Tear. (Second Draft)

“It all started when the boys went missing.” The stranger at the end of the bar said. He was haggard, white hair poking out at all angles and grizzled stubble on his cheeks. His eyes were hard to look at, I quickly came to realize as he stared directly into mine. “The three of them, they were normal boys. They grew up just like anyone else in Stone Creek.”

“You don’t even remember what Stone Creek is, let alone those missing boys. You used to, but you don’t anymore.” His arms were crossed over the bar and he looked down at them for a moment, “But it needs to be said, what happened. How a town of sixty thousand died.”

 

In the months that followed, there was plenty of talk about whether the boys were on the level, even before they went missing. Truth is, they were normal ten year old boys, and they were doing what normal ten year old boys do when they live within a mile of the woods, and the summer sun felt nice. Dustin MacKaye, Eric Boucher and Bobby Rollins with their dog, Rockaway, probably going to look for frogs or something; they didn’t even bother to tell their parents what they were doing or where they were going.

It was only after Keith Martin, who lived against the edge of the woods, and who saw them walking together, came forward after word got out of the missing children. By then, it was two days later and totally dark out. Just the same, the boys’ fathers ignored the requests of the local police and ventured into the woods without anything but their flashlights. Which went out five minutes after they broke the tree line, almost exactly.

Benny MacKaye was the first to come out, several miles away from where he went in, which was all the more disconcerting because he hadn’t been more than fifteen minutes inside the woods. Thinking better of going back in, he returned to the point where he entered and waited for his friends to return. The police found him the next morning, still waiting.

Just as the police had worried, earlier urging caution to the parents, they now had five people to find, instead of three. They ventured in with dogs, and after only a half an hour, they found a badly disheveled David Boucher, who was in the middle of constructing a rough lean-to and who looked as if he hadn’t shaved or bathed in months, which is what he told the bewildered officers back at what would become known as ‘base camp’ in the coming weeks.

He told them that he had entered the woods several months ago, he was estimating, and had almost immediately become separated from Benny and Harris when their flashlights went off. He heard them calling to each other for a few minutes, but becoming more and more rapidly distant as time went by. He was grateful for his survival training, which came into practical use for the first time in his life. He was able to make a rough go of it, but he still lost fifty pounds, to say nothing of what was now becoming a situation at a rapid pace.

The media came in as the searches broadened and as strange stories became increasingly common. Some people talking about the voices of relatives calling out, and others claiming to see dilapidated structures standing in the distance, where nothing could possibly be. Others nearly fell off of sudden cliffs, despite there not being any in the near area. After more time-distorted disappearances and reappearances, the searchers tied ropes to each other, as if climbing a mountain, which were tied back to base camp. This strategy was, awkwardly enough, the first thing that the outside press came across.

The townspeople didn’t mind the press, especially as it would probably help with the search effort, but they very firmly warned of the strangeness going on beyond the treeline. The camera crew decided to play along, thinking that they could sneak in after the parties retired for the evening. The cameras fried out after a certain distance, with nothing on them recoverable. I don’t want to think about how they would’ve explained that to their bosses back at whatever station they were from.

Harris Rollins came out after the third week. Or, Harris’ body came back after the third week. His clothes were much the way they were when he went in; they were mostly clean, just as the rest of him was. His eyes, though, were fixed on a distance far away from where anyone could see and he wouldn’t say a word. As far as I know, he’s still sitting in a mental institution in Madison, still in that catatonic state.

The crews packed it up after that. How could they not? The weirdness from before was one thing, but Harris? People, deeply apologetic, that we had all known our entire lives, had to bow out from fear of the woods. No one knew anything that was going on, they just knew that it scared the Jesus out of them, and they didn’t know how to handle it. With the desire to find the boys all but gone, the search was called off and the cases were closed on the boys.

We went back to our lives, sad to say. There was a community memorial at the First Methodist, with Shayla Rollins standing by herself, looking haunted and broken inside. As far as anyone knew, she had no family aside from Harris and Bobby. The poor woman was seen less and less as time went by, until…well, that will come later.

The Bouchers and MacKayes spoke off the cuff at the memorial, thanking the assembled mourners for all that they had done. In the back, Shayla held herself and cried helplessly before she screamed, “They’re still in there! They’re still in there and you know it!” No one could say anything, because we could all understand her grief, her pain. We all felt it to some extent, even if it was at its most profound for Shayla.

