” he was closer than I thought, but I couldn’t make out his crooked figure among the straight lines of the stone, so he must not be too close. “You know this is illegal, right? You can’t be in a cemetery after dark. If they catch you, they’re gonna assume you were molesting a body.”
“You’re in here too, dipshit,” I hissed in his direction then quickly walked around lest he locate me by the sound of my voice.
“Yeah, but I’m in here to get my queer little brother,” Chet said, and I heard Shmoop laugh from the sidewalk. “Everybody knows you’d be the one to come fondle a dead guy. The cops would just help me look for you.”
I almost stood up at that comment, which was exactly what he had in mind. His queer talk really got under my skin. I took a breath and calmed down, realizing that he was desperate to play that card. Sure enough, within a few seconds he stood up and shouted.
“It don’t matter noway!” He was pissed now, yelling into the dark like that. If anyone heard, they would call the cops. “I’ll let the Reaper getcha! You know he lives in the graveyard, right? If not the Reaper, then Crazy Charlie! One way or another you get got!”
I assume the Reaper is Death himself, and while I don’t subscribe to the belief that there’s an actual black-robed figure who carries a scythe going around collecting souls of the dead when their time is up, it’s not comforting to have it brought to mind right now. If Death were a person, I assume he would likely live in a graveyard (or would the ICU in a hospital make more sense?) It didn’t matter, I’m going to see him peeking out from behind some of the tombstones now, regardless. As for Crazy Charlie, he was very much real, and he could live anywhere in town he wanted because he didn’t have an actual house. He was a homeless drunk and a good-for-nothing according to most people’s definition. I’d gotten close enough to him a couple of times to hear him mumbling to himself. I assume he suffers from some sort of mental or psychological disorder because he’s usually talking to someone who’s not there, not to himself, but he does wreak and he does drink anything that crosses his path, so I really don’t want to see him around here either, especially since he supposedly killed his wife and two kids with a shovel the night he lost his mind. That’s right, a shovel.
When I heard two feet thump somewhere behind me, I assumed Shmoop must have jumped the fence to join to chase. I got my bearings on the granite border and made my way around the current plot.
“Bah, bitch!” Chet barked. He grabbed my shoulder and spun me around.
“Aaaahg!” I tried to scream but choked in the process. He scared me so badly that my bladder released a little of the large Coke I’d been nursing for the past hour. I quickly pinched it off, but felt the warmth spread in my crotch. Lurching forward, I heard the buttons on my flannel shirt give, and I slid out of it, dropping the Tastee Freeze cup along the way. My knuckles hit the edge of the granite headstone in front of me, and I felt a bolt of lightning go up my arm. But I kept going. Weaving through the shapes, I put as much distance as I could between me and my brother. I assume he fell backward, holding my shirt in his grubby hand. I hope he did, anyway.
“Come here, you little sumbitch!” he said, but his voice was well behind me now. “I don’t even care about the money now. I’m gonna beat the piss outta you!”
If he only knew.
I ran as fast as this place would let me, moving at least fifty yards from where I was, my right fist held to my stomach the entire time. My hand was killing me. When I got to an obelisk for one of the wealthier family plots, I slid my back down the opposite side and sat on the damp ground. I could see the clouds form in front of me from my heavy breathing.
“Are we going to this party or not, Chet?” It was Shmoop I heard yelling. He sounded like he was still way back at the fence. “Nina Chambers is waitin on me, son! I ain’t gonna miss that to hunt your smartass little brother in the bone yard!”
There was a silence now. The cadence of my heart was slowing, and I was able to breathe through my nose instead of gasping through my mouth. I pulled my jeans away from my crotch, but I was too cold to be able to tell if I peed enough for it to soak all the way through. I brought my fist up to my mouth to try to warm it up, and the taste of blood made me pull it away. I patted my knuckles with my left fingers and felt the abrasion. Felt like my damn hand was broken. I listened but could hear nothing, honestly nothing for at least thirty heartbeats then a gust of wind cupped my ears. I looked off into the darkness and prepared myself, anticipating the hiss that would come from Chet’s lips. Like a villain in a horror movie, he could always catch me even though he was slow and walked in a straight line. It just didn’t make any sense. I waited for it, cutting my eyes back and forth. That’s when I heard a car door shut followed by another. Two quick horn blows cut through the tombstones and hit me then the familiar whine of the fan belt. I heard it struggling with the revving engine as it moved down the road and out of earshot. Finally, it was silent again.
