“Gosh Sam, I can’t believe the change in you!” Todd said. Sam was at Todd’s place in Pike Road. Max was home, in and out of the room getting ready for a work function with his software company. Sam and Todd would head out for burgers downtown.
“You think I’ve changed? Well I know I have. I think I’m on the right path with activism,” Sam said. “Did you hear Tanner’s guffaw?”
“I did. Does it feel like it’s your calling?” Todd asked.
“Of course it’s his calling Todd. Look how he’s lit up,” Max said.
“Yes, thank you,” Sam smiled at Max, “I absolutely do but not in some asshole way. Guys, I need to ask you something about Eunice.”
“Okay, sure,” Todd said.
“In my web research I came across a condition called dissociative disorder. It’s amazing what you can find on there! It’s when the brain saves the person from traumatic memories by blocking out feelings, good and bad. The brain erases entire sections of memory that would otherwise cause stress,” Sam said.
“Not the internet again,” Todd said, exasperated, “I told you to stop diagnosing your girlfriend on the web. You don’t even know who posts those articles. So what is it? Like temporary amnesia?” Todd asked.
“Be careful about diagnosing. Todd does it to me all the time and he’s always wrong. I just put my hand to his face like this and say, ‘You can get any kind of validation online but I’m right here!’” Max said, joking but sincere.
“It can be temporary. The reasons cited most are child abuse and neglect,” Sam said.
That part reminded Sam of something she told him at music camp but didn’t let on to the boys. It also crossed his mind she might have a serious condition like her mother. If that were true he had behaved badly.
He wasn’t sure if she was depressed before or she blamed him for it? It sounded like, what came first the chicken or the egg?
“The article advises the partner to sit tight and be understanding because the sufferer doesn’t know any better. As if they’re born missing a limb they never had,” Sam said.
“Sounds legit because it’s not blaming the victim,” Todd said.
“That’s what I thought. Top of the line Psychology Today! So I left her a copy of the article on the kitchen table, half expecting she’d think I was considerate,” Sam said.
“Oh no, Sam,” Max covered his mouth in surprise, “how did she react?”
“She didn’t say a word for two weeks. I figured she hadn’t taken it seriously. Eventually, she said leaving the article was equivalent to her, leaving me an anger management brochure,” Sam said.
“I can’t say I blame her. It’s a classic case of you win some you lose some. I think you lost some, ha ha!” Max said.
“She came around later and said it was good info and she’d consider sharing it with a shrink one day. We might go,” Sam said.
“Not a total loss then. Good work. I think,” Todd said, “It sounds like you need some space. Spend the night here. Maybe call and tell her you need a breather to process things. It’s not malicious. Guys are raised to be tough so they don’t think in terms of self-respect. Do you think it’s respectful for her to shut you out and save the good parts for her friends?”
“No,” Sam thought for a moment. “You’re right! Maybe I will stay over,” he said.
“What does your heart tell you? And then what does your head say? Never mind pleasing everyone. I really think you need to take care of YOU. Make a decision you can live with. Life is more than treading water. It’s about living with joy and dreams and acceptance from others,” Todd said.
Max returned to the room in different clothes, “Not that I disagree but I hope you make it through your night of Todd’s psychobabble,” he smiled, “You boys behave. I gotta run. I hate these schmooze fests. My boss expects me to make all the sales. I’d rather be here solving your love life Sam!” Max said, then left.
Sam found it hard to believe he ever felt odd uncomfortable with Todd and Max. They felt like old friends. He used to gross himself out thinking about what they did in bed. Something he’d never consider about anyone else.
After Max left Sam turned to Todd, “What do you think of this amnesia concept coupled with her dating Terrence under my nose?” he asked.
“First check your imagination. I think you’re doing an awful lot of problem solving for two. When there are three people in a relationship it’s like constantly ignoring an elephant in the room. Don’t settle for crumbs when you deserve the whole loaf!” Todd said.
“You think so?” Sam didn’t expect his blunt response. Asshole!
“You already have the answer inside you. Maybe you’re not listening to it,” Todd said.
After dinner at the burger joint, on Bibb Street Todd clearly wanted to keep on partying. Sam had a good time goofing around but it was just after nine and enough for one night.
They had too many drinks for either to drive. “It’s pretty safe around here, let’s leave the car. Come stay over and we’ll get it tomorrow,” Todd said.
They caught a bus to the edge of town, to walked the rest of the way. The bus didn’t go far enough so Todd suggested they get off at Taylor Road and take a shortcut through quiet streets, which would land them at Pike Road.
“It’s not far Sam. Then at Troy, let’s get a couple of six packs at the gas station,” Todd said, as they got off the bus.
“Uh, okay. We’ll call Max from there right?” Sam said, fed up with walking and Todd’s sloppy drunkenness.
“Yep, sure thing. He’s going to be pissed at me!” Todd pointed.
“Okay. You know where you’re going,” Sam gave up on guiding stubborn Todd. At least for the moment he wasn’t troubled by Eunice and felt a dose of freedom trolling the back roads.
They walked Taylor Road in darkness. There was a quarter mile between each sterile-designed mansion and manicured lawn. Sam had no business being in this neck of Montgomery.
The only light came when a white pick-up truck drove by then they were in darkness again. It was so quiet the silence echoed sprinkled with frog bleats. Sam made out the north star and big dipper in the black chalkboard sky. He was uneasy. There’d be no warning if a bear jumped out from the woods.
How can Friday night at 10:00 be so quiet, “Rich people must be really boring. Where I live there’d be street lights, people walking and rollerblading, kids shooting hoops and car stereos playing. You know, living!” Sam said.