A serious sort of anxiety set upon the town after the memorial. Something had broken inside of the town, and no one could quite say it. They would talk about how nothing feels right, or how they couldn’t help but want to get out, despite all the years that they had spent in Stone Creek. The lives that were lived.

And around it all was the silent sentinel of the woods. No one dared to breach the tree line after everything that had happened, especially when there was no sign of the leaves changing all through August and September. It was as if there were a great and powerful monster just beyond the edges of town, slumbering prior to now, but awakened for reasons none could guess. Fear was a new emotion in Stone Creek. One that we would all get to know very well.

 

The stranger took a drink from his beer, and only then did I realize that a small crowd had formed around his bar-stool. The bartender had turned the volume of the jukebox down, and no one moved to tell him that smoking wasn’t allowed indoors anymore, before he had a Lucky Strike smoldering between his lips. He smoked miserably and looked around at the assembled faces, “Keith was found on the 30th of September, mauled. His body lay on the porch of his house at the edge of the woods, guts splayed out from his stomach. The coroner said that the bite marks were consistent with an enormous domesticated dog.”

He was silent for a time after that, before taking a long drag and sitting back up and fixing his horrible eyes onto another listener, “They came back, you know. The boys, that is. They came back.”

 

They were back into town on the first of October, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened or was happening. No one had seen them as they got to town’s square, but there they were, just the same.

The Bouchers and MacKayes both eyed their boys with suspicion and fear, huddling close to each other and shakily approaching their children. Shayla, however, ran and grabbed Bobby and held him, sobbing into the boy in that way that only the truly heartbroken can. The MacKayes and Bouchers watched Shayla, before gathering their children and returning home without celebration, as if they were just collecting them after a day’s play.

The boys looked like themselves, but there was something deeply wrong with them as anyone could see. They all looked, as Harris had, as if they hadn’t spent any time at all inside of the woods, except that they were wearing entirely different clothes than what they had on during that fateful day; clothes that their parents hadn’t ever bought them. Rockaway was missing, which also rubbed most wrong (and caused some to speculate about Keith), as did the fact that the boys refused to speak to anyone that wasn’t one another, and at no louder than an inaudible whisper. It was this reason why the town looked at their arrival with more trepidation than anything else, and why no one thought to report this to the media.

The question is, retrospectively, whether the media have been able to arrive if anyone had.

The roads out of town stopped working on October 2nd. By that I mean that someone would drive out of town and end up on the other side of it, still facing the same direction. This, of course, caused panic to spread through the community once again. People who hadn’t been to church since they were confirmed or baptized were now crowding pews while priests, the rabbi of the local synagogue and pastors searched frantically for some answer to this situation in their tomes.

Some dealt with this problem in the way that they knew how, which was to go after it head on. By the time that they had been appeared on the other side of town for the third time, they accepted that, at least for now, they were trapped by forces that they didn’t understand. A sign was placed at the terminus of every road, marking the place in which the displacement would happen.

Over the month to follow, it was if space-time had snapped like a rubber band. The doors inside of houses would lead to different rooms than what was down on the floorplan, while the location of homes themselves seemed to come unglued and unfixed, appearing in different places every few hours or so.

For lack of any other solution, life went on as best as it could. School resumed with the boys socially promoted to the third grade despite not having officially finished second. I wish I could say that they were warmly welcomed by the community, but if their parents were scared, we shouldn’t be too hard on their classmates. We all sort of expected the boys to go back to normal, that they were in shock or had suffered some other trauma which had inexplicably not left any marks or even mussed their hair or clothes.

There was a game that was soon created, where children would dare one another to spend as much time with the boys as possible before being scared off. Just being in their presence was disconcerting, with their teachers not even able to stand any of their attendance for more than a week. With that, they vanished from the public eye, with their families staying in their homes as much as possible. I had known all six of them, back before any of this happened, the Bouchers, MacKayes and Rollins’. It was heart breaking to see all of their lives dwindle and seem to vanish over time.

Things progressed steadily from there, or regressed as it were. Phone calls were made to outside police offices, only to hear strange howling on the other line once it was connected. Newspapers somehow continued to be delivered from outside of town (the deliverer was never seen), all of them featuring nothing but obituaries for every person that lived in Stone Creek. The obituaries were ghastly and horrifying, describing vivisections, beheadings and murder/suicides. The Sunday editions were complete with color pictures that displayed all the gore possible from such ghastly deaths.

