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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

X - Malevolence

“Having, showing, or arising from intense often vicious ill will, spite, or hatred.”

*

Date: Friday, June 13, 1986

Location: Parent’s house, Woodbine, Maryland

Age: 15

*

I

I needed a ruler. I was drawing a Legend of Zelda level map and could not find one. I knew my father kept one in the tattered briefcase he took on various out-of-town business trips. Since he was not home for me to ask permission to use it, I figured I would just use it now and put it back when I was done. He would never be the wiser.

When I tracked down the briefcase in the utility room – which doubled as his workspace – and opened it, the top’s inner liner slid off sending letters in opened envelopes all over the floor. Knowing all too well the holy hell I would catch if I did not cover my tracks, I attempted to pick up the assortment of letters, patch up the briefcase, and leave everything in its previous condition. The briefcase no longer wanted to hold the lid liner in place with the letters behind it. I became curious as to why my father would want to hide such things since there was plenty of room in the briefcase.

I read one of the letters. Upon reading the first paragraph, I immediately wished I had minded my own business and skipped the temptation to be nosy. The words I read painted a rather adult description of what some woman named Lynn desired from my father. She wanted him just as it had been during their last time together. The return address on the envelope was Dayton, Ohio.

I felt like I was going to throw up. I could not believe my father - a man whose love and respect I craved - would cheat on my mother. My insides went cold and my stomach sank. The realization my father was an adulterer was probably my first foray into true disappointment. Dad spent a lot of time on the road, driving a big rig to various parts of the country on behalf of the company for which he worked. Dayton, Ohio had become a frequent destination in recent months. It always stood out to me, that location. He was in Dayton when he missed by fourteenth birthday. Standing there, realizing he potentially blew off my birthday to fuck some slut in another state really hurt.

I struggled with the decision to take this newfound information to Mom. She should know. She deserved to know. After a lot of thought and pacing throughout the house, I decided that, yes, I would show her.

“I already knew about this, Kev. It’s over. It has been for a long time,” Mom said dismissively when I shared with her what I had discovered.

“What?” I asked, stunned. “And you’re okay with it?”

“I am now. Honestly, I thought your father had thrown all that stuff away. Where did you find it?”

“In his briefcase. I needed a ruler to draw my Zelda map. When I opened it, all these letters came pouring out.”

Mom stopped reading her book and looked off toward the utility room, where the briefcase sat on a cluttered desk. “Okay, Kev. Don’t tell you father about any of this. I’ll handle it.”

Mother’s nonchalant attitude was curious. “Was this the only one?”

“Only one what? The only time your father has been with another woman? No.”

I felt my eyes bug out, mouth open. “What? How many were there?”

“One that I know of.”

“That you know of? Mom! What the hell?”

“It doesn’t…didn’t have anything to do with you, Kevin. Your father and I went through a rough patch back when we lived at Arthur Avenue.”

“It was that far back?” I asked, hurt and confused. “How old was I?”

Mom stopped to think. “It was when Charlie took you and your sister to the skating rink on Fridays. Ten, maybe?”

“He had a girlfriend back when he spent all that time at Sportsman’s Hall?”

Mom realized her verbal faux pas and attempt to cover her slip. “It was a long time ago. It’s over and done with. Don’t worry about it.”

I looked off into the family room through the paned windows separating the two rooms. I remembered those Friday nights. I also remembered mom and dad having a huge fight after one of those weekends, shouting at each other loud enough for my sister and me to hear them from the neighbor’s house, where they sent us that morning.

I looked back to mom, who returned to her book. “That was what that big fight was all about, at Arthur Avenue, when I asked if you were getting a divorce from all that fighting.”

Mom sighed. “Yes, that was one of the issues your father and I had at the time.”

I stood there, processing this new information. I was ten years old when I learned how to roller skate at Sportsman’s Hall Skating Rink in Upperco, Maryland. Charlie would take my sister and me there on Friday nights and stash us in the beginner’s rink, separated from the main rink by a solid concrete wall. He would disappear into the main rink for most of the session while my sister and I stumbled around on our own in the smaller beginner’s rink. This became a regular event until I learned to skate well enough to venture out of the beginner’s rink and into the main rink. At some point after, I watched Charlie couple skate with another woman. This shocked me, not because he was with another woman whom I had never met, but because she was not my mother. At that age, the concept of adultery is a foreign one – at least it should be. I ended up asking him why he was ‘not skating with mommy’. His excuse amounted to his merely being friends with the woman and that mommy wouldn’t mind, but to be on the safe side, I should probably not mention it to her.

“She was the girl I saw Dad skating with, right?”

“Yes, dear. Her name was Ilene. She was Harry’s sister-in-law.”

It suddenly became very clear. Harry owned the skating rink. He and Charlie always seemed friendly beyond the typical patron/proprietor relationship. I also did not keep Charlie’s secret after that night. Soon after I confessed his extracurricular activities with Ilene, my highly anticipated trips to the skating rink abruptly ended. Charlie would go by himself instead.

“So Dad only took us to the skating rink so he could see this other woman?”

Mom sighed, putting down her book. “Yes, I suppose there is some truth to that, but your father does love you in his own way. I’m sure he enjoyed his time with you as well.”

Her words did not temper my anger. I could feel my face turning red. “Bullcrap! What time with me? He put us into the beginner’s rink and left us there. We didn’t see him again until it was time to go.”

“He did?”

“Yes, week after week,” I said, irritated. “When I finally got good enough to get out and into the main rink, I must have become a problem for him. That would have been about the time he stopped taking us.”

Mom thought about it. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

The thought of my sister and me as nothing more than Charlie’s excuse to go off and screw his girlfriend behind my mother’s back troubled me. Harry lived at the rink in an apartment behind the rink building, giving Charlie and Ilene a quick and close place to enjoy each other’s company. That explained why Charlie and Harry got on so well.

Tears welled up. I felt a lot of pain. Mom noticed. “What’s wrong, Kev?”

“I feel used and betrayed,” I said, through sniffles. “Why did you never tell me any of this?”

