This entry to Chuck Wendig last challenge was so hard to write for some reason, I apologize for being late to the party. I’ve written and rewritten a million times, and I’ve given up again and again. But for once determination won out.
My Items were: A dead man’s guitar, a rocking chair, an iron horse shoe and a police officer’s badge.
I would love some constructive criticism, I know the ending is a little abrupt, but I am already way over limit, and I don’t know where to cut stuff out. If you’ve got some ideas please let me know.
(crappy title, first thing I thought of.)
By Trine Toft Schmidt
I was emptying the bottom drawer of my father’s dresser out into a bag, when something hard clunk’ed against the dusty hardwood floor. It was metal, shaped like a shield, tarnished and dusty. I picked it up from the floor and rubbed it against my jeans. ‘Police’ it said at the top, and ‘Fargo N. D.’ on the bottom.
My head started spinning, and suddenly my ribs seemed too small for my lungs to inflate. I stumbled up from the floor and out into the landing, scrambling past my mother’s rocking chair, sending dad’s battered old guitar to the floor with a hollow clunk and a twang that echoed through the empty rooms.
Callie, who’d been rattling with pots and pans in the kitchen, came out into in the hallway, her arms across her chest. I skirted a pile of old furniture and boxes of table cloths and old china, a whole childhood’s worth of memories waiting to be thrown away, and stopped in front of her.
“Is he still there?” I hardly had air to speak. The badge was white hot in my hand.
“Who?” It was the first word she’d said to me all day. I just shook my head. She still didn’t believe me. I really needed to get away from this hell hole. But first I needed to do something, something I should have done twenty years ago.
“Sarah, where are you going?” I turned and tossed her the police badge, it hit her shoulder and fell to the ground.
“I am going to dig up a body.”
When we were kids the barn had been a magical playground, filled with amazing things and places to hide, but now it was a ruin. The sun filtered in from holes in the roof, a tractor was rusting to death in a muddy puddle, and birds had taken possession of everything, droppings and feathers were everywhere.
Air wheezed in and out of my lungs in short shallow bursts, and I was seeing tiny flashes of light in front of my eyes, as if I was about to pass out. I hadn’t been back here in twenty years, but it felt like minutes. I always thought that when dad died I would stop being afraid, but every muscle in my body was seized up, urging me to get the hell out of here. Instead I pushed a piece of bloated fiber board to the side and made my way toward the back of the barn. Behind me I could hear Callie’s hesitant and slow footsteps.
The storm shelter was hidden under old crumbling sacks of cement, and before I could think too carefully about it, I started to haul them off to the side. Callie hovered behind me, I could feel her presence like a cold wind against my neck.
“You can’t go down there. Dad said the ceiling was caved in. It’s dangerous.” Her voice was trembeling, but I ignored her. It was not my safety she was worried about.
The first step creaked under my weight, but held. I ran my hands over the cinderblock wall, brushing garlands of sticky cobweb away. When I flipped the light switch a flickering yellow light lit up further down.
The storm shelter was much smaller than I remembered. A long narrow room, lined by two bunk beds on one side and by sturdy wooden shelves, still stacked full of canned food and half empty, warped jugs of water, on the other side. I looked around, tried to spot the place, but the dirt floor was smooth, with no indication of where dad had buried him. I slid to my knees and looked under the bunks, and there it was.
I tugged at the heavy moldy madras, and the dust clouds that erupted like volcanoes made me cough. Callie stayed on the last step. She looked scared.
“Sarah, please don’t. Let it be, its been so many years.”
“I’ve got to. I need to make it right” I said and finally managed to haul the madness off the bunk.
The weak light revealed a six-foot patch of lumpy loose dirt.
My heart stopped, and I held my breath.
For almost twenty years officer McGregor had filled my nightmares. Guilt had festered in my conscience, like a cancerous little black mass. Words started to tumble out of me. Words I thought I would never tell anyone again.
“It was my fault. I shouldn’t have told him about daddy. About the…” For a short moment our eyes met and Callie looked away, her fingers twisting her shirt, pressing it against her stomach. “But I couldn’t take it anymore and he was nice and I felt so relieved when I told him.” I started to brush at the loose dirt, close to the wall.
“He promised he wouldn’t tell anyone. But the next day he came walking up the drive way looking grim and determined. I bolted down the stairs to stop him, but when I came to the door he was already dragging dad into the barn.”
I’d sat at for what had seemed like hours, waiting for them to come out, my eyes glued to the door. But when it opened, only dad came out, pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt toward the west fields. Somehow I knew right away, dad had killed him.
“When I was sure dad was really gone I went into the barn. Callie, the pick axe was full of red smears, and there were drag marks in the dirt, just like in the movies, you know?” I had rushed back into the house, into Callie’s room and told her the whole story, tears pouring out of my eyes. But she just laughed at me. Called me insane. And when I begged her to run away with me, she had hit me across the face.
My fingers struck something hard and cold in the soil, I pulled it out and brushed the dirt of it.
“A horse shoe?” Callie said behind me. I nodded and held it up in the feeble light.
“The sheriff came out a few days after you ran away, asked questions about a missing police officer. Dad acted like he didn’t know anything, but I could tell he was lying.” Callie stepped close to me. “I was so mad at you. You left me here all alone.” She was quiet for a couple of minutes. I leaned my head against her leg, and her fingers brushed my hair.
“I should have run away with you.”