A week after the children returned from the forest, overnight and without anyone noticing, all of the leaves fell from the trees inside of its boundaries. This was disconcerting enough, but they were all still as green as they were the day before. The water that ran from faucets and fixtures also became viscous and thick; after running it through a filter, it only got muddier and more disgusting. Just as with Flint on the other side of Lake Michigan, we all had to turn to bottled water, but knew we would run out soon with the roads in their current condition.

The Bouchers, MacKayes and Shayla were all absent this entire time, having never left their houses, even when the town was trying to reintegrate their children. On the ninth of October, Shayla was seen wandering the streets, calling out for Harris as if he were a lost dog. No one knew how to react, especially when she was led back to her house only for her to start screaming and clawing at her face. Police were called to handle the situation, but it only spiraled even further out of control.

Shayla was now no longer making words, or even attempting to. They were just wild, harsh and inhuman noises that came from her mouth. Just out of sheer curiosity, one of the officers on scene advanced on the house and opened the front door, immediately regretting it mere seconds later.

For all the weirdness that was going on inside of people’s homes, no one had seen anything like this; a vast and endless void had replaced the inside of the Rollins’ house. The officer took out his Maglite and shone it into the void, only to see the light stop inches away from its source. He fished around in his pocket for change, and threw a penny into the void then listened for it to drop. Instead, all that issued forth was the sound of children’s laughter.

He closed the door and stumbled backwards, falling off of the porch and nearly breaking his head open when he hit the ground. Even with the door closed, the laughter persisted and grew in volume. Soon, it was even louder than a tornado siren, with everyone in town hearing it loud and horrifyingly clear.

In the midst of the chaos, Shayla had gone missing. She wasn’t seen again, even after the laughter stopped, five minutes later. There wasn’t any effort to search for her, or for Bobby. The police were tasked with much bigger problems, like keeping a rapidly degrading town from spiraling completely into chaos, or justifying why officers should still suit up now that money had no meaning.

To pair with the space distortions plaguing Stone Creek, now time began to be affected with the sun’s march across the sky taking longer than usual to the point where, eventually, it was totally dark out with the sun standing straight in the sky at noon’s position. This was enough to completely stop the police presence, along with anyone else leaving their homes for anything short of an emergency. The sky was broken, how could anyone be expected to show up for even essential work?

Day by day, more went wrong. One day, all perishable food spontaneously spoiled, regardless of it being refrigerated or even frozen. To make matters worse, a certain number of cans were also afflicted by this sudden rot seeping into the town’s food supply. After this, some started voluntarily walking into the forest. They packed their bags, took what they could and ventured into the bare woods, walking over green leaves, figuring that whatever awaited them inside would be worse than what was waiting for them inside. I hope they were right.

You all are probably wondering whether we tried to contact people throughout this ordeal, outside of the attempts to call for outside police assistance. The answer is that we did: the replies just made us stop trying. Some replies acted in confusion, saying that the sender was just seen the day before while others thought it was a (not very funny) joke. Others simply said that no such place as Stone Creek even existed. Bit by bit, we all just gave up on the outside world.

By the twentieth, water stopped flowing out of taps entirely and all non-human life perished and rotted away such that a family dog fed in the morning would be bones by the end of the day and the sun stopped casting light, causing the town’s street and home lights to be on perpetually. This is, unsurprisingly, when the suicides started. Families sealed their windows and flooded their homes with CO2; gunshots rang out in the middle of the night, signaling more lives lost; one person even started shooting random passersby on Main Street, killing five before he was taken down.

By and by, what was left of the town’s population wondering what new madness was going to visit upon them. A sort of morbid curiosity, wanting to hang on and see where things were headed. We all sensed that the end was near when the sun, still at its noon position and when the sky was cast in a shade of black mirroring that of the inside of the Rollins’ home.

The wait ended on, what everyone guessed was, October 31st. And just as they had on the first, the three boys appeared in the middle of town square. They stood in a small circle, not moving, not blinking, not even appearing to breathe. The rest of Stone Creek slowly heard about this (the Bouchers and MacKayes conspicuously missing), and we all made it to see them, to see what was going to happen. Some brought their Bibles, prayer beads and other assorted religious paraphernalia, grasping at anything that might help them.

We all stood, splayed out around the boys under the street lamps as the sun started to glow ominously, appearing as a festering wound in the sky. And so, one by one, the boys opened their mouths and issued forth the most inhuman sound that anyone had heard. The few children left clasped their hands over their ears to try to shut the sound out, screamed and cried, begged their parents to make it all go away.

