One nice thing I remember from that night was how starry the sky
was. It was all lit up like you wouldn't believe. Hell, it glowed
so bright it almost didn't even look real. Pa had been looking up
at it through a pair of heavy, tired eyes for most of the drive.
With one hand on the steering wheel, holding it real sturdy like,
he turned and smiled at me. "Connor, I ain't never seen a sky
like that before in my whole entire life. You can always tell
somethin real good's about to happen when you see somethin
amazing like that. That right there is God's work, son."
Even though he was tired from working at Wreckers construction
site all day long laying brick, he was still up for driving me
and Ma to San Antonio for our summer vacation that very night. Pa
had always loved to drive. I don't think Ma even had a license.
Wouldn't really have mattered none if she did, he still would've
been the one behind the wheel. Yes, you could say that it was an
exciting time for us as a family. We'd finally gotten out of the
rat infested trailer park in San Marcos and bought a small,
one-story house. Pa had a steady job, Ma was pregnant, and I had
just turned thirteen, finished grade school, and was on my way to
see the city for the first time in my whole life. Everything was
great. We were happy.
Then Pa fell asleep at the wheel. We swerved into the other lane
and hit a massive black truck head on.
I only remember bits and pieces of what happened next. First,
there was a loud crunching noise of metal on metal, so fierce it
was almost unreal, and I smashed into the back of the driver's
seat. I immediately touched my face. Blood gushed from my busted
nose and cut lips, staining my hands. Ma's screams filled the air
as glass shattered, spraying all over the inside of the car. She
went flying through the window shield to the outside. A piece of
metal tore off and ripped Pa's head clean off his shoulders. His
blood jetted up into the air like a fountain, splattering all
over me and the car's upholstery. I screamed as loud as I could
for God to come down from Heaven and save us, and then closed my
eyes shut as the car flipped over and skidded into a ditch.
Next thing I knew, I was lying in a hospital bed all bandaged and
bruised. My face was a real mess of deep cuts and bright red
scrapes, and what's worse was that I couldn't for the life of me
move my left hand. When the doctor came in to see me, he told me
that I'd injured it in the crash and he feared it might be
permanent. He said that Ma and Pa were dead. He said he was very
sorry. I looked away, knowing that there was no other way around
it, and asked him, "What's gonna happen to me now?"
The doctor shrugged and said to have faith. He gave me a quick
smile before walking out the door.
I lay there in bed staring up at the ceiling for the rest of the
day, not understanding how something like this could happen. How
my family could've been taken away like that, gone forever, all
in one quick moment. Anger exploded in my gut and I punched the
bed, shouting at the top of my lungs how it wasn't fair, that it
shouldn't have been this way at all, and that I'd do just about
anything to get to see them again. A nurse poked her head in and
told me to quiet down, or else I'd get a needle in the ass to
shut me up. I muttered some curses at her and then forced myself
to sleep. But even in my dreams all I could see was Pa's head
flying through the air, blood so dark that it was almost black,
dripping everywhere on everything, Ma screaming, headlights
blinding, metal scraping, broken bones, a bloodied nose, and a
dead left hand, my dead left hand...
You want to know what happened next? Well, asides from my stupid
hand still being paralyzed, I was reckoned to be okay and the
hospital released me two weeks later, and it was then that the
courts decided to send me to live with the only real relative I
had left. Pa's younger brother, Uncle Larry.
I had only met him once before, and that was when he'd come to
our place for Christmas when I was seven years old. He had scared
me then. He was always grinning and making me sit on his lap. Pa
had noticed my unease and sat me down in the kitchen to have a
chat. He said that Larry lived on a small, rundown farm way the
hell out on the outskirts of Texas in a place called Woodville,
where there was nobody around for miles and miles in every
direction. He said that Larry wasn't used to having company
around, and that deep down he was a good man.
If only Pa had known the truth.
