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Captive in terror orchar.., p.1
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       Captive in Terror Orchard, p.1

           Brian Bakos
 
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Captive in Terror Orchard
CAPTIVE IN TERROR ORCHARD

  The trees are waiting for You

  Book 1 of the Terror Orchard series

  by Brian Bakos

  Copyright 2013 Brian Bakos / revised 07/2016

  Cover Art: Othoniel Ortiz Photos: Brian Bakos

  Table of Contents

  Prelude: Life Over the Edge

  Part One: Captivity

  Part Two: Struggle for Freedom

  Part Three: The Closing Ring

  Part Four: Breakout

  Next Book in the Series

  Brian's Other Books

  Prelude: Life Over the Edge

  1: Crud Hotel

  The usual cruds are hanging around our apartment when I get home from school. I want to avoid them, but it isn't possible.

  "You're back early, ain't ya?" somebody says.

  "Yeah," I say.

  The sofa is full of cruds; more stretch out on the floor. Two of them, a woman and a biker type guy, are covered up in the easy chair, doing who knows what with their hands.

  I shuffle past the empty beer bottles toward my room. The cigarette and marijuana smoke is almost thick enough to swim through. My eyes burn from the stink.

  "Hey, kid," one of the cruds says, "want some?"

  He drags on a joint and blows the smoke my direction.

  "Cut that out!" I say.

  Everyone howls, like a pack of psychotic chimps. Mom wouldn't like this, I know, but she's in the kitchen blabbing on the phone with somebody from school. They are, no doubt, telling her why I've been sent home.

  Well, at least our landline hasn't been disconnected again.

  Mom's latest boyfriend is flopped out with the others - high, laughing, and yowling - a big, mean-looking guy with tattoos and a bald head. Biker type. His name is Steve, or Bill, or something. I can't keep track.

  I make it to my room and shut the door behind me, which blocks the party racket somewhat. I open my window, and the air becomes a bit more breathable - although the marijuana stench is something of a permanent fixture in our place.

  At least another lousy day at school is finally over. This one had been a real classic.

  Some big mouth called me "trailer trash" during lunch period and I had to bust him up a little. This surprised him because he was bigger than me, and he really didn't think I'd make such fuss in the lunch room. He was only trying to be funny, after all, impress the girls at my expense.

  But I got in a good take down before he knew what hit him, and when his head smacked the edge of a table, the fight was pretty much over. He had this blubbery, frightened look on his face, and I just couldn't bring myself to slug him. His tray went flying and scattered its contents over half the lunch room. I hope everybody liked the 'chopped steak' or whatever it was supposed to be.

  They blamed me, of course, and I'm a hair's breadth away from another suspension - unless Mom can talk them out of it, which doesn't seem likely. Thing is, we don't even live in a trailer. We have this wonderful place, courtesy of the welfare department.

  It's no worse than the other places we've lived, I suppose. Better than some, actually. But the same type of awful people keep showing up. It's like we have a big flashing neon sign in the window:

  CRUD HOTEL

  Bring All Your Friends

  I flick on my little garage sale TV and sprawl out on my bed. A program about Brazil is on, and it sweeps me away from my ugly world like a magic carpet. One minute I'm stuck in the Crud Hotel, the next I'm walking though a beautiful rain forest, then I'm dancing in this carnival with the Samba Kings.

  The warm glow lasts right through the commercial break - a couple of stupid ads selling drugs. As if I don't have enough drugs around me already! Then some guy comes on talking about his heart attack and how wonderful the emergency room was that he visited. Great stuff.

  Brazil comes on again - the wonderful golden shore in Rio this time. An unbelievable blue ocean mixes with the sky and laps against the beach. Guys are playing soccer in the gleaming wet sand along the water line. All of them have big, toothy smiles and tremendous sun tans. I narrow my eyes and imagine myself among them - kicking the soccer ball, splashing into the ocean with the dolphins ...

  My door bursts open, and Mom's boyfriend comes in. I stand up to face him.

  "What the hell!" He's swaying around, trying to focus his eyes. "Ain't this the bathroom?"