“First, I want you to know its okay to feel this way. Second, what your father did was incredibly selfish. You have to understand that it was not about you. He didn’t do it to hurt you. You were just a little boy at the time and didn’t need to know what was going on between your father and me. It’s not something parents share with their children. I told myself if you ever found out about what your father did, I would tell you the truth. And here we are.”

“But I am hurt,” I insisted, looking at her bitterly. “He didn’t do nice things for us out of love, or because he wanted to. He did it to go see Ilene. We were just his excuse. He used me to have his own way.” Mom said nothing. I knew when she paused this way, she did not have an answer and was going to cover it up with a stock answer about how it was not my fault and how Charlie loves me in his own way. I stopped her before she had the opportunity. “One of my best and favorite memories from childhood – going to Sportsman’s Hall on Fridays and learning to skate – is tarnished. I won’t be able to remember them anymore without knowing why I was really there. It wasn’t about Dad wanting to teach us to skate; it was about his having sex with another woman, and cheating on you. I will never forgive him for that. Never. What kind of father uses his own children in this way? He’s an asshole!”

Mom hugged me, letting my curse slide. “I agree with you. Sometimes your father can be a big asshole.”

II

Years later, Mom told me she didn’t know about Lynn from Dayton, Ohio on the day I presented her with the information from Charlie’s briefcase. She was as surprised as I was. She explained the lie was necessary so I would not be upset, even at cost to her self. This disclosure on top of the actual affair added to the anger I harbored at Charlie. The man was a pig. All he cared about was having sex with the first willing receptacle to have him. I understood now. He had no problem stepping on people he claimed to love in order to further whatever agenda he had for himself.

In essence, I began to hate my father for who he was.

III

Date: Friday, March 13, 1992

Location: Charlie’s house, Woodbine, Maryland

Age: 20

The following are statements my biological father said to me many times during my teenage years.

"You'll never amount to anything."

"You can't do anything right."

"You are you mother's favorite."

"You mother loves you more than she does me."

"If it wasn't for you, I'd have more money."

"You're lazy."

"You're a slob."

I could go on. The man did not think very highly of me. I never truly understood why. I often wondered if this is how an unloved and unwanted stepchild felt. In turn, I often wondered if the man I grew up calling 'daddy' was in fact my real father. Mom said he was, even during the many times I pressed her about the possibility that some other man might be the true paterfamilias. Unfortunately, there was no other man. These conversations would usually end the same way, with Mom suggesting that for all his faults, my father loved me in his own way.

In the aftermath of the events from March 13, 1992, she would retract her claim.

IV

I woke up early again, panting and sweating from another nightmare about Wald and the tragedy in Ocean City. A recurring dream with Wald standing on the pier dressed in jeans, black sports coat, and a white collar shirt. He also holds a slice of shrimp pizza as if he’s going to eat it, but never does. He suggests many times over he is not actually dead. He asks me if I am a stranger who comes as a friend and then I wake up with the ringing of Christina Buchanan’s voice asking me if I love her.

Wald had been dead for eight months. It took the first two of them for me to admit that aloud, versus the possibility of him still missing in Ocean City. The breakthrough of my admission came in the form of a girl I met, and fell madly in love with. Her name was Becca Saccarelli. When we met, she was dating Andy Taylor. In my grief - or denial of it - she and I quickly developed our own relationship. I connected with her in ways I didn’t understand, and didn’t question. Taylor eventually found out, and what was left of the Card Player’s Circle crumbled into dust.

Becca and I were together over the span of one short month. In that time, she looked into me past all the bullshit, pulled out the part of me in denial, and forced me to confront it. The morning after she and I made love for the first time, it all went straight to hell. She was only sixteen, and her parents hated me. They found out she and I were sexually active, and didn’t take that revelation well. They gave her an ultimatum; she could continue to see me, be kicked out of the house after high school, and lose her college funding, or be rid of me and keep the status quo.

It’s not that we didn’t try to outwit her parents. We tried, but in the end, her mom contacted me personally with threats of legal action involving statutory rape and the obligatory restraining order.

The entire experience of losing Becca over her paranoid and overbearing parents left me devastated. On top of losing my best friend, I lost the girl whom meant more to me than any before her. One doesn’t simply break the kind of connection we have and walk away unscathed. I stopped caring about a great many things after Becca was gone. There didn’t seem to be much point to anything. It set me on a course of self-destruction I had yet to appreciate fully.

V

It was a little past eight in the morning and freezing fucking cold. The thermostat is never to be set above sixty-eight degrees, another one of Charlie’s stupid rules. Anyone living in his house should compensate by wearing multiple layers of clothing. I dressed in a pair of ripped shorts, a tie die t-shirt, and would worry about additional clothes after a shower.

My first concern focused on Charlie’s presence, whether he was home or away. My relationship with him was a textbook case of the son who went out of his way - time after time - to find new and different ways to earn his father's love and approval. The result was always the same. Failure. In the end I couldn’t do anything right, no matter how hard I tried. I tried to remember instances of Charlie telling me he was proud he was of me, but all I remember is that praise coming from my mother.

VI

My parents divorced in 1990 after mom asked Charlie to leave the house, citing the marriage was over. It was no real mystery why. For all the petty bullshit that went on, his multiple affairs ultimately sealed his fate.

By the time mom asked him to leave, I was glad to see him go. Post high school, I did not much like him as a person, mostly due to the way he treated me and the way he treated mom. In fact, I sometimes believe the only person he truly had any interest in was my sister and not for the reasons a father should love his daughter. I’m not sure if anyone witnessed what I did, the way he looked at her, and watched her. It was disturbing. His gazes were not looks of pride or love. They were covetous. Looking back, I think mom ejected Charlie from the house just in time, before he could cross any lines.

After Charlie left, he went to live in a small camper on one of the job sites he managed and began drinking excessively. He wasted no time in finding a rebound, an unsuspecting single mother with one teenage daughter. He latched onto them for dear life, all but forgetting his own children. We rarely heard from him. He showed up once for my birthday and once for my sister’s birthday. He took us out to eat and paid each of us off with a crisp new one hundred dollar bill. Immediately afterward, he would return to his new life. I found out later that mom actually had to call him and remind him of our birthdays, suggesting that he might want to do something with us. I don’t know if my feelings were hurt because I no longer truly had a father or because he tried to buy me off with dinner and money to make up for the year he ignored me. There was now a noticeable distance between us. Distance no bridge could span.