But we were all powerless. Somehow, none of us moved from where we all stood, not even as the boys’ mouths opened wider and wider, until their cheeks split. Blood poured down their faces from open wounds that stretched farther while the tops of their heads tilted further and further back. Bone crunched and snapped like celery until finally, the tops of theirs heads were parallel with the ground. The sound seemed to be coming from everywhere, wholly without a true source. When it stopped, suddenly, the boys fell into the ground, still in a perfect circle, their bodies slowly turned black as the sky, as if they had fallen through reality itself, leaving small rents in the fabric of space.

The world creaked and groaned around us, as we all headed back to our homes, all of us unsure as to what to do now that it all seemed over and done with.

Little by little, the lights went off in Stone Creek. The darkness encroached further and further until it all vanished, entirely, from the face of the Earth.

 

Not a soul moved, spoke or made a sound in the bar. All eyes were on the stranger as he disconsolately smoked a Lucky Strike.

“But, what about you? How did you get out?” I began to say, before being silenced when the front door swung open and a harried woman entered the bar, “Has anyone seen Charles? He went in the woods with his friends yesterday and he hasn’t come back!”

The bar’s population stared at her, dumbstruck, before turning back to the barstool, finding it empty.

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Class.

To whom it may regard
You’re probably wondering what it is that you’re holding in your hands. I gave my confession when I was arrested, and I made it clear that I don’t want a priest in my cell or attending my execution, so what is this if not a confession or a ‘come to god’ sort of thing? Well, the answer is pretty simple. I’m not letting anyone write the ending to my story except for me, and I’m certainly not going to allow the media’s narrative against me to go unanswered.

To set the record straight: I never said that I was anything other than one hundred percent guilty of all the charges against me. Murder in the first? Obviously true. Breaking and entering? Also true. Why go through the list? You all watched the court proceedings. So, what is there to clear up? Let’s start at the beginning.

 

I was born in a union household in St. Francis. Like most everyone else in the town, my parents were employed by Mr. Frederik’s company, Rodion Solutions. Times were good and St. Francis thrived. Property values were high, but not too high so as to keep middle class families from purchasing homes, and there were always enough jobs. We even saw the owner, Mr. Rodion, in town on a frequent basis. He insisted on being called by his first name, Richard, by everyone, even his employees, and patronized local businesses on a frequent basis. That isn’t to say that the man is a saint, but it isn’t my place to tell stories out of school. This is about me and Richard’s son, not me and John’s father.

We’d hear rumors now and then, about automation coming to Rodion Solutions, but Mr. Rodion swore that his factory would automate when it’s owned by someone else, and not a moment before. It wasn’t just talk, either, it was a stance that he stood resolute on. As a result, we had a beautiful and bustling main street, local scholarships, and a thriving arts community, proof that college towns don’t have a monopoly on culture. We’d hear rumblings about how unhappy John was with the state of his inheritance, or how deeply he disagreed with his father about his stance on automation, but Richard was resolute and firm. Due to Rodion Solutions being a privately owned company, with all shares owned by Richard, he had absolute control over how things were run. There was talk about making the company completely employee-owned, but…no one’s perfect.

Time went on. People moved, people came in, stores opened and stores closed, but Rodion’s gates were unlocked on weekdays and unemployment within St. Francis was all but completely unheard of. That is until Mr. Rodion ‘s health started to fail. It wasn’t as if we weren’t expecting it; he was a five pack a day smoker during downtime, and would be even worse during busy periods. Rather than spend the last few months of his life on chemo, only to get a trache and a lung removed, he chose to check into hospice to die as comfortably as possible in the town that he had built.

The change happened faster than any of us could believe. John was smart enough to know not to make any major changes while his father was still alive, so he waited until the day of Richard’s funeral for him to make Rodion Solutions into a publicly traded corporation. Within a month, the lay-offs started. The people of St. Francis did what they were able to, but the damage was done and could not be rolled back. All that needed to be done was for the right people to think the wrong thing about what happened to the jobs (immigration and outsourcing, not automation) and any effort to rally St. Francis against John Rodion was utterly undercut.