“I keep forgetting, you’re not from around here. These are the roads I used to bike as a kid. They roll up the sidewalks and go to bed at dusk,” Todd said, sounding less drunk.
“Wait a minute, is Max even home tonight, or did he go to Vegas again? Sam asked, still hoping they could get a lift.
“What? He’s got so many work functions, I honestly can’t remember. Too many shooters!” Todd said.
“Your eyes were like fireballs when we left!” Sam teased.
The revving sound of an engine approached from behind. Sam looked back and saw headlights getting larger and brighter. The vehicle was moving at a good clip, then slowed and stopped a half mile back.
“Must be casing houses along here,” Todd said.
“Or good ole boys out joyriding!” Sam said.
The driver hit the gas and accelerated at top speed. The truck whipped past them too quick for Sam to get a look at the passengers. It was the same white F150, that had passed earlier. It must have circled around a second time. It squeaked to a stop 500 yards ahead of them.
Didn’t every roadhouse horror movie have this very scene?
“What do those clowns want?” Sam said, feeling a pit of dread in his stomach, which killed any alcohol buzz he may have had.
“Probably just directions,” Todd said, not sounding convinced.
The pick-ups red tail lights went white as it slowly reversed. Movement in the back cab indicated there looked to be four men in total.
Sam watched in disbelief as the driver and front passenger got out wearing white pointed masks with round eye holes. They walked toward them at a steady gait while the other pair got out from the back cab. They had the same hoods. One carried a hunting rifle.
Holy shit! What’s happening?
Michael Donald had put up a valiant fight. He’d gotten away from his klansmen by knocking his gun away and trying to run into the woods but they caught him. His throat was slit three times to make sure he was dead.
Sam was paralyzed with fear.
“Stay cool. Remember they are cowards under there and this is a scare tactic,” Todd’s confidence waned to a whisper.
“Uhuh,” Sam murmured. Why didn’t he run?
The four klansmen stood a few feet in front of them.
He remembered learning about lynching bees and racial terror in grade nine history, where klan hunted and terrorized to enforce their supremacy. Justified in their intimidation, torture and murder of black men, as punishment for lust and rape of white women. Klan rituals served as warning shots showing others what would happen to them.
In 1916 Jesse Washington was dangled over a fire pit until his death. Children were permitted to watch as long as their school work and chores were done. Lynching photos were produced as postcards. Here is the BBQ we had last night, read one card. Hundreds of lynching’s took place in Mississippi and Alabama into the 1950s.
Sam had been warned growing up, that klan members in numbers were dangerous but in recent years their activity was seen as a white boys rite of passage. Sam figured it was unlikely this would end well.
The one with the Winchester .22 lifted it and trained it on them while another spoke in a nasally voice, “You fellers looking for trouble around these rich arsed places?”
Sam and Todd remained quiet.
“Yo Jimmy, back the truck over yonder so no one’ll spot it,” nasal voice ordered.
A blinding flashlight shone into Sam’s eyes.
“What do we have here. A black one and what looks like a queer one, or maybe it’s two queers,” one said.
“Heh, heh,” one snorted, “the beginnings of a good poker hand!”
“Gentlemen. We aren’t looking for any trouble,” Todd said, in his most masculine professional voice, while ignoring the gay slurs.
“What d’ya say we have ourselves a midnight barbecue,” said a younger sounding, more urban voice.
“Over there,” rifle guy herded them to the forest opening with a sign that read, Welcome to Park Crossing Trail.
“No trouble, we were just looking to get home and we’re a bit drunk!” Sam said, implying they were just a couple of regular guys.
“We gonna take ya’ll on a wee detour o’er yonder,” rifle guy gestured.
In single file, they started on the trail. Boots crunch, crunch, crunched over fresh laid mulch. In the lead one pointy hood bobbed followed by a quiet Todd, then another hood in front of Sam. He heard the other two following close behind.
Flashlight beams threw shadows between the marching legs, projecting silhouettes against the pine forest backdrop.
They hiked through a ritz cracker version of a forest with fancy picnic benches and horticultural landscaping. As the trail curved up ahead the first pointy hood and Todd were nearly out of sight
“Listen man it’s me you want, leave him out of it,” Sam aimed his voice at the klansman, in front of him.
“Shut the fuck up!” the voice behind him said.
They marched silent for several minutes.
“You just follow along boy! We ain’t got business ta do witch ya,” the voice ahead called back. Sam didn’t know what he meant.
“Ya here,” a voice answered.
Sam heard a surge, of quick shuffling steps behind him and his ears filled up with sound until everything went dark.
Sam opened his eyes into darkness. He had throbbing pressure over his left brow. The earliest birds chirped and dawn light gave him an estimated time, of just before the rooster’s crow. Either he was already dead or he’d never forget nearly being lynched by the klan. He must have blacked out.
Mulch, pine needles and dog shit filled his nostrils. His left eye wasn’t open but jammed against cold steel, forcing pressure into his forehead.
He was at a downward angle, his face planted as if he’d been thrown nose first, like a paper airplane. Afraid to move a muscle his left arm was crushed, under his shoulder and chest. His lower body was at a higher elevation, so blood had rushed to his brain, which pulsed to the rhythm of his heartbeat.
What did they do to Todd?
He wiggled fingers and toes and brought a hand up to his eye to touch cold steel. For what seemed a long time he got his circulation reactivated with a tingling sensation of pins and needles. Pulling himself up to a seated position, he tried to differentiate his injuries, compared to his hang-over based on the liquor he tasted in his throat.
When he stood up he assessed he’d been hurled or pushed headlong into the wrought iron legs of a park bench.