The drive out to Larry's place was boring as all kinds a hell. My
social worker, Janine, a chubby middle-aged lady with flame red
hair, was blabbing on and on about some new hairstyle she'd just
got done, and there was nothing to see out the windows but stupid
crop fields, run down farms, and dirt in every direction. Not
much to talk about without putting you to sleep, I tell ya.
When we finally arrived at the farm, I jumped out of the car,
suitcase in hand, and saw that Larry was already waiting for me
by the side of the road, leaned up against a rusty mailbox.He
smiled as I timidly walked over. "Hey, sport. Long time no see."
He reached out to shake my hand.
I put my suitcase down and did the same. "Hello, sir." We shook.
Janine waddled up behind me and started chatting with Larry for a
few minutes. She had him sign some kinda official papers or
something, and then quickly smiled and patted me on the back and
told me to be good and to remember to always say my prayers. She
got back into the car and drove off in a cloud of dust.
Now that we were alone, I looked up at Larry's tanned, weather
beaten face, noticing how he looked pretty much the same since
the last time we met. Just like my Pa, only thinner and more
scarred. His jet black hair was starting to thin a bit in the
front and his pale blue eyes had a hardness to them that I can't
really explain. He knelt down next to me and grinned big, his
yellow teeth crooked and sharp. "You ready for a quick tour,
I said okay.
We walked up the muddy driveway and Larry pointed at a small,
two-storey building with boarded up windows, tons of cracks, and
peeled blue paint a few feet away.
"That's the house, you got a room upstairs," he said.
I followed behind him as we walked past the house, through a
small grassy field where some cows were grazing, and over towards
a dark red barn surrounded by a large wooden fence. He tapped the
fence. "Only way to get into the barn is through here. I'll tell
you more about that later though, come on." He walked back
through the grassy field and into the house.
I didn't follow him this time. No way. For some strange reason, I
knew right then and there that I did not want to enter that there
house, no way, no how, no matter how much you paid me to do so. I
couldn't exactly put my finger on it at the time, but something
didn't feel right about it. It felt... wrong, somehow. Like I was
about to walk into a place that I knew deep down I could never
Not sure what to do, I stood by the fence and twiddled my thumbs.
Seconds turned into minutes. Larry, wondering what the hell was
taking me so long, stuck his head out the back door and shouted.
"Hey, Connor! Stop fuckin around and get your ass in here!"
I took a breath, found my voice, and shouted back. "Okay!" I
said, trying my hardest not to sound afraid. But I was. For some
reason I was deathly afraid of what demons might live inside that
I walked up the busted steps leading to the back door and stood
there for a second, breathing in deep. Courage built up inside of
me from god knows where, and I reached out and grabbed the door
handle. It turned with ease and I stepped inside, preparing
myself for the worst.
It was a normal house. A little messy, with dull gray walls, a
tiny kitchen, and a living room with one rocking chair and a
stool. No TV. No radio. An old wind up phone was attached to the
wall. Larry sat in the rocking chair and pointed across the room
to a dusty, wooden staircase. "Your room's up the stairs, first
one on the left. Bathroom's at the end of the hall."
"Okay," I said, my suitcase held tight in my hands.
"Oh. One more thing" Larry said. He spit out a large sized dip of
tobacco and grinned.
"Yes, sir?" I asked, looking at him out of the corners of my
Larry got up and patted me on the back. "You call me Uncle Larry,
"Okay, Uncle Larry."
He ruffled my hair. "Good. Now go on, get unpacked. Dinner's
gonna be ready soon, alright."
The second story hallway was filled with spider's webs, shadows,
and more dull gray walls. I walked straight down the hall into my
new bedroom and tried to ignore how awkward it felt to stand
inside it. The room was a little bigger than a closet, painted
gray, with only a torn mattress on the floor, a small black alarm
clock, and a cheap, rusted Donald Duck lamp beside it. I sighed
and put my suitcase on the floor. Thoughts of Ma soon came to me
as I lay down on the mattress, looking up at the water damaged
ceiling. How beautiful she looked on the night of the crash in
her white summer dress. How she always sang along to the radio,
not caring that she was off key. How whenever she smiled it
looked slightly crooked. Those were always Pa's favorite things
about her. Her imperfect, crooked smile and how she couldn't
carry a tune if God himself had given her a hand.