  "No, it's down the hall," I say. "If you can make it that far."

  He fixes a stony look on me. "Oh, yeah?"

  "Yeah," I say. "You're not supposed to come in here, so get out."

  This is a dumb thing to say, I suppose, but I'm mad and still fired up from the battle at school. Besides, I'm confident that I can outrun him if I need to.

  But then, with incredible speed for a drunk, he grabs my shirt front before I can dodge away. Next thing I know, I'm flying across the room. I slam against the wall and knock down the bulletin board. Pain explodes through my body, but I am too shocked to be frightened.

  "Time you learned some manners, punk!" the boyfriend says, spraying his alcoholic breath over me.

  He starts to undo his belt. Maybe he intends to hit me with it, or perhaps he has something worse in mind. I'll never know because Mom comes in just then, swinging a tire iron. He turns toward her and catches it square.

  WUMP!

  He stands for a couple of seconds, stunned. His mouth gapes open and his eyes roll back, a big cut is running down his bald head. Then he crashes face-first to the floor and starts bleeding on my comic book collection.

  "You scum!" Mom kicks his fat ribs. "I said I'd kill you if you ever touched him!"

  She raises the weapon in both hands for the killing blow, but others rush in and disarm her before she can finish him off. The tire iron tumbles onto the floor. The posse drags Mom away to the living room. She is screaming and cursing like a crazy person.

  All I can do is sit against the wall and try to get my breath back. Sharp pain tears through my side whenever I move. A terrible, bloody taste seeps into my mouth.

  Finally, I manage to get up and step around the slob mountain that is spread on my floor. I pick up the tire iron and drag it out to the living room, ready to smash anyone who tries to harm Mom. My ribs hurt so much that I feel ready to pass out.

  "Leave her alone!" I yell.

  Everyone stares at me; no one is laughing anymore. Mom seems to be okay. She's sitting on the sofa with a couple of other women, crying and drinking cheap vodka. Somebody is calling 911.

  So, lover boy survives the little spat. The last I see of him, he's being wheeled out on a stretcher, whimpering like a baby. Big hero.

  Then I have to go to the hospital myself for my cracked rib. I wonder if it's the same emergency room where the heart attack guy in the TV ad went.

  2: The Grech Appear

  Soon after this, the child welfare people declared Mom an 'unfit parent' and sent me to the Children's Home for abused and neglected kids.

  "It's for the best, Billy," Mom told me between sobs - hers and mine. "I know I can't take care of you right."

  That was my last conversation with her, and it's been over two years now.

  I was so angry that all I could see was a new bunch of kids to fight with, another crummy school. It's just recently that I've realized the Children's Home wasn't such a bad place. Some of the counselors were really nice; they tried to be on your side. If I'd been smart, I would have tried to get along better, but that's all in the past.

  They put me through a lot of tests when I first got there. I was evaluated as being "highly intelligent," but also "rebellious and defiant." So, the Home was glad to get rid of me when the Grech appeared.

  What a snow job those two gave! Ye
s, they'd be happy to take a "problem child" like me into foster care. They had a beautiful country home. And they came highly recommended - by a county judge, no less. A guy named Franklin Gulp.

  I was so desperate to leave the Children's Home that I was almost glad to go with them. But I knew from the start that something wasn't right.

  Part One: Captivity

  3: Sweet Home on Brazil Road

  Marnie, the cook, plops down the food. The ancient table groans, and a smell like unwashed laundry wafts into the air. The Grech dig in. That's a good way to put it, because this dinner has been dug up from someplace ugly. My heart sinks to a new low.

  I have to break out of this nightmare before it's too late, I tell myself for the thousandth time.

  Good old Mr. Grech jaws a mouthful of the stuff. Juice dribbles down his chin stubble and onto the front of his shirt.

  "Dang, Marnie," he says, "you sure make good roast beef."

  "Use your napkin, Albert!" Mrs. Grech snaps.

  I look at the soggy mess on my plate and force back a gag. So, this is roast beef? And to think I used to complain about the food at the Children's Home! Compared to this garbage, the hamburger blobs at the Home were gourmet heaven.

