Under the Piney Woods: Chapter One

By R. Banks

The eruption of screams snatched him away from her, as she looked back at him, walking the trail just ahead. Her smile held a knowing that he would surely follow her to wherever it was that she would lead him, up the hill they would always climb together, each night that he slept. This was their time, these precious few steps taken together. 


His hands fumbled blindly into the red blur that now came into focus, the number 3:33 am. Finding the snooze button on the alarm eased the frenzied clock’s tantrum. The silence of the room engulfed him instantly. Only the sounds the house had to offer were heard now. The creaks and popping noises the old house made that seemed to play its melody just for this day. A sporadic tattoo of sounds that matched the smell of the old house, a house he had recently inherited from a great aunt on his mother’s side of the family. 


He had met this generous lady only once in his life, at his grandmother’s funeral. She had seemingly chosen to single him out of the group of children attending the service that day. She stared at him a moment, smiled, and with a loving pinch on one cheek, stated simply that he “looked like a good boy,” and in her other hand she offered a gift that he readily accepted. “Thanks ma’am,” he had said. She had smiled again and told him that he reminded her of someone named Jack, then she turned, looked back once and wandered off into the crowd of adults. He thought he’d seen her later that day at the burial, standing off in the distance amongst the headstones. She was looking towards the procession, but he felt that her eyes were on him. Only on him. He looked down only a moment, and then back to the spot she had been standing and she was gone. He couldn’t remember ever having seen her again. Family functions were few and far between for his mother’s side of the family, but Michael had remembered her fondly through the years and her special gift that day. 


The gift that his great aunt had given to him was a “small detectives kit.” It contained a badge, set of handcuffs, whistle and a toy pocket watch. He had lost the badge and broken the cuffs, but he had kept the whistle and the pocket watch. For years the two toys sat on his nightstand by his bed. He still had those two remaining items packed up amongst his things, in the boxes his mother had packed onto the backseat of his car when he had stopped by upon her request on his way out of state, moving to his new home. His mother had threatened him jokingly to donate his belongings he had left in his old bedroom to the Salvation Army if he didn’t retrieve them. He knew it was only his mother’s way of ensuring a visit from her son, and he loved seeing his mother’s smile that always brightened anyone’s day, but it didn’t reach her eyes as it once had when his father had been living. He missed that smile. 


His father had passed away early in Michael’s teenage years. His mother had tried to put a distance between his father’s death and the two of them, making special trips to places trying to keep it away from being true. The man of her life was gone and at the end of each day of that first week, Michael now felt ashamed that during that time period he wouldn’t, just couldn’t answer her calls from down the hall in his bedroom to have dinner at the family dining table. His father’s empty chair had haunted him and he had avoided, at all cost, walking out back into the yard where his father’s body had lain, all by himself. The day he died, he had been cutting grass in Michael’s place. Michael was off swimming with friends and had promised to cut the lawn the next day, A heart attack had stolen all the years to come for his family, and seemed somehow to erase all the ones that had been before. Even worse were the tears at night that Michael heard his mother cry as she accepted the grief. She didn’t know that Michael heard the conversations she had with his father’s ghost when she thought no one was around to hear. Michael still found himself having those same conversations with his father’s memory. 


Every time he turned onto his old street he met a book of snapshots of his life growing from a child into a young man. With each familiar structure or land mark, he was shown images from the days since gone by, pages fell away and behind him of those times as he drove closer to his old home. 


His best friend Dennis Miller’s home still looked exactly as it had over 15 years ago. A grey-headed man pushed away at the front lawn as Michael passed by. Michael honked his horn. The honk was met with a curt nod from Dennis’s dad. Mr. Pete.That nod stated there was grass to mow and gas wasn’t cheap, but that was only Mr. Pete. Michael laughed as he watched Dennis’s dad march the mower into an ant bed that stopped the engine, blowing dirt and grass all around the old man. With one pull of the cord the mower jumped back into life, and as tough as the old guy pushing it. Michael had heard that Dennis ran a rehab in Texas somewhere and was ten years sober himself.  


The old tree in front of his childhood sweetheart Candace’s home was still there. It seemed to be awaiting those two kids that he and she had once been who had spent most of their evenings together high upon its limbs. He could almost see himself at the bottom of that tree defending Candace’s honor against the school bully Jimmy Taylor. He had gotten his first black eye for that under the old tree and sucker punched with his First Kiss later that day in the top of that tree’s branches for the act of doing so. He had felt overjoyed afterwords for standing up to a bully that had tormented all the kids in school, and as he had turned to say something to Candace she grabbed his face and pulled his lips onto hers which had left him feeling somewhat more than overjoyed. That kiss lingered into moments and now he saw it would linger on with the hands of time as they spun away into forever. 


He lay for a few moments longer in the red haze glow of the clock. He was dreading the chore of venturing through the cold house to start the coffeemaker and light the fire he had pre-arranged in the fireplace. Each day he had vowed to get central air and heat installed into his new home and a coffeemaker that began upon a set time. Looking over into the digital clock’s face, he said, “and a new clock too!” Ever since moving into his new place he had used some of the things that had been left there by his great aunt, whom he now knew as Ruthie. He had set the clock each night for 6:00 am the next morning only to be hounded by this Digital Devil at 3:33 am each day. After being jerked out of his rest, it wasn’t easy for Michael to fall back to the routine of sleep. He would lay there under the quilts searching for a way back into his slumberful rest. Michael’s mind didn’t take long before on its own it began arranging the events of his day. Excitement of owning this new place would motivate him to the bedroom door, through the icy inferno of the cold house to his beloved caffeine. “The best part of waking up was getting all the way awake!” He dashed out from under the quilt and tripped over his shoes and onto the icy cold floor.

18 August, 2023