I felt the tears coming, and I tried my best to shut out the pain
and the agony and the loss, but at thirteen, with no family left
but my weird Uncle Larry, it was like I was lost at sea, never to
return to where I belonged. It was like there was a hole in my
chest that would never be filled. I wanted to scream, to break
down crying like a big stupid baby, but the only thing that
stopped me from doing so was that I knew that Larry would hear
me, and I didn't think he'd like it very much at all. So I took
another deep breath, pushed the memories of my folks out of my
head, and started unpacking my things. "This is my home now," I
muttered. "This is my home."
Larry was just in the middle of taking something out of the oven
when I came down the stairs and walked into the kitchen. "You
hungry, kid?" he asked, looking up at me as I sat down at the
"Yeah, starving" I said. I took a deep breath and inhaled the
sweet, mouth watering smells of whatever he was making.
Larry chuckled and handed me a plate full of roast beef, veggies,
and mashed potatoes. "Got some cornbread too, if you want it.
That was always your old man's favorite."
I nodded. He broke off a large piece and put it down next to my
"Thanks, Uncle Larry."
"Don't worry about it," he replied. He sat down across from me
with slabs of roast beef piled high on his plate. "So uh, Janine
tells me you ain't been talkin much since the crash. Still pretty
shook up over it?"
"Yeah..." I mumbled. I looked down at my plate so he couldn't see
"Shit, that ain't nothing to be ashamed of," he said, and
shoveled a whole piece of beef into his mouth. "I miss them too.
Hey, let me tell you somethin
little buddy, and I ain't afraid to admit this, no sir. I cried
when I heard the news. It gutted me. Shit, still does, you
I took a big gulp of lemonade and continued eating.
"Janine said you ain't been crying. It's okay if you wanna cry."
"No, hey, listen" he said, pointing his fork at me. "It's okay."
And for the first time since my parents died, I felt the tears
build up, threatening to overflow. Maybe it was the way that he
said it? So matter of fact, so honest and pure; or maybe it just
needed to happen. Either way, it still pushed me over the edge.
Tears spilt out from my eyes and splattered against the kitchen
table. My hands bunched up into fists and my chest all of a
sudden got real tight. I couldn't even take in a short breath
without it hurting. Larry looked at me for a second, and then
smiled and went back to his food. "You'll feel better after," he
said like he meant it.
I tried to say okay, but I couldn't do it. All I could do was sit
there and cry big sopping wet tears and give into the rawness of
the pain and the loss, shaking so hard that I almost felt like I
was dying right then and there at the dinner table.
After I'd gotten the pain out and calmed down enough so that it
didn't hurt to breathe anymore, Larry offered to take me out onto
the porch to have an after dinner cigarette. I had never smoked
before, but said okay, trying to make it seem like it wasn't a
big deal or nothing. Larry grinned. "Come on, follow me."
He kicked the back door wide open, strode out onto the porch, and
leaned up against the houses wooden paneling. "There's a seat
over there," he said and pointed at an old lawn chair in the far
I sat down on it and looked off into the blackness of the night.
"Here ya go, sport" he said. He tossed me a smoke from the beat
up pack of Marlboro's he kept rolled up in the sleeve of his
"Thanks" I said and put it to my lips.
He flipped open his Zippo lighter and lit the smoke all in one
smooth motion. "Remember to inhale deep, like taking in a big
breath of fresh air" he said. He then pulled out a pipe from his
"Gotcha, Uncle Larry."
I inhaled. Smoke flew down my throat and into my lungs, choking
me till I couldn't even breathe. I coughed real hard and spat the
cigarette out. "That tastes like shit!" I shouted, gasping for
"You'll gain a taste for it as you get older," Larry said. He lit
his wooden pipe. "Smokes are like pussy and beer that way.