During the first year Charlie was absent from our lives in 1990, Mom had gotten herself a well paying job and did her best to maintain the big old farmhouse we lived in. I tried to do the college thing at the time while doing my best to keep the yard - close to an acre and a half - maintained. However, between mom’s job, the size of the house, and the work it needed, none of us could keep it properly maintained. A year later - in 1991 - when my parent’s divorce was final, Charlie bought her out of her half of the house and took it over. He made it clear on many occasions he wanted that house for his own.

The exchange between mother and father’s living arrangements would occur the week after my sister graduated high school. She would go to Ocean City, Maryland for senior week with her friends and I would go to senior week with my friends. Upon our return, Charlie moved in and Mom moved out into an apartment in Eldersburg.

Several times, I expressed to mom my concern about the living arrangement with Charlie. It would never work out. All he cared about was him self and whomever he was fucking. I would tell mom that Charlie did not love me and that living in that house with him would be disastrous. She would then say - as she always did - he loved me in his own way and everything would work out. Mom then advised my sister and me that she could not afford to house us in her apartment. If we wanted to live with her, we would need to get full time jobs and contribute. It was something I said I would give serious consideration when I returned from senior week. Sadly, that consideration never happened. Wald’s death and the aftermath would bring about the beginning of the end of life as I had known it for so many years. What was to come would be one of the worst years of my life to date.

My sister and I were not back from Ocean City a single day when Charlie sat us down and laid out the new laws we were to operate under, if we were to live in his house. Some were reasonable, some were not. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that I had just lost one of my best friends and more interested in what my sister and I could do for him while living in his house, a direct quote.

He recently quit his full time job in an attempt to start his own business with his current girlfriend. For weeks, they didn’t do much, except to turn the family room into an office supply storage area. The exception to that clutter were two desks they setup for themselves, complete with Charlie’s latest obsession; a brand new 386 IBM clone that no one could go anywhere near, much less touch. Charlie and his girlfriend were the sole exceptions. I asked him on several occasions if I could use the word processor to work on various papers that needed typing. He told me ‘no, under NO circumstances are you to go anywhere near that computer.’ Additionally, he informed me that I ‘might do something stupid and fuck it up’.

Selfish prick.

Fuck him and his fucking computer. If anyone was destined to screw it up, it was Charlie. He likes to think he’s so fucking smart and special, because he owns a computer. Good for him, I hope he fucking fries it. Besides, I am sure if he managed to blow it up; he would find some way to blame the whole thing on me, thus giving him another excuse to slap me around some more.

VII

I carefully walked out of my room so the floorboards of the century old farmhouse would not creak with each step. My sister’s bedroom faced the top of the stairwell. Activity bristled on the other side of her closed door. Either she was getting ready for the day, or entertaining company. This would be a bonus for me as Charlie had a propensity to behave himself if my sister and or her friends were around.

After tip toeing to the bottom of the stairs, it became evident Charlie was home. I could hear him fucking around on his precious computer. One might believe he was accomplishing something useful. In fact, he was entranced in another game of solitaire. I stood there and rolled my eyes to no one in particular. He and his girlfriend would talk for hours about how they would be millionaires within a year. (It’s worth noting they failed miserably and within months, quit completely.)

Charlie’s girlfriend was notably absent this morning. She was probably with her kids at her home in Westminster. They were a completely different issue, Jan and her kids. Charlie liked to spend time with them, but not us. Mom forced me into therapy with the understanding Charlie would attend sessions as needed. He never showed up. Instead, he would go to his girlfriend’s sons’ therapy right down the hall. The part that hurt me the most involved his willingness to go to his girlfriend’s son’s therapy, but not mine. Jan’s son also suffered from an abusive father and required therapy. Charlie wanted to be there for him while telling the boy’s mother he could not believe a father could act in such a way. I do believe that was the point in which I gave up on Charlie, utterly, completely and forever. Everything between he and I that followed was I doing nothing more than going through the motions.

I slid into the kitchen, doing my best to remain inconspicuous. A three-window wall separated the kitchen and the family room. The end windows were open. Charlie did not notice me, and I was grateful for small favors. Perhaps I would get through the morning without having to bear some form of his wrath for simply breathing his air. I was convinced that if he could find a way to charge me for doing so, he would.

Breakfast was on my mind, if you want to call it that. When it came to food and meals, we were not to touch any of the food Charlie bought for himself or his girlfriend. Sis and I received an allowance of twenty-five dollars to purchase our own food for the week and live off that. Since my sister had so many friends to mooch from, steady meals for her were not a problem. I quickly learned how to stretch that money to last all week, bread, eggs, milk, basic food items of this nature.

The worst of it however, were the beatings. A slap here, a punch there, and occasionally a whack with the bungee strap. I freely admit I no longer had any respect for the man, which was a big problem for him. Charlie was under the impression that simply because he got my mother pregnant and showed up in my life when it suited him, it entitled him to some kind of instant respect. I have always believed respect is an attribute earned, not given. I also made this clear to him on several occasions. It usually ended in my blood spilt, internally and or externally. I learned to cover up the bruises so my friends would not see them. I suspect they knew, but had the good sense not to discuss it with me. I probably would have denied it, had they asked.

There was enough milk, eggs and bread left to make a couple of slices of French toast, sans syrup. The only syrup in the house was Charlie’s ‘Knott’s Berry Farm’ blueberry syrup. It was so good. It was also unavailable to anyone who was not Charlie or his squeeze. In the past, I had attempted to sneak a little bit of it here and there when he was not looking. Eventually, unbeknownst to me, he caught onto my syrup embezzlement and began marking the level of syrup on the bottle. One morning he took me aside and accused me of stealing his precious blueberry syrup. I denied it, of course. Knowing the consumption of any food item purchased by him without prior permission meant a beating. He then displayed the marked lines on the bottle where the syrup level should be and where it actually was, noting the obvious discrepancy. The gig was up. My days of enjoying even the smallest amount of flavor with my French toast were over. I confessed citing there was not enough money in my shopping budget for any kind of syrup at all. This of course, was not his problem. It led me to make some quip about the whole process not being fair. Further words ensued and the confrontation ended with Charlie pushing me around or slapping me, followed by his mantra, “I am your father, you will respect me!