  My stomach grumbles and my brain roams over the escape plans I've thought about for the past two weeks. I mentally travel through the whole rickety house and around the property outside - over to the big oak tree and the raspberry patch - looking for a way out. But try as I might, I keep stumbling over the same problem ...

  Marnie slithers back into the kitchen with her black dress rustling. Mrs. Grech brushes back her frizzy gray-streaked hair with one hand and slurps peas from a twisted spoon she holds in the other. She munches away, her dentures clicking along.

  "Eat up, boy!" she says between chomps.

  I shovel in a couple of peas and chew them slowly; they explode in my mouth like boiled pimples. At least they temporarily take my mind off the two frightening old people sitting at the table.

  The Grech are not really old years-wise, but the life juice has got sucked out of them somehow. The more I am around them, the less they seem like real people at all. They are more like walking Halloween costumes with nothing human inside.

  Not that they're feeble. Perish that thought! My arm still hurts from when Mr. Grech twisted it last week to let me know that I was working too slow. He'd seemed powerful enough to snap my arm like a match stick. Every throb brings back the terror and humiliation.

  You'll pay for that, sucker.

  Right now, he looks contented as he munches away like a fat, balding old buffalo. Maybe I should try to enjoy this moment, knowing that it is as good as things are likely to get. But then the glare of car headlights stabs through the picture window and ruins the happy scene.

  As the light scans Mr. Grech's face, his features change from standard mean to downright ferocious, as if someone is smearing them with angry paint. He hobbles to the window and peers at the house across the road where Mr. and Mrs. Ponge are backing into their driveway.

  "Drat those people!" he says. "They're up to something."

  Whoosh!

  He swings his cane as if it's a saber hacking off Mr. Ponge's head.

  "Calm down, Albert," says Mrs. Grech. "You'll get your blood pressure up."

  "Look at them," Albert says. "Coming and going at all hours. Backing into the driveway? They'll be unloading something they don't want us to see."

  One of his dark rages is about to explode, so I think it best to get out of the way. Unobserved, I dump my 'roast beef' into my napkin and get up.

  "Think I'll do my chores now," I say.

  Mrs. Grech fixes a twitching eyeball on me and grunts permission. I scurry for the front door and am almost there when Mr. Grech slashes his cane again. A hate filled breeze whips across my face. As I dodge out of the way, I nearly upset the teacups on the side table.

  "Watch out, you idiot!" Mrs. Grech shrieks.

  ***

  I stumble down the porch steps and onto the lawn. I dash half way to the road before stopping. A sliver of moon throws off delicate light, and masses of stars dot the sky, so I am able to keep from tripping.

  The warm country evening offers me refuge. I want to escape into its dark, cricket-chirp distance, but I know I can't do that - not yet. I look off toward the raspberry patch at the edge of the property. Would any of them be ripe enough to eat? I'd love to find out but don't dare wander that far without permission.

  I nudge my foot against the electronic tracking device chained to my left ankle. It hangs there cold and terrible, crushing my spirit like an iron nutcracker.

  Fireflies dart through the grassy-smelling air. They tease me with their constant flashes, as if to say: "Look at us, Billy Conner, we come and go as we please."

  Then I hear something rushing at me from behind. I turn -

  The dog jumps on me, nearly knocking me over.

  "Poochie," I gasp, "you little idiot!"

  Poochie doesn't bark, he knows better than to bark when Albert Grech is around. He limits himself to excited little whines and yips. I give his head the old knuckle duster treatment.

  "Are you trying to give me a coronary, like that guy on TV?" I say.

  The dog licks my face.

  "Ugh, gross!"

  Poochie seems like a cross between a collie and a German shepherd, but smaller than either. His hair is short and his ears too big. You can't tell about his tail because somebody has chopped it off. Everything about him says, 'misfit!' Kind of like me.

  I slip my dinner scraps to the little mutt. Starved as he certainly is, he takes the food cautiously, as if he fears that it might bite him back. What I wouldn't give for some fast-food burgers about now - even those little steamed things you get by the dozen.

