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, boy?”
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 eyes.
Larry got up and patted me on the back. “You call me Uncle Larry, okay?”
“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 dinner
“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 plate.
“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 my face.
“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 know.”
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 shirt. “Enjoy.”
“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 pocket.
“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. Sound
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 and back.
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 hand.
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, you
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 bellyaching.
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 said.
“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 the house.
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 ain't ya.”
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 frogs body.
“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 hurt.”
“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 inside.
“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 her finger.
Bob the frog croaked again and took off up the tree, out of sight.
“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 process.
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 mean it?”
“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 the eyes.
“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 diggin?”
“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 said.
“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, Connor?”
“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?”
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