No syrup meant butter would have to suffice. I cautiously broke the silence to ask for permission to use the butter. He acknowledged me with a nod and dismissed me with the flick of his hand. No encouraging words such as ‘thank you for asking my permission, you saved yourself from a major chewing out and possibly a good slap to start your day.’

And there you have the ugly dance that became my life for the last eight months. I lost a lot of weight in that time. I was six foot two and at my worst weighed about 160 lbs. Everyone noticed. That is, everyone but Charlie. I wondered if this was his way to either get us out of his house or outright kill us. Every night I would observe him (and sometimes his girlfriend) stuff his face with good food, all while knowing his own flesh and blood children were always hungry.

In silence, I began the mixing the eggs and milk while the frying pan began to heat up. When I opened the butter dish to lob a chunk into the pan, it came up empty. A quick check of the refrigerator revealed no back up bars. This left me with frozen butter from the freezer. Peeling the wrapper off the frozen butter stick was going to be a bitch. Instead, I put the frozen stick of butter into the butter dish, cut off a small slice, and unrolled the slice of butter directly into the pan. I then threw the strip of wrapper away.

The butter began to melt, sending hunger pangs through my empty stomach. Charlie walked into the kitchen behind me and looked over my shoulder. “Is there any reason you didn’t unwrap the butter?” I did not respond. “Now it’s going to thaw in the wrapper and it’ll be a big fucking mess.”

“I haven’t gotten to it yet,” I said, quietly, my head lowered.

“What?” He snapped. “I can’t hear you!”

“I said ‘I haven’t gotten to it yet’,” I said, repeating myself. “There was no butter in the fridge, so I had to get one out of the freezer. It was easier to cut off a small slice with the wrapper still on. I’ll take the wrapper off when I’m done.”

He pushed me from behind, slamming me into the stove. The edge of the searing hot frying pan burned a mark into my right arm. I yanked it back giving no indication he hurt me.

“No, you’ll do it NOW!” He barked, walking out of the kitchen. “When I come back, I want to see that butter unwrapped the right way.”

The right way? Was there a set of instructions somewhere documenting the proper steps to unwrap a stick of butter? If so, I had not received a copy. Somehow, that would be my fault as well.

Something inside me snapped. For a few seconds, I grew a set of balls and took a stand. It manifested itself in me taking the spatchula and slamming it into the frying pan. I whipped around. “Why are you always looking for something to get in my face about? Huh? I’m sick and tired of it! I can’t do anything right, no matter how hard I try!”

Charlie charged into the kitchen and chest bumped me into the edge of the sink. He wasted no time getting up in my face. I cringed when it became evident he had not yet brushed his teeth for the morning. “While you are living in my house, you will follow my rules and do things my way! If you have a problem with that, you can get the fuck out!”

For the first time in my life, I dared to push back. With both hands, I pushed him in the chest, sending him stumbling backwards, out of my personal space. The look on his face was priceless. Complete shock. I savored those few milliseconds before his appearance morphed into anger. Surmising that Charlie didn’t expect me to take a stand, I fully expected to take a complete ass kicking right then and there. Instead, he walked away and went upstairs.

Jaw dropped, I slouched against the kitchen counter. My heart raced a mile a minute as adrenalin screamed through my veins. Why did he just walk away? Did my standing up to him finally gain me some respect? Would there finally be a balance of power in the house that would prevent further confrontations of this kind?

I was wrong to be hopeful.

Upstairs, I could hear my sister saying something to Charlie and she didn’t sound happy. She was audibly in tow as he stomped down the stairs. He stopped, said something to her, and continued his march downstairs, alone. He tread heavily toward the kitchen. I frowned. These were not the sounds of someone interested in peace. Those were sounds of someone who meant business, and business was booming.

For a moment, I could have sworn I saw the reflection of the Grim Reaper in the family room window as Charlie approached. I knew then, something bad was about to go down. I scanned the kitchen. There would be no escape. I stood tall to face him. Before I knew what happened, he picked me up by the throat and slammed me into the cabinets above the kitchen counter.

“I’m sick and tired of you not respecting me,” he said, firmly. “I am your father, you will respect me.”

I reached up with both hands, my scrawny fingers attempting to loosen his hold on my neck. “Fuck you,” I hissed, through gasps for air.

“No, fuck you,” he said, reaching for something behind him as he held me against the cabinets. I expected a leather strap or a bungee cord to appear from behind his back. Either would hurt like hell and not leave a mark. I never expected to have the business end of a .38 Special rammed into the open space of my mouth. The bitter taste of blood and gun oil filled my senses. “You feelin’ a little more respectful now, you piece of shit?” He looked straight into my eyes. What I saw staring back were two dead pools of black with no qualms about pulling the trigger. There was no love, no life, no nothing. I was scared, but would be damned to hell before letting him see it. I glared back with all the hate and anger I could muster, not answering. “Just so you know I’m serious…”

He pulled the trigger.

The deafening roar that should have preceded the end of my life did not come. My eyes were as wide open as they would go. Somewhere in there, I screamed with the barrel of a gun still stuck in my mouth.

Charlie pulled the gun out, sending blood mixed drool all over the floor. He let go of my throat, letting me drop to the floor. I wasted no time in jumping to my feet, in the event I needed to defend myself. He grabbed the tail end of my shirt and wiped the bloody drool off his gun. “The next time you disrespect me, Kevin, the chamber won’t be empty. Tell you mother about any of this, and I’ll kill you both.”