Unemployment exploded throughout the country and only got worse over the next two decades. With less middle class jobs, there was less money to spend in the area, which led to even more job losses. Soon enough, there were more boards across windows on Main Street than not, which resulted in an exodus out of the county. With less tax payers and lowering property values, our schools got worse and the Richard Rodion Excellence Award was dissolved, along with the rest of the philanthropic efforts headed by the fallen patriarch. St. Francis was a miniature of Detroit over an accelerated period of time. Quiet nights became filled with police sirens, and then when the local police station had to cut their budget, the sirens stopped by the need for police just grew.

I was luckier than most of my friends. We lost our house, of course, but we were able to sell to a manager that was coming into Rodion to watch over the new robots and to supervise the maintenance crew. As they were moving in and we were moving out, my parents (who were so maligned by the press, and who didn’t deserve any of their blame) drew me aside and told me not to resent them. I still remember my dad’s words as if they were seared into my mind, “Don’t blame them, kiddo. It’s not their fault, they need a job as much as anyone else, and they’re qualified to do it. It’s John Rodion and his stockholders who are to blame for this, not the people who were hired on after we were all laid off.”

That money helped us to stay afloat for awhile, but with store after store closing down in the area and major chains hesitating from opening up due to declining population numbers and household incomes there was a lot of hesitation. The press chose to paint my dad as a drunk, which was literally true, but such a term is only ever used as a character judgment which was completely unearned. It wasn’t his fault that he was totally unqualified for any other job after he worked at that factory since the day he graduated from high school. The darkest day of his life was when he took a position as a greeter for Wal-Mart. My father, the kindest, warmest and most intelligent man I’ve ever known, fell into a despair that he couldn’t climb out of after his first day in that uniform. My mom was a housekeeper for hire, and between their combined income, we were able to pay for everything but household necessities. My father cried when we had to apply for government assistance, like all of his friends eventually had to.

My parents kindly, but firmly, instilled into me a very strong work ethic as well as a large amount of respect for education and, as my dad called them, “The people who make the gears of the world turn” by which he meant public employees, retail workers, manufacturers, etc. The people who don’t wear a suit to work, unless it was bought at Goodwill. However, they never allowed me to take a job, telling me that my biggest responsibility was getting grades good enough to leave St. Francis and never come back. So, even after my dad finished off a six pack of Milwaukee’s Best, he still sat with me in the kitchen, both of our eyes straining because we only dared to turn on one light in the kitchen to keep the electric bill low, until I finished my homework. When he would have to work overnight, it was my mom that stayed up with me.

My friends were not so fortunate, though. Not everybody can stand up and stare down darkness like my parents can, and not everyone who needs chemical assistance to get through the day was able to stay themselves with their favorite substance flowing through their veins. There were adult suicides, teenage suicides, domestic abuse of every stripe and a surge of opiates methamphetamines into the area. Plenty of people did really well after our town disintegrated, just not any of the original citizens of St. Francis.

On the day of the eighth anniversary of the factory’s closure, I sent off an application to Chicago state for law, thinking that I would be able to fight for people like those hurt by the death of manufacturing, people like my parents. It wasn’t easy, between my father’s worsening alcoholism and my mom’s failing health due to the stress of cleaning every day, I wanted more than anything to return to help. To send them money. But my dad made it clear that he’d throw me out if I tried to come back. “You earned that scholarship, now do something with it.”

And so I did. Years of hard work, years of study. Years more of criminal defense so that I could set up my own practice eventually and all that I ever saw was more people like my parents, my friends and my parents’ friends all crushed by forces out of their control and merely trying to live, trying to get through their day. I put all of this out of my mind and put my nose to the grindstone until John Rodion stood in front of me, which set me on the course that I’m on now. The conversation that followed was a test of my mettle more than anything else as every class-shaming comment and remark he made served to make me angrier and angrier. That is until he made the job offer. He said I had a keen intellect, that I had risen out of squalor, that I beat all the odds and that I defied expectations when he made the squalor, when he set the odds on the table and when he decided that St. Francis’ expectations were only worth diminishing. What could I do but accept the offer?

With the money I made as a corporate lawyer, I was able to buy my parents a home and get my dad the help that he needed after AA failed him for the fourth time; he couldn’t bring himself to believe in a higher power after his best friend and my godfather died of a heroin overdose. Soon, that proved to not be enough. Even after donating most of my income to St. Francis’ public schools and doing everything else that I could for the community that created me, I still felt a hollowness that I couldn’t fill. I carried this hollow feeling with me for months, into the court, into meetings, into doc review and business lunches until I needed John’s signature on some contract or another, it isn’t important, and his secretary was away from her desk. I knew he was in his office, so I just let myself in and continued the chain of dominos falling when I saw his secretary on her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks as John Rodion, the son of a man who created a fabrication and manufacturing conglomerate out of nothing, pulled his pants back up.