Shit. It was silent again. I was out in the middle of a graveyard in the dark right by my damn self. If looking in from the road, I was toward the right side, almost at the gravel drive that made the horseshoe. From here, I’d have to walk beside the woods and the abandoned sawmill in those woods to get back to the road. The sound of a metal roof creaked with the wind just as I thought about that old building, which further cemented the fact that I was not about to walk past it. I had two other options: I could walk back the way I’d come, but my knee and my hand begged me not to, or I could follow the horseshoe the long way around, which would take me past the well-lighted oak tree in the middle. Missing my flannel shirt, I was cold, my pants were wet, and I was suddenly exhausted. Without deliberating too long, I stood up and started making my way around the long way, away from the woods and the ghosts of sawmill employees past.
My padded footsteps disappeared with the gravel that crunched underneath my Reeboks. An owl called somewhere from the woods behind me just like this was a scene in a storybook, but I didn’t turn to look. I just dug my hands in my pocket and headed around. The wind was at my back, and I was hovering between that feeling of being uncomfortably cold and uncontrollable shivering. I hated that feeling, shivering and teeth chattering. It always made me feel like crap. I decided to bounce back and forth from one side of the drive to the other, trying to get my heartrate up and my blood circulating. It wasn’t working too well. As I rounded the far end of the horseshoe and cut back toward the middle of the cemetery—the only place the drive lost its shape—I was able to read the headstones that were facing toward the light at the tree. The Blevinses had a standard plot. Beloved mother here, devoted father there. There was a smaller headstone and slab for Tallulah Rose Blevins who “lived” April 4, 1965, and no days past it. I stopped here for some reason and cleared the leaves away from the stone. Ordinarily I’d enjoy looking at the dates and figuring the ages of death, but I obviously wasn’t in the mood at present. Right then all I wanted to do was feel the sidewalk under my feet and get back home to a hot shower, dry clothes, and some band-aids.
I thought about my own family plot where Mama was, but I couldn’t get to it tonight. It was well off the drive, down the hill on the opposite side of the graveyard where the cheaper plots lay. I tried to take my mind off it because if I dwelled, I’d picture her down there under the ground rotting in the dark and in the cold. Well, rotting as much as bodies did these days in Cadillac coffins and prune-dried skin. Of course, Mama didn’t get a Caddie. She got the Volkswagen Beetle with the lawnmower engine in the back and floorboards rusted out. She’d be a skeleton by now, wouldn’t she? That depended on if the worms got to her or the bacteria. Could stuff like that get to her in a coffin that wasn’t just a pine box? No, don’t do that. Think about something else. Think about something else you can’t get your mind off of, something that’s not her.
I decided to think about Chet because he was one that easily stuck in my head. I wondered if everybody had to deal with the same kind of crap from an older sibling. I imagine they did. It was rare to hear anybody bragging about their older brother or sister. I guess there was just a rule that they be assholes to their underlings. Perhaps it was just the law of the universe. While swimming at a friend’s house this summer, he’d held me under water as a “game” until I passed out. After he pulled me out and frantically slapped me awake, he proceeded to threaten to kill me if I told anyone. He was never one to really catch the irony of a situation. Anyway, I hadn’t told. What would be done about it? Granny was about as scared of him as I was, and whenever dear old Dad came home, he couldn’t care less about what happened to anyone. No, I’d just have to do a better job of avoiding the bastard.
And there I was, dressed for July on a cool October night, still avoiding Chet. At least my crotch didn’t bother me so bad anymore. It had either dried enough or gone numb. Either way, I could ignore it. The sky had cleared quite a bit, and the moon really helped my eyes. Everything was bathed in a silver light, and it seemed so fitting in a place with almost no color in the middle of the day. Yes, it was scary as hell, but it was so appropriate. My brain had been conditioned for this moment, the cemetery at night, ghostly pale in the moonlight with cold wind blowing through nearly leafless trees, tombstones and monuments protruding from uncut grass like they’d been pushed up from the ground, pushed up by the dead. All that was missing was an old church and an owl sitting on a branch, his huge eyes reflecting whatever light they could. I was scared to death, but it was an exhilarating feeling, and the longer I remained in the environment, the easier it was for me to stay.