He walked out of the kitchen and into the dining room where my sister waited. I vaguely remember her yelling at him to ‘knock the shit off’ and that she was tired of all the fighting. I marveled for moment over how my sister could get away with that kind of disrespect, yet I could not. Charlie talked to her as they walked upstairs. I was certain he was telling her he was sorry and probably giving her some more money, or a gift to come later. That’s how it worked in Charlie’s house. I would get the abuse and Sis would get the love. Every time I took a hit or a slap, he would give her little presents, or cash. Since he believed I was my mother’s favorite, he would make my sister his favorite. She would yell and scream at him to stop what he was doing. In turn he would buy her off and away she would go, not be heard from again until the next confrontation.

My hands were shaking. With the cold I felt, I thought blood might be draining from my body. With no shoes, no wallet, and no coat, wearing only ripped jeans and a blood stained shirt, I grabbed the spare key to my car from the kitchen corkboard and took off for Myer’s house. He lived only a few miles away.

I don’t recall the drive there and must have choked down a half a pack of cigarettes in the span of ten minutes. I do recall exceeding the forty miles per hour speed limit in an effort to get to Myer’s house as quickly as possible. I intended to call the police and finally put an end to this terror.

Myer was not awake when I knocked on his parent’s front door, although his father was. I had a good rapport with Myer’s parents, so they were sympathetic when I showed up on their doorstep barely dressed, with blood smeared all over my shirt. With Myer now awake, I recounted the last hour and asked if I could use their phone to call the police.

Mr. Myer granted permission.

When the trooper with the Maryland State Police arrived, I again recounted the events of the morning. Given the unusual circumstances involved, I would say the trooper kept a professional demeanor. The problem arose when he drove to Charlie’s house to get his side of the story. The fucker denied everything, insisting I assaulted him. The trooper confided in me that he didn’t believe Charlie, due to the damage to my mouth and the blood on my shirt. We were however dealing with an ‘I said, he said’ situation, due to the lack of witnesses. My sister was also mysteriously absent from the house. I theorized Charlie sent her on her way, believing I might get the police involved. Although Sis did not see anything, she did hear it, and that might have been enough.

The trooper agreed to accompany me back to Charlie’s house so I could pick up some real clothes and figure out where I would go from there.

When we arrived, Charlie was goofing off on his damned computer, paying no attention to either of us. I packed up a few days worth of clothes and accouchements to stay at Myer’s house until I could contact my mother.

The trooper asked if I wanted like to press charges for assault and battery. I didn’t know what that entailed. The trooper explained he would arrest Charlie and put him in jail until a judge could hear the case. At that point he would be arraigned or not, and if so, bail would be set and he would walk out on his own recognizance until trial. I needed time to think about it, and the chance to talk to Mom, to whom I would have to lie. The trooper said he understood and gave me his card with the case number on the back. He also assured me everything had been documented if or when I wanted to move forward. I offered to shake his hand when he proceeded to leave. Instead, he gave me a hug and wished me luck. I could also call him anytime if I needed to talk.

Myer and I contemplated what I should do next. He offered to let me spend the night while I decided what to tell Mom. I did not want to tell her the truth, citing the threat Charlie made. Myer disagreed, believing his threat to be empty. We spent the day hanging out at Cranberry Mall, doing absolutely nothing. I was far from my usual chatty and obnoxious self. I didn’t say much at all. Myer was empathetic concerning my dilemma. He offered his ear, should I want to talk. I didn’t have it in me to think about having that gun in my mouth and the grotesque sound of the firing pin when Charlie pulled the trigger. It falls under one of those sounds you don’t ever want to hear, like the sound of an automobile crumpling in a collision while inside of it.

I went to bed on the floor of Myer’s bedroom that night, no closer to a decision about what to do next. I couldn’t go back to live at Charlie’s house and I couldn’t tell Mom about what happened. I hoped a good night’s sleep might provide for a clearer head.

I ended up getting neither.

VIII

“I want you to hold on to this for me,” Wald said, handing me a badly cared for 9mm pistol. I took the gun, released its clip, and pulled the slide back to ensure a chamber without bullet. This is standard protocol for handling a firearm when receiving it from another.

“What for?” I asked, inspecting the gun. It needed an intense cleaning, badly.

“Because I have no place to hide it and you know how to handle a gun,” Wald said. I did not know about the first part of his claim, but he was spot on about the second. I learned at an early age to properly handle and care for firearms.

“Hide it? Why would you need to hide a gun? It isn’t stolen or wanted in some crime, is it?” I expected Wald to come back with some smart-ass quip. Instead, he appeared dead serious.

“Manyette gave it to me. Richard has been talking about suicide recently and Manyette said he would feel better with the gun out of the house.”

I nodded, understanding the problem now. Manyette’s father, Richard served his country in the Korean War in his twenties. I never got the whole story about what exactly happened to him overseas, except torture was involved. The experience left him with a life long affliction known as posttraumatic stress disorder. Back then, soldiers referred to it as ‘shell shock’. The Richard I knew was a hard working man with a great sense of humor. He was a lot of fun to hang out with when the Card Players Circle convened at Manyette house on the weekends. It was not until I began dating Tessie that I became aware of Richard’s PTSD. He would suffer with bouts of depression and occasionally suicidal thoughts.

“Okay,” I said, agreeing to Wald’s request. “I’ll keep it until Manyette wants it back.” Wald watched me wrap the gun up in some shop towels I found in the garage. I stowed it carefully underneath the spare tire well in the trunk of my car.

“Things are not as they appear,” Wald advised.

I looked up from the trunk of the car, toward Wald. “Do what?”

Wald was standing on the Ocean City pier wearing the black sports coat and white shirt combination. In his left hand, he held up a slice of shrimp pizza, preparing to take a bite. “You heard me.”

“Not this dream again,” I mumbled. “Don’t you ever get tired of dressing up in clothes that I normally wear? Are you trying to be me?”

“No, I am you.”

“I thought you were a stranger who comes as a friend? How can you be both?”

“I know what you’re thinking about,” Wald said, ignoring my query. “Don’t do it.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. You haven’t lived my life.”

“Not true. I am you. I know what you’re thinking about doing.” Wald pointed to the trunk of my car. The spare tire in the trunk of the car was gone. An unseen wind blew open the rags holding Richard’s gun. “Don’t do it. It’s not a way out.”