I froze. What else could I do? I was reminded of when dad told us that he lost his job; my mind was unable to fully grasp what was going on in front of me. John told his secretary to go back to her desk and she passed me with my mouth wide open while he told her to close the door behind her. The ‘conversation’ that followed, he was the one that spoke while all I could do was nod or shake my head, was full of ‘it isn’t how it looks,’ as he assured me that ‘this can stay between us’ and ‘there’s no reason why any of this needs to leave my office.’ This impromptu ‘meeting’ ended with him, unbidden, doubling my salary and telling me to take the day off. To say that work never went back to normal was an understatement.

I deserve an award for not letting my façade slip over the next few years. John considered me ‘made’ after covering for whatever the hell was going on with his secretary. I felt like I was betraying yet another person for just ‘allowing’ her to think that I was complicit with whatever was going on, but it was necessary as I was allowed into John Rodion’s circle. I met his closest friends, I met his family and his children. I even met two of his mistresses. All for him to totally drop his guard around me, and to allow me to gather what I needed from him, slowly, bit by bit, to bypass the security at his house, and to know when his family will be out of his mansion. From there, it was a matter of time until my parents passed on. If that sounds morbid, it wasn’t meant to; I just didn’t want them to think of their only son, the person who they were more proud of than anyone else, as a murderer.

Finally, the time came. The guard allowed me into his neighborhood to ‘drop off some contracts that couldn’t wait until the office opened.’ Then I used the keys that I copied to get through his front door and the security code to keep the alarm from going off. Everything now depended on me taking my time, and making sure that he knew full well what was going on when I sent him to hell.

He was a heavy sleeper, which was highly conducive for when I slipped the first knife into his soft body. He screamed, because who wouldn’t, but with a totally empty manor that could fit three separate low-cost living apartment buildings in its environs there was no one anywhere near that would care in the least bit. The first knife was just a rude wake up call, as well as sending a ‘I’m not kidding’ message.

I’ll say this much for the dearly departed; he got the situation and was on the wagon right away. With a bottle of smelling salts in my pocket to keep him awake, and a hand on the first knife to twist, I let him know why I was there.
“St. Francis.” I said clearly, my eyes boring into his face.

His eyes searched all over me, unable to find anything to say.

“When your father was alive, the population was ten thousand higher than it is now, the schools were performing better and there was no crime, drugs or suicide to speak of. Have you been there lately?”

He didn’t reply, and I twisted the knife, which produced a cry of “NO!” He struggled to get his breath back, “You know as well as I do what a dump that place is.”

“Thanks to you!” I shouted, spittle flying in his face. “Thanks to you. Killing all those jobs has consequences, John, and I am those consequences.” The second knife slipped into him as easily as you would expect, as much as I paid for them. After he calmed down, I smirked down at him, “Funny thing about knives and stabbing, so long as the attacks avoids all major arteries and organs, it’s very hard to die from a knife attack. Not that you will, of course.”

“Killing me won’t bring those jobs back!” He yelled. “Nothing will! They’ll never come back!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that, “You think that’s what I think will happen?” I leaned in close, as if there were other people in the bedroom. “This is revenge.”

“Revenge?” He coughed and blood drooled out of his mouth. “You hold yourself up as some avenger while leaving my wife and children without me! Just over a business deal?”

I couldn’t help it at that point. I just cut his throat open, “I’ll make sure to leave the phone numbers of your secretary and mistresses. Maybe they’ll help.”

 

You all know what happened after. The arrest, my confession, everything else. And here I am, waiting for my execution date. I know that this won’t fix anything, and I know no one’s shedding any tears when I go in the ground, but at least he didn’t get away with it. Now the hollow feeling is gone. Now I can sleep at night. That’s enough.

Help.

Preface: This is a little something that I’ve been working in my head and in notes for the past six or so years. It’s finally time to stop delaying. The first draft, in parts, will be posted here with a compiled ‘final’ draft done afterwards, and posted on Amazon. So, without further ado:

Help.

Yesterday, promises were made. And on those promises, business was created. A way-station for trappers or loggers, the reason isn’t important anymore. With those businesses came homes that housed their workers. The houses led to more business and bigger buildings and eventually, factories.