They're a grown up's playground."
"What do you mean?" I asked. I picked the cigarette up off the
ground and took another drag, only not inhaling so hard this
time. It burnt my lungs still, but in a rather nice, almost
exhilarating way and I started to feel a bit lightheaded.
"Well," Larry began, blowing a weird, sweet smelling smoke in my
direction. "When you're young stuff don't matter as much to ya.
You're more free, I reckon."
"Oh." I watched a firefly zig zag through the darkness of the
night. "You sure are smart, Uncle Larry."
"We all got our moments, kid" he mumbled, and blew some more of
that strange, sweet smoke through his nose like a bull.
I watched the smoke move through the air. It disappeared into the
blackened sky. Larry smiled and knelt down beside me. "Alright,
Connor. I think it's about high time I laid down the rules round
"Sounds fair to me," I agreed.
Larry scratched at his stubbly face. "Okay, here goes. Now, I
don't got a whole lot of rules to tell ya the truth, but the ones
I do got shouldn't never be broken, you got me?"
My eyes widened a bit.
"Okay, first rule. You're gonna work six days a week, eight or so
hours a day doing whatever I tell you to do. This'll help you
build some character and make you earn your keep round here.
I nodded again.
"Okay, second rule. If you act up, or blow off your chores,
you'll catch a beatin and that I can damn well guarantee."
The cigarette fell from my mouth and hit the porch floor. I
stomped it out.
"Now I know that sounds a bit rough, but me and your old man were
raised the exact same way." Larry finished off his pipe. "You act
up, you gonna get smacked up, boy. Believe you me, Connor; you
learn discipline real fuckin quick that way."
"Pa said he never forgave Gramps for all a them lickins he got
growin up," I mumbled and looked down at the crushed cigarette.
"Shit, course he didn't. Gramps was a mean ass old drunk who'd
bash your teeth out with a wrench for even looking at him funny.
I'm not talking bout knockin your teeth out here, Connor. It's
bout showing you whose boss round here and you respectin that.
You got me?"
"Well now that that's settled, I guess we've arrived at the third
and final rule, huh. Okay, here goes" he said. "You can never,
under any circumstances ever, go inside that there barn I showed
you earlier. There's a fence around it for a reason, and if I
catch you in there, or even around it, it won't be pretty. I will
knock your fuckin teeth out one by one with a wrench on that
occasion and that occasion only. You understand what I'm sayin
here, Connor? Do not go in the goddamned barn, at all. Never."
I gulped and looked away, trying to hide the panic I felt. "I
won't go in the barn, Uncle Larry. I promise."
"Good. Let's go inside, it's time for bed." He smiled and patted
me on the back.
I stood up and watched him walk into the house. A tiny firefly
flew by my face and disappeared almost as soon as it had come.
Later that night, I brushed my teeth in the scum infested gray
bathroom, got into my pajamas, and lay down on the mattress. I
closed my eyes, ready to fall asleep, but then snapped them open
immediately at the sound of heavy footsteps coming towards my
room. Larry walked in and stood next to the mattress. "You
comfy?" he asked, with a glass of water in his hand.
"Yeah, I'm alright" I said and pulled the covers up to my neck.
"Here, don't want you to get dehydrated." He handed me the glass.
I took it with my good hand and drank in a greedy fashion until
it was empty. "Thanks."
"Don't worry about it. Now uh, Janine told me about your hand,
how it still ain't right... can you move it at all?" He knelt
down next to me.
I shook my head no.
"Shit, well I don't mean to be a hard ass or nothing, but you're
gonna be doing some real tough labor tomorrow, kid. Dead left
hand or no dead left hand. You understand me?"
"Alright, well, you better get some sleep now. Got a long day
ahead of you tomorrow." Larry leaned over and kissed me
goodnight. I counted to ten in my head before he pulled away and
looked at me with a grin.
"Uncle Larry?" I said in the quietest of voices.