I approached the old oak now, the security light hitting it from my left, and something stopped me from about forty or fifty feet away. The outline of the tree was a welcome sight with its dips and curves and lack of straight edges unlike those of the headstones around it. Man was the inventor of straight edges. I’d heard that somewhere. Nature didn’t bother with them. Something protruded from the tree at the base of the trunk, a shape that didn’t belong. It had no edges, but it had no symmetry either. It was a growth, a mound, a protuberance coming off the tree that didn’t belong. I patted my pockets for about the hundredth time for a flashlight, a cigarette lighter, a glow stick, things I knew weren’t there, but I kept looking. I should just move around. I should just double time it up the drive and get back to the blessed concrete and dim streetlights, but my newfound comfort or bravado or whatever you wanted to call it made me walk toward the tree. There was no reason to. I could easily cut across fifty feet of grass to where the drive straightened out and headed toward the road, but there was something there. Something was leaning against the tree, and it was in the light.
As I approached the tree for whatever reason there existed that I should approach that tree, I sidestepped to the left and right in order to get a different perspective. The outline began to take a shape that my brain attempted to recognize, but I refused to let it. It was a discarded garbage bag filled with household trash that ended up out here in the middle of a cemetery where there were no houses or dumpsters—well not for trash, anyway. It must be a stack of folding chairs used for those who sat graveside, left by workers in too much of a hurry or simply incompetent, but then they would have straight lines, wouldn’t they? Of course, it was a flowerpot. A large arrangement left for the remains of someone who’d moved on, though no headstone was near the tree. I saw what it was or what my brain thought it was, but I kept moving forward because at some point between leaving Mr. Chee’s laundromat/arcade and escaping the fury of my brother I’d lost my sense of survival. I was five senses moving forward, taking in the world around me so the pink mass between my ears could try to bring order out of chaos. I was a damn idiot is what I was.
“Hello?” I don’t know what I expected. If it responded to me, I had a feeling that my newfound courage (or stupidity) was about to take flight as fast as I was through this graveyard, granite slabs be damned.
A flutter somewhere in the branches stopped me, but the shape didn’t move. It wasn’t a shape. From this angle and this close, the security light showed me what it was. A person, a man by the size, sat slumped against the trunk. One knee was up to his chest where his head lay on top of it face down. His other leg was out straight in front of him. Both hands lay on the ground at his sides palms up. I could see my breath cloud in front of me. It was exaggerated in the glow of the artificial light. It’s the only breath I saw.
“Um, hello, are you asleep?” Nothing. Not even another flutter from the branches.
I walked up to him and was able to make out a beard on his cheek, long and clumpy, or matted, I guess. He wasn’t moving. He was unmoving in a way that wasn’t natural for anything that had a pink mass between its ears trying to bring order out of chaos. I sat down a good six feet from him, not caring about the wet ground since I had pissed myself anyway. Not caring about the cold. My throat was dry, and I really wished I still had a little of that watered-down co-cola.
“Shit,” I whispered, then sniffed and wiped my nose with the back of my hand. I watched him for several minutes. I could hear nothing. There was wind in the trees and the heart beating in my chest, but there was nothing else. My teeth weren’t even chattering. For some reason, I experienced the deepest sense of calm I’d ever felt in my life and possibly would ever feel.