For a time, success ran up and down the streets. People looked up into the sky and felt the promise of what tomorrow would bring. The streets seemed to be paved with gold, and on those streets, houses were replaced with apartment buildings. And when the bright and clear promise of yesterday faded into today, Jude Jameson moved into one such apartment building. And today, it was snowing.

There was something about the first snowfall of winter, whenever it happened, that reminded him of what it was like to be a child. Even now, as he walked from the sofa to the living room window, carefully navigating around his furniture in the still dark of early morning, he could feel himself smiling. It was a curious sensation, as he put his back to the few possessions he had that he hadn’t pawned off. He wrapped his robe more tightly around himself and rubbed his arms, feeling a little cold even inside his warm apartment.

He went to the kitchen and began his day, brewing coffee first, while he listened to NPR’s forecast. He listened intently as he was told that it would be a heavy snowfall for the next day or two, and that school closures will be very likely, the following day. His coffee was done after a few minutes, and as the forecast turned into an update on a local referendum on school zoning and what it could mean to a nearby habitat, Jude switched the radio off and instead chose to listen to the silence that always came with a snowstorm.

With coffee, comes cereal, Jude thought to himself. He opened up his cupboard, trying his best not to wince at how empty it was. With his breakfast in hand, he turned to his laptop, sitting on the kitchen island to scan through Craigslist. He crossed his fingers as he scanned through the jobs listings with the criteria of ‘open interviews.’ Before he was finished with his breakfast, he had his list for the day.

“Hey. I can hit all these places on foot,” He mused to himself as he sipped at his coffee. He looked outside and stroked his chin absent-mindedly. The previous winter had been so atypically dry; it had been more than a year since he got to tramp through snow like this. “Alright. Looks like I’m walking today.”

 

Jude hummed softly to himself as he walked through the heavy snowfall. He was cheered by the small amount of street traffic that he encountered due to his increased appreciation for solitude. The town was always at its most quiet during storms like these, as he’d learned. Since moving there, a handful of years ago, he’d come to grow quite fond of the area.

He passed through neighborhood after neighborhood, the houses all standing in stark contrast to one another, showing the deep history that he was surrounded by. Businesses stood between houses, and apartment buildings jutted out at irregular intervals. Some of it was due to the town’s past with industry, affordable housing being needed by low-level workers, some of it was due to the college that stood at the center of it all and the rest was garden variety family housing.

As he stepped onto Main Street, the street lamps turned on. He looked at his phone to check the time, and saw that it was already veering towards sunset on top of the nearly impenetrable cloud-cover. He was making good time, and smiled in appreciation of that fact. He had a good feeling about today, and thought he was past due for a good turn.

Really should’ve applied for unemployment. He thought to himself. He could hardly blame himself for how long he’d gone without work. There just weren’t that many jobs left in the area, and the diminishing population was a reflection of that. He shook his head ruefully as he thought of his last job and his disastrous last day. How he had mixed up the time that he was due in, ended up being an hour late and asked to leave almost immediately upon arrival.

He took a deep breath of the cool air and let it out slowly. He closed his eyes and pushed those thoughts out of his head. Can’t think of that right now; one foot in front of the other. And so, he pressed on towards his first stop of the day.

 

Open interviews often run the gamut of actual, in depth conversations with actual employers, or the distinct feeling of being looked over like a pig at a fair. Just surface glances over your appearance, a few quick questions and then on to the next contestant. Regardless of which of the two approaches employers took, none of them lasted very long, with the walks between businesses taking the longest amount of time so that, when he was finished for the day, his phone displayed “7:00.”

He hadn’t eaten since noon, and the cold and snow was beginning to lose its luster. As he stood in the awning of the doorway that he had just walked out of, he thought about his options. He could either return to his apartment and have a frozen dinner, or he could get a burger. He hadn’t gone out to eat in a week or two, and besides, he had done great work today. Why not top off what was proving to be a nice day with a treat?

To assuage his guilt at spending money that he really didn’t have, he decided to go with fast food. Something cheap, hot and greasy would go a long way towards something like a reward. With that in mind, he stopped in at Apollo’s, and ordered his favorite: a double cheeseburger and Cajun fries. Just as he was about to tuck in, however, his phone began to buzz in his pocket.

“Judith, what are you doing?” Daniel said over the din of bar music.

“Dan, aren’t you supposed to be working?” Jude said as he casually began to eat his fries.