"Yeah?" he replied, still looking at me, his eyes half-closed.
"Are there any animals here?"
"Yeah, there's a few. Got cows, some chickens. But the only
animal round here I'm gonna let you pal around with is Max."
"Yeah, he's a mutt I found wandering round these parts awhile
back. Was half starved to death when I took him in. You'll get to
meet him soon enough. Now that's enough chatting for now. Night,
He shut off the light and walked out.
Despite being kind of scared at what the morning would have in
store for me, I closed my eyes shut and forced myself to count
sheep. After a hundred or so, everything around me went dark and
changed into that one night when I was ten, standing next to Pa
in a dusty cornfield that seemed to stretch all the way to heaven
Pa put his hand on my shoulder and smiled. "Ain't that somethin?
Can't even see the end of it. Just miles and miles of corn."
"You think there even is an end, Pa?"
"There's always an end, son" he said with a slight nod.
"Sometimes we just can't see it is all."
I smiled at him, knowing he was right. And as he looked back down
at my smiling face, I saw his body convulse and start to shudder.
"Pa?" I asked; backing away, fear building up inside my belly.
His left eye twitched something fierce and he stumbled towards
me, his mouth wide open and gaping. Fireflies shot out from deep
inside him, swarming me from every direction. I tried to scream
and run away, but they flew into my mouth and down my throat,
eating away at my insides, paralyzing the rest of me just like my
I fell to the ground with my neck bloated out to the size of a
softball. My legs kicked with a wild abandon. Pa fell on top of
me and his head snapped clean off. Blood, as dark as ink, gushed
out from his neck, smothering me like the blanket of death. A
warm, soothing sensation exploded and I kicked my legs as hard as
I could for as long as I could. And as I felt like I was about to
die, it ended with the beeping of an alarm.
I jumped up from my piss soaked mattress and screamed until my
voice felt raw and choppy. The door to my room flew open and
Larry came charging in, half naked and looking madder than Satan
himself on the first day of his period.
"Jesus H Christ, Connor! What the hell you screaming about!" he
shouted. He grabbed me by the shoulders with his rough, callused
hands and shook me violently.
"I... I..." I mumbled and looked down at my mattress.
Larry noticed it a second later. He cursed under his breath, let
go of me, and touched the wet mattress. "Shit. You've gone and
pissed the bed. This is gonna take awhile to clean and dry out,
He picked the mattress up and chucked it out the open door.
"I'm sorry," I said, my face all red with embarrassment.
"Just don't let it happen again, alright. Now go and get yourself
cleaned up, the sun's already rising. Breakfast will be on the
table in half an hour."
After washing up in the bathroom sink, I walked downstairs and
into the kitchen. Larry had a plate full of piping hot bacon,
hash browns, and pancakes already waiting for me. He put a glass
of apple juice on the table and sat down. "You ready to work?" he
asked, a cup of coffee in his hands.
"I think so," I said and drank some juice.
"Good. It's gonna be a long day, Connor."
"Okay." I shoveled a hash brown into my mouth and chewed on it
nice and slow, savoring the fried, greasy taste. Larry smiled and
took a sip of his coffee. "Hey, I'm sorry for shaking ya earlier.
You're a good kid, you know."
I smiled back. "Thanks, Uncle Larry."
I finished eating and sighed with content. Larry stood up and
pointed at the door. "Time to get down to business."
I nodded and followed him outside into the backyard. The sun had
already began to rise and you could tell it was gonna be a real
scorcher. I hadn't built up much of a tan yet, and was a little
worried about getting burnt, but didn't bother telling Larry. He
probably had other things to worry about more so than my
We walked around a small garden filled with tomatoes, carrots,
and other vegetables, and over to a wooden shed that had a lock
on it and was built onto the side of the house. Larry pulled a
key out from his pocket, opened it up, and inside we went. The
shed had barely any light, and was musty with all kinds of dirt
covered tools and scrap metal scattered everywhere. We walked
over towards a bunch of shovels and pick axes in the far corner.
