Balloon Man

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Chapter 15

Checking each bed and counting smashed heads, Cooter approached the last one. It was empty. He touched the pillow and sheets and felt a damp spot from sweat. Looking around the room, Cooter wondered if the missing boy was in the bathroom, perhaps the kitchen sneaking a midnight snack. Did the boy hear or see anything?

His gaze shifted back to the empty bed, wondering which kid was gone then paused. Did he count them right? Was one really missing? It was too dark to see faces clearly, especially since he’d smashed their heads in, so they all appeared the same to him. Cooter looked through the closets, checked the bathrooms. They were all empty. Satisfied, he walked back downstairs, irritated he was so bad at math.

Back in the foyer, Cooter felt around the walls until he found a light switch. Jo Bob lay eerily still, a puddle of blood surrounding his head. Seeing all the blood, he stepped over it and mumbled, “Damn that’s a lot of red!”

As he reached the front door, he was surprised to find it was open. He could not recall whether or not he closed it so he walked outside and looked around. Clouds had rolled in and covered the moon, offering him no help.The darkness made it impossible to even make out where the road began. Cooter gave up looking around the yard and left.

As he trudged through the edges of the swamp, all he could think about was the one empty bed. Did he really screw up counting heads? Cooter was angry with himself. He should have waited until he wasn’t so drunk.

Cooter kept walking, wondering who would have been in that bed. It would start to get lighter in a few hours, so he walked alongside the road in the brush, intent on heading toward Baton Rouge. He didn’t make it far from the house because he couldn’t see where he was going. Twice he fell, and the third time, he gave up and hid in the weeds waiting for daylight.

At dawn, Cooter woke to sounds of frogs and birds.

As he started to head out of the weeds, a car came up the road, turned into the driveway and stopped. Alma—or was it Elaine?—Emmett stepped out of the car, laughing.

“What the hell is she laughing at?” Cooter mumbled. He watched her walk inside the house. He took long strides and followed.

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