“That would be the ideal situation. However, the bar is totally empty. Not a soul in sight, and bossman wants us to stay open until two ‘just in case.’” Daniel’ bar was around the halfway point between Apollo’s and Jude’s apartment, so swinging by wouldn’t be too much of a labor.

“I’m not sure, man. Money’s really tight, and I don’t think I can really excuse going out to drink, especially on a weekday.”

“Right, like you have anything else better to do. First couple are on me, is that fair?”

Gotcha. Jude thought to himself. “Alright. Fine. Let me finish eating and I’ll be there in twenty.”

 

The road traffic had slowed down from a crawl to a near total stop. The plows hadn’t yet gone out, and the drifts were growing more and more as time passed. He would’ve continued on, not stopping to become even more wet and cold, had he not heard something that he couldn’t quite assign a distinct feeling to. It was a saxophone, being played out into the cold, winter night. There was always something slightly melancholic about a saxophone without accompaniment, and on a night like this, that melancholy was even more profound.

He walked towards it until he found its genesis, someone practicing from their apartment situated on top of a storefront. The light that beamed out of the apartment contrasted with the music, a feeling of home next to a feeling of isolation. Being lost in the wilderness. He shivered a little, but not from the cold, and finished the short distance to Daniel’ bar.

O’Malley’s was usually one of the busiest bars on Main Street, especially when the semester was in, but it was desolate when Jude entered. “Boy, when you can’t even attract college kids…” Jude said as he stripped out of his gloves, jacket, hat and scarf. He place his gloves in his hat, his hat on the bar and the scarf over both as he draped his jacket over the bar seat. He sat down heavily, and Daniel poured out a pint.

“There are bars that don’t require a drive, or a mile’s trek. I just wish Greg would let us close down, there’s no way that anyone’s coming in tonight.”

The beer was cold and refreshing, washing away all of the concerns that hit Jude on an almost daily basis. Would he return to school? Would he finish his degree? What about rent or a job? When would he be able to pay for the repairs that his truck needed? None of this seemed to matter to him as he sat in the comfortable bar, chatting about not much of anything for the next hour. Then another hours passed, and another.

Jude fished his phone out and, when he saw the time, did a double take. “You let me stay in here until eleven at night? Man, I’m not twenty-one anymore.” His head was swimming, and he knew he’d stagger when he got up. “What’s my tab?”

“Forget it. You did me a favor tonight, just toss me a five for pouring beer and we’re square.”

Jude thought this over for a moment, seriously debating the merits of paying a tab, when the option existed not to, on pure principal. “Are you sure, man? Greg won’t get angry?”

“We’re trying to get rid of the keg that you’ve been drinking all night. You’re one of three people that drinks it, so we’re phasing it out as soon as it’s empty. Honestly, you’re doing us a favor by getting rid of it before it goes bad.”

“Beer goes bad?” He furrowed his brow a little, his mind working at this small conundrum far harder than it ought to.

“Dude, go home. Want me to call you a cab?” Travis asked as Jude began to haphazardly dress himself.

“No, no. I’m cool, man. It isn’t far back to my place, and if I get tired, I can just lay in the soft snow until the sun rises.” He flashed Daniel a grin and went out into the storm.

The enthusiasm with which he met the coming storm in the morning had all but vanished as he pushed his way through the streets. Still no plows anywhere in sight, the snow was now coming up to his knees. He rubbed his hands together, trying to warm them up in gloves that were becoming more and more threadbare as the days went by. Can’t remember the last time I saw snow like this, he muttered to himself.

On he went, though. Unrelenting as the snow and wind at his back, he was soon enough in eyesight of his apartment building. If apartment complexes had parents, only they would love the squat, brown pile of bricks that he walked towards. It was old, but at least it was sturdy. He was certain that a tornado could come through and not even the windows would rattle in its four-floor façade.

With the practiced ease of someone who had done this often, he took his gloves off, then his keys out of his pants pocket, then put his gloves back on. He opened the outer door, and was careful not to let it slam shut, for fear of waking the elderly woman who lived right next to it.

He shook himself, hard, to get some of the snow off of himself before he began to strip off his snow clothes as he walked towards his apartment. Taking his boots off first, to rest outside of his doorstop, he went in. He felt his foot slide against something just inside of his living room, past the door, but ignored it. It will be there in the morning, he thought to himself as he began to undress for bed, I’m done with today.