Larry grabbed a metal shovel about as long as me from the pile
and held it up. "This should be the right tool for the job" he
grinned, walking past me, and out the door.
We walked through the backyard, past the grassy field and the
dark red barn, until we arrived at a long stretching area of dirt
that didn't seem to have an end in sight, no matter which way you
looked. Like that cornfield from my dream. I shuddered at the
thought of Pa's head snapping off and looked down at the ground.
Larry handed me the shovel. He placed a dip of tobacco into his
mouth and pointed at the dry, crusty Earth. "Have at her," he
"You heard me, get diggin."
Larry sighed and shook his head. "Don't matter where, just start
diggin. I want a hole bout twice the size of you deep, and as
wide as your shovel from end to end. Now get to it. I'll be back
around lunch time to see how you're doing."
And that was that. He spat out some chew and walked off back to
I shrugged, looked around for a decent spot, and then set the
shovel up against the ground and kicked it with my foot, driving
it deep into the soil. I tried to scoop it out, but it was damn
near impossible with one hand. The shovel kept sliding off my
dead wrist that I was bracing it with, spraying dirt everywhere.
I tried again and again, over and over, until I got so frustrated
that I threw the shovel down and shouted a loud, "Goddamnit!"
Not one to quit so easy, I started clawing at the loose dirt with
my good hand, scooping it out. By the time Larry came back with a
jug of water and some sandwiches, I'd barely dug up nothing.
"Connor," he groaned when he saw the amount of work I'd gotten
done. "I can't believe you. You're slower than a damned nigger."
"It's my hand... I can't do it one handed," I mumbled and kicked
a small pile of dirt, sending dust every which way.
"Don't give me no excuses now, you promised me you'd do the work"
he said before handing me the jug of water.
I took it and drank hard. Water dripped down the front of my
shirt. I wiped my mouth off and put it down. "I know I did, but I
can't do it one handed, Uncle Larry. It's awkward as all kinds a
Larry sighed and took his belt off. He walked towards me, and at
first I thought he was gonna whip me, but he didn't. He just
grabbed my bad hand, put the shovel in it, and tied the belt down
nice and tight around it.
"There" he said. "No more excuses now."
I walked over to the small hole I'd dug and slammed the shovel
down into the dirt and lifted it back up with ease. I tossed the
soil aside and did it again. "It works," I said.
"Good. Now eat your sandwich and get back to work. I need that
pit done by the end of the week, or else."
I stared at him, eyes wide. "Or else?"
"Yeah, sport. Or else. " He turned and walked away.
I finished my ham and cheese sandwich, drank some more water, and
got back to work. It was around noon now, and the intense heat of
the desert air began to fully rise in anger. Perspiration dripped
off my face, soaking the front of my work shirt. I stopped
digging and grabbed hold of the fabric, pulling it away from my
sticky skin. The sun was damn near unbearable. Like torture
almost. I tried to ignore it as best I could and continued on
with my task. Shovel goes into the dirt. Shovel pulls the dirt
out. Shovel goes into the dirt. Shovel pulls the dirt out. On and
on it went like this, for the rest of the day; me sweating and
digging like a madman under the blazing hot Texas sun, wishing I
was anywhere but here.
Larry came back around six or seven to check on me. I had
stripped down naked to the waist due to the heat, and was covered
in bright red sunburns and mosquito bites.
"Well goddamn, Connor," he said. "You did a good job here."
I stopped digging. The pit was about up to my hips deep and maybe
two feet wide. He looked at it again and scratched his chin in
thought. "Yessir, not too shabby for a days work, all things
considered. Now come here and I'll untie your hand."
I limped over, shovel dragging behind me. Larry grabbed my bad
hand and took the belt off. The shovel fell to the ground in a
dusty heap. I sighed and looked around. There really was nothing
for miles and miles and…
Larry picked the shovel up and leaned on it, eying me in a weird,
almost uncomfortable way. "You're thinkin about runnin for it
I looked at him, alarmed. "I wouldn't, Uncle Larry."