I stared at the gun. It seemed to have a distinguished glow about it. “I’m not thinking about killing myself,” I said, a little offended.

“It’s not us I’m worried about. You don’t have to kill yourself to end your life.”

I slammed the trunk of the car closed. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Honor thy father,” Wald said. When I turned to face him, I was looking at Charlie. I screamed.

(do you love me, kevin?)

(i love you christina, i want to make love to you.)

IX

I jerked awake. It took me a few moments to realize I was still at Myer’s house, lying on the floor next to his bed. The digital clock on the dresser growled an angry red 3:14 AM. I laid my head back down on the big fluffy pillow Myer’s mom gave me for the impromptu sleepover.

There is a gun in my car, I thought. That part of the dream was true. Wald asked me to hide that gun for him two years ago. I’d all but forgotten about it. Manyette never asked for it back and Wald died before he could take it back.

I sighed, knowing what I had to do. I would never be free. What could I do? Go back and live with Charlie knowing I’d be his personal bitch, under his thumb until God knows when? Or tell Mom what happened knowing she would confront Charlie about what happened, and risk him following through on his threat to kill her because I talked? What else was there to do?

The answer was now obvious to me. Create my own option, resulting in freedom for all of us.

I quietly gathered my clothes and snuck out of Myer’s room and house. The night was crystal clear, but bitterly cold. Just like my thought processes. True enough, the gun remained neatly socked away in the bottom of my car’s trunk. I loaded the clip and pulled the slide back, loading the chamber. I wondered if it would even fire. The gun had gone years without a proper cleaning. Even pulling the slide took a bit of effort.

I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, smoking a cigarette as the engine warmed up. The temperature outside was easily below freezing. I rubbed my hands together to create warmth while waiting for the heater to kick in. I did not have a proper coat, only my black sports jacket.

“Don’t do it, Kevin.” Wald. I looked over at the passenger seat to see my old friend sitting there, arm propped against the window, head resting in his hand much the same we he did the last night I saw Becca Saccarelli, last September. The apparitions of Wald began shortly after Becca’s parents forced us apart; during a time when I worked laboriously to find ways to keep her and I together, up to and including running away together. Wald warned me that bigger things were happening, bigger things were coming, and that I’d have to let her go after seeing her one more time. He had been right about one part of his declaration. I had to let Becca go. I didn’t have a choice. Her parents whisked her away the day after she stood in her backyard, blew me a kiss, and waved goodbye. The bigger things happening and coming part, however, had yet to make its reveal. The visions of Wald also mysteriously ended. In the months since then, I managed to convince myself it was all stress related, and probably didn’t happen as remember.

Now, with Wald once again making a phantom appearance in my car - and my life - I know I wasn’t making it all up in my head.

“Fuck you,” I said, nodding in his direction. “I know I’m awake and I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“I’m not ghost, dude. Why are you out here? Are you really going to do this?”

“I don’t have a choice,” I said, looking away and out the windshield.

“You always have a choice.”

“When did you become a fucking philosopher? If you weren’t dead, you’d be helping me. You know what a dick my father is.”

“Yeah, I know. There are far worse things you could do to him than this, you know.”

“Yeah? Like what?” I asked looking over at a now empty seat. I blinked.

What the hell?

Fuck this.

I backed the car out of the driveway, deciding I would wait no more. I began the drive to Charlie’s house. A little more than halfway into the drive the volume on the tape player dropped out, denying me Queen’s Greatest Hits. I twisted the volume knob back and forth hoping to remedy the situation.

“Turn around and go back,” Wald said. I glanced over to see my old friend had returned to annoy me some more.

“What the fuck is it with you?” I asked. “You invade my dreams, dressed like me, going on about strangers and friends and how nothing is as it seems and now I have to listen to you tell me how to deal with my problems? I miss you brother, God knows I do. Every fucking day. But c’mon man, leave me alone.”

“What a conundrum for you,” Wald said with his trademark smirk, taking a shot at my CB handle. “You can’t do what you’re thinking about doing.”

“Why not? Who’s gonna know?”

“You will.” I looked back over to give him a smirk of my own. Again, he disappeared without a trace. The volume on the tape player restored itself. I stepped on the gas pedal pushing the speed past sixty. I needed to get night this over with.

X

When I reached Charlie’s house, I cut the engine and drifted into the garage driveway. Fortunately, Charlie slept in a room on the other side of the house. Even so, I took no chances. I carefully disembarked my car and stuffed the gun in the waistband of my pants, pulling my shirt over it.

Getting in and out of the house would be child’s play. Even if Charlie had gone to the lengths of locking all the doors, one of the windows to my room had no lock. I removed it years ago, making the process of sneaking in and out easier. Since my room was on the second floor, a simple matter of climbing the tree next to the garage and walking across the roof to the window was all I need do. Having taken said steps several times in my past, it was a process I knew well. Since Woodbine, Maryland was an assemblage of farms and farmhouses, nosey neighbors were of no concern. The only variable that gave me pause was the number of guns in the house. Charlie collected them and owned a wide assortment, ranging from an M-1 rifle to several flavors of six-shooters. He was also an accomplished target shooter, having won several competitions for long distance target shooting in the 70s. The element of surprise would be on my side. It was all I required.

I sat down on the roof next to the window to my room and closed my eyes.

“Thinking is good, dude,” Wald said. “You should think about getting back in your car and going back to Myer’s house.”

I smiled smugly, without the need to open my eyes. Wald was sitting next to me. “I think you should pack my balls.”

“Interesting thought. I’ll have to pass.”

I reached into my sports jacket and brought out a half-empty box of Marlboro light cigarettes. “Smoke?”

“You want him to suffer, don’t you?” Wald asked, ignoring my offer of a cigarette. And why not? He wasn’t here, after all. The Wald I knew would have taken a free smoke in a heartbeat.

“Yes,” I replied, lighting the cigarette and taking a drag. Truth be told, I never cared for cigarettes and smoking. I began smoking post high school to piss off my ex-girlfriend, Christina Buchanan, in a wasted effort to get her attention. A pretty weak reason overall. That said, nicotine in stressful times offered relief, which is I why I continued to smoke.

