A Warm Afternoon, A Dark Summer Nightby Jesse Zaraska / Horror / Thrillers & Crime
A Warm Afternoon, A Dark Summer Night
Copyright ©2014 Jesse Zaraska
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For Grandma and Grandpa Zaraska
And for Pops
Story: A Warm Afternoon, A Dark Summer Night
Excerpt: Old Ghosts
THE BABY CRIED.
“I just don’t know how we will manage.”
“We will make it work, Paul. We always do.”
“Sure, we manage to scrape by, but there has to be some point where it stops, don’t there? A point where we don’t manage.”
“What would you have me do, Paul? I could not just leave her.”
“Where is she? How could she leave? Even for her…I don’t know, Ellen. For the life of me I cannot understand it.”
“Well, I cannot begin to understand it either, Paul, but we will make it work. I’m sure I can make more with the blankets, and this year’s crop is bound to be better. We will just have to make sacrifices here and there. It will work out. I know it.”
The man walked around the small kitchen running his right hand through his hair.
“And what do we need now?”
“Well, I made a list here for you to pick up if you do not mind. It is a few things from Frank’s. Nothing odd.”
“I was going to buy Thomas that little piece this afternoon. I suppose that will have to be put off now.”
“It might be best, though I do not know how we will tell him.”
The boy walked out of the house and gently shut the screen door behind him. He jumped off the porch and ran across the yard to the barn. Here he sat petting his horse, the place already too warm. Fuck them. Fuck them, Mack. A spider crawled across the dirt floor in front of him, and he picked it up by one leg and let it dangle in front of his face, squirming in his control. He grabbed another leg on the opposite side of the spider and started to pull. The spider stretched in front of him for a second and then snapped back, one leg detached, it sitting in Thomas’s left hand. He smiled and repeated the process, this time taking a leg from the opposite side than the first. He smiled again. He then leaned down close to the ground and gently returned the spider to the dirt below and watched it crawl awkwardly across the floor. Once it was a few feet away he stood and walked over top of it and spit down at the spider. The spit slipped from his mouth slowly and hung before breaking and falling slightly behind the spider. The boy smiled and thought about the old man. It was a warm July afternoon and he decided that he would go see what the old man was doing. Almost at the door he turned and walked back to the spider. He stood over top of it for a second, then lifted his leg and drove his foot down on top of it. Fuck them.
He walked to the fence and looked into the neighbouring field. Across the field the old man was slinging a burlap sack over his shoulder. As the boy watched, the contents of the bag seemed to move. The boy slid under the fence at his usual spot, the dirt worn, and ran through the field. As he approached, the old man spun around.
“Whatcha got in the sack there, Mr. Johnson?”
“A few things that I have to get rid of, sir. How are you doing this fine afternoon, Thomas?”
“I am well, sir.”
“And what do you have planned for this marvelous day that we have been blessed with?”
“Not sure, sir. Just playin.”
“Just playin, eh. Good, good. Well, Thomas, I have to get back to this, sir, so why don’t you be a gentleman and go back up home there to play and let an old man get about his business. You and I can have a little fun later if the time permits. Come callin,” he said, still holding the sack behind his back.
“Yes, sir,” the boy replied, and slowly backed up and sauntered away.
At the fence he watched the old man walk towards his barn. He then ran to the woods at the edge of the farm and entered like a thief. Here he followed his usual trail, hard-packed to the earth, back down the hill towards the old man’s barn. He slid under the barbed wire and, hearing the old man on the side of the barn, crept along the back and peered around the corner.
The old man set the sack in the dirt and sat down next to it, back to the barn. He untied the sack and reached his hand in and pulled out a small black puppy. The old man looked at the small animal and petted the top of the its head and rubbed the puppy against his face, the animal making small sounds. He set the pup down and took out a can from his shirt pocket. The boy had seen him do this many times before. There was a rustling behind the boy and he turned in fear to see two squirrels leaping above him. When he looked back the old man was sitting against the barn smoking a cigarette with one hand and petting the puppy with the other. The old man took a long draw from his smoke and set it on the ground in the dirt next to him. He then picked the puppy back up, set it back in the sack, and tied the top. The old man stood up and stretched before pressing his right foot down onto the cigarette. He then took off his shirt and carefully folded it, leaving it on a small wooden box set against the barn. He looked into the sky above and shook his head back and forth before lifting the sack from the ground and pushing it into the water barrel that sat next to the wooden box at the edge of the barn. Water splashed out the sides, leaking down the edge of the barrel. The boy knelt at the edge of the barn, confused. He wanted to speak, to yell, but he could not. The old man was their friend and the old man had told him to do something, and his father had told him to always listen to the old man. The old man held the sack and its contents in the barrel for what seemed to the boy like an hour before he walked around the corner.
He came back with a shovel in one hand, and with the other he grabbed the sack from the barrel, it dripping water to the dirt below. He then began to walk towards the boy.
Unsure, the boy started to run.
He darted along the backside of the barn and heard his name called behind him as he scrambled up the hill on his hands and feet. If he could just make it to the house he would explain. Halfway up the hill his flight was halted. The old man spun him around by his shoulders.
“Thomas, I thought I told you to go back home.”
“Was there something you did not understand about my wishes, young man?”
“No, sir. I was jus watchin a lick. I was in the woods and I heard ya. You said to come callin.”
“But I am sure that I asked you to come callin later. I asked you to head back home, not to be watching what I was up to.”
“I didn’t see nothin, sir.”
“The term is ‘I did not see anything,’ my good man, and I am not sure that I am completely convinced. Is Pa home?”
“Yes, sir. He is.”
“Alright. Let’s you and I walk back up there and talk to that old fella. No trouble, just need to explain somethin to him.”
The old man grabbed Thomas by the hand and gently led him the rest of the way up the hill. They crossed the yard and walked up onto the porch.
The old man knocked on the door.
Paul came to the door and looked at the arrival in confusion.
“How do you do, sir? What seems to be the problem? Was the young man bothering you, Albert?”
“No, no,” the old man replied, “nothing of the sort. It is always a pleasure. I was just down at the barn dealing with those pups I was tellin ya about yesterday. Well, they come this morn, and I was just in the middle of gettin rid of a few of those fellas when I saw old Tommy here looking on. He ran and I chased him up the hill. Think I scared the daylights out of the poor fella. I did not know what I should or should not say on the subject, so I figured that I had better come and talk to you and Ellen.”
Paul smiled. He leaned closer to the old man.
“I appreciate that. He saw you actually drowning the pups?”
“I’m afraid so, Paul. I am quite sure, but as I said I did not press him.”
“Alright. Thank you. I will talk to him.”
“Alright. Good afternoon then, gentlemen.” The old man looked down at Thomas and smiled.
Thomas stood on the porch, scared.
“Thomas, come here please.” His father walked into the kitchen and sat at the table. “What were you doing over at Mr. Johnson’s?”
“I was just walking on my path, sir, and I saw that he had something in his sack. I just watched him with the pup for a minute, sir.”
“And what did Mr. Johnson do with the pups, Thomas?”
“Well, sir, he pet one for awhile and then he killed it in the water. I think there was more pups in the sack even.”
“And why do you think he did that, Thomas?”
The boy looked at the ground. “I do not understand why he did it, Pa. Made me mad. Honest.”
“Well, Tom, the truth is, in a way he had to do it. Not to be mean or to be cruel,