"Good, cause if you did you wouldn't get nowhere, I can tell you
that much. You see what's around you? Miles and miles and miles
of fuckin dirt, Connor. You'd die of dehydration before you
reached anything even remotely close to civilization. It's a hard
fact but a real one."
I looked away.
"Yeah?" I asked, still not looking at him.
"It'll get easier, alright. I promise."
Larry put his arm around me and tussled my hair. "Dinners all
ready and waiting, let's get movin before it turns cold."
We walked back to the house, side by side, not speaking a word.
I ate dinner in silence, my burns and bites aching and itching
something fierce. Larry didn't seem to notice my discomfort. He
just ate his food and drank can after can of ice cold beer. I'd
thought about telling him about my burns, how bad they stung, but
decided to tough it out instead. It was godamned awful, though;
every time I moved around, my cracked and blistered skin sent
sharp, jagged pains right through my body. It hurt like nobodies
business, that's for sure.
After we'd finished eating and had cleaned up the kitchen, Larry
noticed the twisted look on my face.
"You okay, boy?"
I shook my head no. By that time I was in so much pain I'd almost
puked my guts out twice. He took me aside, pulled off my shirt,
and looked at the burns. "Shit, you're startin to blister
somethin awful" he said.
He hurried over to the bathroom and came back with a large bottle
of Aloe gel. He sat me down in the kitchen and gently rubbed the
gel into my bright red skin with those rough, callused hands of
his. I screamed at first, due to it burning like a godamned son
of a bitch bastard, but then relaxed and bit my lower lip, trying
my hardest to hold it in. Larry ignored me and continued to rub
his hands up and down my back and arms and chest, and then my
neck and ears and finally my face. By the time he was done I was
covered from head to toe in Aloe.
"Feel better?" he asked, a big grin on his face.
"Yeah, a bit" I said.
"I should've realized you was gonna get burnt like that. It's my
fault, Connor. I'm sorry for whatever it's worth."
"Thanks, Uncle Larry. It's worth somethin."
He smiled. "You ready for bed?"
"Heck yeah, I'm exhausted."
"Go on then, I'll be up in a bit to say goodnight."
I laid there in bed that night trying my hardest not to move
around. Every time I did though, my skin rubbed against the
mattress and sharp jolts of pain coursed through my body, making
me want to scream in agony. I'd only been burnt this bad once
before in my life, when I was around ten years old, and that was
that damn Jenny Walker's fault.
Jenny Walker was a tiny little blonde girl, same age as me, with
the cutest little smile you ever would've hoped to see. Me and
her used to be the best of friends back when I lived in San
Marcos. She was my next door neighbor in the trailer park, and we
were inseparable. Every day after school we'd run down this long,
twisting dirt hill behind our trailers. It would come to an end
at the bank of a little stream, where you could catch all kinds
of neat animals. Frogs, snakes, tadpoles, crickets… You know,
stuff like that. We used to play out there for hours, just the
two of us in our own little world, together.
The day I got burnt was the hottest day of the summer, and school
had let out a few weeks back. We were down at the stream around
lunch time, and Jenny showed me a frog she'd caught a couple days
ago. I watched it squirm around in her hands as she held it up
for me to see.
"His names Bob" she said, her hands wrapped tight around the
"Bob? Why Bob?" I asked.
"Cause that's his name, stupid."
"Oh," I said and leaned in and took a good long look at it. "What
kinda frog is he?"
"I think he's a tree frog" she said, petting him on top of his
head between the eyes.
"Can he climb trees?"
"Course he can!" she said. "He's a tree frog after all."
"Alright then, let's see him climb one."
Jenny shook her head and held him away from me. "No, he might get
"He won't get hurt" I said. "He's a tree frog, remember."
"So how's he gonna get hurt climbing some damn tree when he's a
damn tree frog, huh?"