“What you’re thinking about doing won’t cause that suffering. You know this.”

He had a point. Still, suffering versus freedom? My choice was still clear. “This isn’t about suffering; this is about piece of mind.”

“That’s the biggest pile of bullshit I have ever seen you shovel, dude.”

I scoffed. “What do you know? You’re dead!”

“I am you,” Wald insisted.

“Don’t start with that shit again. This isn’t a dream and you’re not here.”

“Listen, walk away, now. You know that’s what this is all about. You know that Charlie’s girlfriend doesn’t want to move in until you leave. Why not just give him what he wants and move on.”

I dragged on the dwindling cigarette. “Because it’s highly unsatisfying, that’s why. He gets what he wants and gets away with what he did to me.”

“You’re not seeing the bigger picture, dude. Does he get what he wants in the short term? Yes. But ten or twenty years from now when he’s old and has nothing to show for his life, he’s going to look back and have regrets.”

I looked at Wald, who was smiling. It was the evil smile he flashed when he was about to verbally cut someone up. “How do you know? You don’t know my father. He’s spent his life being such a selfish fuck, cheating on my mother every chance he had. All he cares about is him self and getting his little dick wet. I doubt very highly he’s looked back over the last twenty years of his life and had regrets. If he did, it’s only because he screwed up and lost something he wanted.”

“Exactly.”

“He doesn’t want me; I don’t think he ever did.” Wald was gone. “Fuck this,” I said, flicking the cigarette onto the lawn. I began the process of sneaking into the house.

XI

It must have taken at least ten minutes to get into my room through the lockless window. The house was deathly quiet. One could have heard a mouse fart. I was sure each creak or groan of the window or my putting weight on the floor would give me away. Walking across the length of my room was another challenge, maybe about twenty feet or more of carefully shifting my weight to keep the noise at a minimum. I looked carefully out the doorway of my room and into the hallway to check on the status of my sister’s room. Her room was dark, with the door open. She was not here.

I withdrew the gun from my pants and set my aiming stance, walking steadily across the hall to Charlie’s room. His door remained half-open, just enough to hear his bulldozer like snoring.

I pushed his door open with my left hand while pointing the gun straight ahead with my right. I could not help wondering in the eternal span of seconds why was I wasn’t scared? If nothing else, I was alarmingly calm.

“Last chance,” Wald whispered, from behind. “You can still walk away.” I shook my head. My aim was perfect. The miserable bastard lay sprawled across the bed, half covered by sheets and a blanket, snorting in each breath with room shaking sound.

All I had to do to was pull the trigger, and my misery would be over.

Yet, I could not.

Every time I believed the strength and will to apply pressure to the trigger was there, it waned just as quickly. The situation was now do or die. Soon Charlie would sense I was in the room and a confrontation would be inevitable.

I don’t know exactly how long I stood there, aiming the gun at his stinking carcass. It must have been at least ten minutes or more. Somewhere in the back of my head, I heard the creaking of footsteps making their way up the stairwell.

“Kevin?” Myer.

I turned my head ever so slightly to make eye contact. Indeed, Myer was carefully making his way up the stairwell. “You’re not real,” I whispered.

“Kevin, put the gun down,” Myer said, finished with his careful ascent up the stairs.

Charlie stopped snoring. I looked back at him as he shifted position on the bed. I looked back at Myer. “Get out of here!” I hissed.

“You don’t want to do this,” Myer whispered, reaching out for me. The question of whether or not Myer was real was about to be answered.

“Kevin?” Charlie. “What are you doing?”

I reasserted my aiming stance in a snap and held the gun so Charlie’s fat head lie directly in the aiming notch. “Shut up!”

Charlie propped himself up. “Are you going to kill me?”

“You stuck a fucking gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger! Then you threatened to kill me, and my mother? Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Myer walked up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Put the gun down, Kev.”

“No,” I said with insistence, realizing Myer was truly here. “If I do, this fuck will kill me.” I turned my attention to the small man lying in front of me. “Don’t have much to say now, do you?”

“Put the gun down, son,” Charlie said, softly.

“Son?” I asked, appalled he would dare to use that word, in that tone. “Did you just call me son? When have I ever been your son, you fat fuck? Was I your son this morning when you had a gun in my mouth? Fuck YOU!”

“Maybe I took it too far…”

“Fucking coward,” I said, interrupting him. “You can’t even apologize, can you? Show me some respect Charlie! Come on!”

He said nothing. Myer tugged at my arm. “C’mon man, let’s go.”

I looked at Myer by shifting my stance so I could see both men. “No, not yet.” I walked to Charlie’s dresser and opened the third drawer where he kept his .38 Special, the same gun he stuck in my mouth. Charlie watched me do it with fear in his eyes, knowing the .38 was the only gun he kept in his room. I pulled the gun out, removed the clip, and pulled the slide back. A bullet ejected onto the floor. “I guess you were serious after all, huh Chuck? You meant to kill me the next time I didn’t ‘show you respect’, didn’t you?”

Charlie sat up. “Do you know how much trouble you are in?”

I threw my head back and laughed. “Yeah, I’m clearly in so much trouble. What are you going to do? Beat me? Slap me? Send me to my room without dinner? Go to hell, fat man, you no longer have power over me.”

I dissembled the .38 Special and tossed the parts all over the open hallway, keeping the clip.

“You might get out of here tonight, Kevin,” Charlie said, as if he were offering me advice. “Someday you’ll have to come back to get your stuff, and then we’ll talk.”

I looked at Myer in shock. “Did he just threaten me?” I looked back to Charlie. “Did you just threaten me, you piece of shit?”

“Call it whatever you want.”

I pointed the gun back up to his head. “Go on, motherfucker, make another threat!” He said nothing. “In fact, Chuck, open wide.”

“No,” he said, flatly.

“Yes! I want to play a game. This gun here? It’s not been fired in a long time. In fact, I don’t know if it will fire at all. It could blow up in my hand, who knows? Therefore, we’ll let fate decide your outcome. You put the barrel of this gun in your mouth and this time I’ll pull the trigger. If it misfires, you live. If it fires, you die. If it blows up in my hand, then I die. So c’mon! You have a two in three chance of living.”