When enough time had passed, however much that was supposed to be, I got up on my feet, my knees popping like firecrackers, and duckwalked over to him. I couldn’t smell anything other than the earth. There was a bag beside him, a brown paper bag that could have been from the IGA and most likely was. It was rolled over at the top and had been so many times it looked like it was made of cloth rather than paper. It wasn’t far from his hand, and when I reached out to grab it, the bag I mean, I saw there was a spoon between his thumb and fingers. He wasn’t grabbing it, not anymore, but he obviously had been. The bowl of it was buried halfway into the wet ground, making it stick up like a shovel. Sticking up like a tiny little shovel in the graveyard. For some reason I got the image of the man trying desperately to dig his own grave when he saw the Reaper coming. I grabbed it instead and pulled it out then leaned forward and touched the side of his head with it. It was like touching it to the side of that oak tree. It didn’t move. He didn’t move. I did it again with a little more force until the flimsy little spoon broke, and when it did, I leaned into him with my hand before I could correct myself. He shifted away then rocked back and fell over toward me. I let out a little yelp and fell backward, my Dukes of Hazzard T-shirt now soaked and me with it. Multiple flutters let out from the tree. There may have been the call of crows, but I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t focus. All I could imagine was his hand grabbing my ankle, him dragging me down into a hole he’d dug with his tiny little spoon into a place where I would be with him forever and ever.
I got up and jumped up and down, trying to get a hold of myself, looking around guiltily to see if someone had seen. But I was alone in this place filled with people. I was alone, there was no one else, no one worrying about it anymore, anyway. I took a few deep breaths and gritted my teeth.
“Don’t be a queer,” I hissed, but it felt stupid when I said it. It made me feel guilty, so I just shook my head and knelt down beside the man. His face was in the light. His eyes were open and crossed like he was trying to get a child to laugh at him, but I couldn’t laugh because of his nose. The tip of his nose was turned up as it would be if you pushed your finger against it, but there was no finger here. He’d fallen down on his knee, squishing his face up while the blood flowed, and when it stopped, he’d become playdough. That’s what had happened. What else could it be? I began sniffing repeatedly and wiping at my face with both hands. I was crying. For some reason I was crying. This night of broken knees and busted hands and running through a wet, cold graveyard hadn’t broken me down, hadn’t put me in my place, but his nose and his face with that silly expression. It had stopped flowing and left him just as he was, and that’s how he would be when the ants came and the worms followed, the bacteria to clear the bones. He was Mama or he might as well be, or maybe he was luckier because he got to be out here in the world where it could take care of him, where it could take him back. I hated him for that, and I admired him. I don’t know what I felt. I couldn’t stop crying, and I found myself trying to push his nose down, but it was like trying to straighten the corner of a dog-eared page. If you didn’t shut it straight in the book, that sonofabitch was going right back the way it was. I thought about that for some reason, and I hit him in the arm and the chest, crying the whole time, snot going everywhere, the blood from my hand.
I fell over on my side and let myself finish. There was nothing else to do for it. I cried and I wailed like a kid leaving ShowBiz Pizza before the party was over, and I let myself do it because it hurt too much to try to stop. When I was done, and my breathing was even, I sat up and looked at the man. He could have been Crazy Charlie, but I didn’t know, I’d never seen his face this close up. I didn’t know who the hell else it would be.
“I’m sorry,” I found myself saying. “I’m so sorry.” I tried to pick him back up, but he was too heavy, and he was too stiff. All I could do was try to brush him off, but everything was wet, and my hands just made it worse. I had no choice but to leave him alone.
I saw the brown paper bag, and I stepped to it and picked it up. It wasn’t heavy, but it had something in it. I grabbed the top to unroll it then I looked back at him with his eyes crossed and his nose turned up and I stopped and placed it in front of him because it was his, and it wasn’t any of my damn business what was in it. After that, I wiped my face hard with the front of my shirt, stuffed my hands in my pockets, and walked up the gravel drive toward the road like I was on my way to a movie.
Somewhere underneath one step or another, a realization formed perhaps through the weight borne by the earth or the force of the appendage against it, that the space there had produced and devoured countless organisms for millions of revolutions. Billions. The response of the earth itself was not indifference but gratitude for both the giving and the taking since it gave Her a reason so much more profound than could be equaled by innumerable eons of the surrounding. Let not the night engulf you nor the darkness intimidate as it is all in line with the process that has been and will always be so long as there is a source of light.
As an undergrad, Bryant worked as a correctional officer for four years. He transitioned directly into education where he taught high school English Language Arts for fifteen years. He has been a media specialist for the past seven, and he blends his experiences and childhood into his fiction.