  I leave Poochie to his 'feast' and walk the rest of the way to the road. The light breeze favors me, pushing away the stench from the nearby storage tank. I pause on the gravel shoulder and light a cigarette.

  The smoke steadies me, but makes me feel a bit faint at the same time - hardly surprising, since I am more than half starved. It drifts around like an old friend from the real world come to visit me here in nightmare land. Then it vanishes with the breeze.

  Across the road, by the dim light of their car trunk, Mr. and Mrs. Ponge wrestle with something large and awkward.

  "Be careful," Mr. Ponge says. "You'll ruin everything."

  He talks in a low voice, but I still hear him because I've got excellent ears.

  Then the trunk slams and I can't see much anymore. The side door grates open as they enter their house. I expect a light to come on, but the old place remains dark and spooky, like a haunted house in some cheap horror movie.

  "This is some neighborhood," I observe.

  I take another drag on my cigarette. In the moonbeams, the road flows southward like a river of concrete. I place a foot onto the pavement and feel its great power vibrating right up to the top of my head. Thousands of miles away, this very same road enters Brazil, winding through the vast forests, the great cities, and down to the beaches.

  Hope surges into me. Soon I will be escaping down this road - before the life juice gets sucked out of me. After just two weeks, I am already half dried out.

  But everything will change when I get to Brazil.

  I'll take refuge there until I'm not a kid anymore. By that time Mom will be over her drinking and doping problems, then we can be a family again. I'll find her when I came back, right after I visit Albert Grech and punch in that fat belly of his.

  Samba music drifts up the road from Brazil and mingles with the tangy scent of ocean water. A golden beach calls to me; its brightness stings my eyes. A soccer ball rolls up. Everything is so real that I can actually see it, touch it. I reach out my hands ...

  Poochie brushes against me, begging to be petted, and my wonderful vision blinks out of existence. I reach down and stroke his head. With my other hand I wipe away tears.

&n
bsp; "You want to go with me to Brazil, pal?" I say.

  Poochie wags his stump of a tail so hard I think he'll spin himself around. A crack of light shoots across the lawn.

  "Quit stalling!" Mr. Grech yells from the doorway. "Take care of them trees!"

  Pain starts throbbing behind my eyeballs. I drop the cigarette butt onto the pavement and crush it under my foot. If only it were Albert Grech's face instead!

  4: Grove Encounter

  The night becomes very threatening all of a sudden. As if on cue, the wind kicks up and clouds elbow aside the sliver of moon. Brazil flees thousands of miles down the road. Poochie starts to whine.

  I turn slowly, like a door on rusty hinges, until I face the orange orchard looming thirty yards away. The big trees form a smear of blackness darker than the surrounding night.

  In the middle of them, the largest tree shoots up like a crooked finger summoning down a curse from the sky. It is the ruler of the orchard, the "Czar Albert" tree, as I've named it. It's the one around which all the others gather, the one with the mouth gaping at its base.

  The moon pokes back into view, but the grove remains dark. Its leaves - which are blackish green in daytime - absorb the moonlight. They act like wet pavement soaking up car headlights and turning the most familiar route into a trip to the unknown.

  The leaves rustle impatiently. The orchard is hungry. Tonight is its feeding time.

  "Come on Poochie," I say. "Let's get this over with, okay?"

  The dog whimpers and slinks along behind me. He looks exactly the way I feel.

  I approach the dumpster-sized food storage tank, climb the step ladder beside it, and grab the large bucket from its prong. This weekly chore hadn't been any fun in the daylight, but since the Ponge moved in a few days ago, I now have to work under cover of darkness.

  I brace myself for the coming assault as I reach back my right foot to the control lever. I stomp the lever down.

  As the tank top screeches open, a rotten smell leaps out like a giant fist and nearly knocks me off the ladder. Had there been anything in my stomach, I would have thrown up for sure. I lower the bucket on its chain and scoop out a batch of lumpy ooze. Who knows what's in it? I sure don't want to know.

  Somehow, I get back down the ladder without spilling anything.

 
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