Charlie looked at Myer. “Did something happen to Kevin after he left?”

Myer jerked his head back, blinking once in surprise. “Uh, I don’t know, Charlie,” he said, with sarcasm. “If my father put a gun in my mouth and dry fired it, I might take it personally too. Why don’t you cut your losses and let Kevin go. You’ll never have to hear from him again.”

“Sounds good to me,” the sweating old coward said.

“Yeah, I bet it does,” I hissed. “If you want to be a little pussy and not play my game, then fine. But you and I will come to an agreement. Neither one of us will speak of this day, to anyone, ever. I won’t tell Mom or my sister about what you did, and you won’t tell your bitch, and whomever you call friends about what you did. I’ll drop my police report and you won’t file one. You’ll wait a few days and write a letter asking me to leave the house, which will give me the opportunity to move my stuff out and keep Mom from asking too many questions. When it’s all said and done, we will never have to see or hear from each other, ever again. Myer here? He knows everything and is witness to this agreement.” Myer nodded.

“Agreed,” Charlie spat, with no hesitation.

“Listen to me very carefully, old man,” I continued. “When I say ‘no one’, I mean NO ONE! If I come to find out you’ve spoken about any of what’s happened today, I will come back when you least expect it and finish this once and for all.”

“I understand, Kevin. Just get out.”

“I hate you, Charlie,” I said, positioning myself to walk out of the room. “You were right in one thing; I have absolutely no respect for you. You spent my childhood staying away from your family cause you were too busy fucking all your girlfriends on the side.” I watched Charlie’s eyes widened in surprise. “Yeah, I know all about them. I found your letters from Lynn in your briefcase some years ago and gave them to Mom. That was the final straw for her, you know. That’s why she kicked your drunken, cheating ass out. She saw your true colors that day.

“I also know about Ilene and how you used my sister and me as an excuse to sneak off to the skating rink, so you could bang her in Harry’s apartment, fucking pig. You were never a real father. I know if Mom had not reminded you to spend time with your children, we would have never seen you for our birthdays, because all you cared about was whatever wet hole you were shoving your cock into.

“So if ten, twenty years from now you think you’re interested in what has become of your offspring, don’t even think about finding us, or contacting us. You will go to your grave without ever seeing what became of us. If we have children of our own, you will never see them, or know them. And mark my words carefully, Charlie, when you finally do die, I will find your grave and piss all over it. That will be the final respect you will ever get from me.”

Charlie said nothing as I walked backward out of his room and toward the stairwell, the gun always pointed in his direction. He followed at a distance watching us go until we were outside and in our cars, driving away.

XII

My CB radio crackled during the drive back to Myer’s house. “Kevin?” Myer asked.

“Go ahead,” I replied into the CB mic.

“What the hell was that all about?”

“I don’t know. Something fucked up has been going on all night, man. I don’t know how to explain it. Since Wald died, I’ve been having recurring dreams about him. I don’t understand what he’s trying to tell me.” Myer did not reply. “Did you copy, Pills?” ‘Pills’ was short for Pillsbury Dough Boy, Myer’s CB handle.

“Yeah, I heard you. I had a dream about Wald that woke me up a little bit ago. Only he reminded me of you, cause he was wearing your shirt and sports jacket.”

I felt my blood run cold. “Continue.”

“He told me you were going to do something stupid, and that I needed to wake up and stop you. He said to go to your father’s house and go upstairs and I would see for myself.” Pause. “Then I woke up. Turns out he was right, I guess.”

“Well brother, I’ve been talking to him all night. He’s been insisting all night to turn away and let it go.”

“You were awake when this happened? You actually saw Wald?”

“Ten-four,” I said. “I can’t explain it. He was no ghost, this I know for sure.”

Myer keyed up. “Let’s get back to my house and figure this thing out tomorrow. I’m tired.”

“Ten-four. I’ll see you there in a few minutes,” I said, tossing the CB mic to the passenger floor.

I drove in silence, until Wald decided he needed to have the last word. “You did the right thing, Kevin,” He said, another sign he really was not Wald. Typically, I was ‘Garrison’, not ‘Kevin’.

In the very near future, I may have to do something about that, and change my surname to my mother’s maiden name of Provance. The irony of such an act hit me, as the sole living heir to the Garrison name. Charlie once told me that if I didn’t have a son, the Garrison surname would die with me. Now it would die with Charlie. He would know why, having only himself to blame. Respect is a two way street.

Maybe Wald was right. Maybe I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture. I looked over at him as he sat in the passenger seat, smiling a good smile.

“Okay, Wald, answer me this, if you are dead and you are not a ghost, then what exactly are you? A figment of my subconscious? I think that’s what you said to me last September. I don’t really remember.” I paused. “That was a tough time, losing you, then Becca.”

“My body was never found.” Wald said.

“As far as I know, it’s never turned up.”

Wald leaned over. “You might have to consider the possibility that I am not dead, Kevin.”

“What? After everything I did to get over that hump? The same hump you insisted I get over? I don’t understand. I held out hope for you, for the longest time. Then Becca Saccarelli helped me move on.”

‘Taylor’s girlfriend?” Wald said in his typical accusatory way.

“Ex-girlfriend, at the time,” I said, defending myself over that issue, yet again. “They were broke up when she and I slept together.”

Wald scoffed. “Semantics, Kev.”

“Whatever,” I said, giving up. “Wherever you are, I miss you. You were one of the best friends I ever had.” I paused. “Do you know where you are? Can you tell me where that place is?”

“I don’t know where I am, big guy, but I am most certainly not dead.”

I began to reply, but stopped knowing the passenger seat was once again empty. I shook my head. Wald suggested because his body never reappeared that he might still be alive, but lost somehow. What was I supposed to do with that information?

Myer and I returned to his parent’s house, where I placed the gun back in its original hiding place in my car’s trunk. Once inside the house and back on my makeshift bed, I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

It was the first time I slept peacefully, in a long, long time. Tomorrow would be the first day of the rest of my life.


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