"Cause he just might." She knelt down next to his cage, an empty
peanut butter jar with holes in the lid, and placed him back
"Aw come on, Jenny. He ain't gonna get hurt. I bet he's real good
at climbing trees."
"Well..." she looked up at me with those big blue eyes of hers.
"Are you sure?"
"Course I am. He'll be fine."
"Okay, Connor. If you say so" she said, and then took him back
out from his cage. She kissed Bob on the top of his head and then
placed him on a small oak tree next to the stream. Bob the frog
sat motionless on the branch and croaked.
"How come he ain't climbing it?" I asked.
"Maybe he's got the stage fright" Jenny said. She poked Bob with
Bob the frog croaked again and took off up the tree, out of
"Bob!" Jenny shouted. "Come back here!"
We heard a faint croaking noise and then nothing from nowhere.
Bob had vanished.
"Damn… You see where he went?" I asked, trying to block the sun
from my eyes with my hands.
"No. He's gone." A look of sadness passed through her blue eyes.
"I'm sorry, Jenny. I thought we'd be able to get him back no
problem at all."
"Yeah well, you thought wrong. Now you owe me a frog, Connor!"
she said, as tears dripped down her muddy face.
"I'm sorr..." was all I got out before she took off running back
up the twisting dirt hill towards her trailer.
I sat down underneath the tree and made a vow that I wasn't
leaving there until I caught her a damn frog.It took me about
five or six hours of splashing through muddy creek water
underneath a blazing hot sun, but I did it. I caught one with my
bare hands. And I also got sun burned beyond belief in the
When I finally stumbled home that night covered in mud, stinking
like creek water and burnt to shreds, I had a tiny spotted frog
clasped firm between my fingers and the biggest smile spread
across my face. I marched over to Jenny's trailer and threw some
pebbles at her window. She opened it up and looked out at me.
"What do you want?" she scowled.
"I'm here to give you a frog," I said.
Jenny squinted for a second, not sure whether to believe me. "You
"Course I do. Come out here and I'll show you."
She grabbed her frog cage, climbed out the window, and walked
over. "Let's see it," she said.
I nodded and handed her the tiny spotted frog.
"Aw, it's just a baby…" She smiled at me and petted it between
"You happy?" I asked.
She nodded and put the frog in the empty peanut butter jar. "Yes
I am. Thank you very much."
I was about to say something back when she kissed me nice and
soft on the lips. It was my first real honest to god kiss. One of
those moments in time where, whenever you think of it, your heart
starts to thud in your chest so hard it almost explodes like a
firework in the night sky.
I sat up immediately, my heart pounding in my chest. It was still
pitch black out, the middle of the night, but I had suddenly
realized what I'd needed to do. I had to see her again. Maybe her
family would let me live with them even? I lay back down, my eyes
closed shut. I knew I had to see her again. I just had to.
When I woke up the next morning, Larry was standing over me,
hands on his hips. I yawned and wondered how long he'd been
standing there for, just looking at me. Larry grinned and kicked
me gently. "Mornin, sport. You about all ready to do some
"Yeah, I'm ready…" I said and rubbed the sleep dust from my eyes.
"Good. Now get the hell up."
I stood, stretched, and got dressed. My burns still ached some,
but not as bad as yesterday, which I figured as a real good sign
of things to come.
I followed Larry downstairs. The shovel was waiting for me by the
door. We walked outside without a word spoken between us.
"Ain't we gonna eat?" I asked as we made our way through the
grassy field, me following behind him.
"Not today, no sir, no time. You gotta get that hole dug," Larry
"I'm real hungry, though…"
"So? You got work to do."
We passed the barn. I looked at it for a second, wondering what
exactly was locked away inside there. Larry saw me looking and
stopped walking. "What did I tell you about that there barn,
"Don't go in it or you'll bash my teeth out with a wrench…"
"That's right." Larry grabbed my shoulder and looked me deep in
the eyes. "That there barn ain't for your eyes to look at, nor
will it ever be. Got me?"