Although my short story A Sweet Ride was the first one I ever actually completed, the following story was the first one I ever attempted, the very first time I ever seriously sat down and tried to write fiction, over 20 years ago (a few years before A Sweet Ride came along).
It started out as a scene in my head of a fly flying back and forth inside a house, with a little boy giving chase, and I couldn’t get the scene out of my head (typical). At the time, that’s all I had, and had no idea where it would go once I hammered it out; but I liked the idea, and for the first time in my life I sat down and gave it my best shot.
The scene was intended to be the opening chapter of a novel; however, the novel never materialized, and I felt this segment was too good to just chuck it, so I ended up using it as a flashback scene in my novella Roughing It (which is also included in my collection Rolling The Bones) wherein Chad is now a young adult, remembering back to this day when he was a child.
Since then, I’ve also pulled it out and tailored it to be a stand-alone short story, which I’ve decided to share here. I hope you enjoy it…and that it doesn’t give you nightmares… 🙂
Chad Bohman awoke to a fine Saturday morning—especially for mid-August. Unseasonably cool, dry, spring-like weather had elbowed its way into town overnight, pushing the oppressive heat and humidity off into another day. Birds sang and flitted about happily, and even the trees seemed a bit perkier, swaying in the breeze, airing out their tired branches. The morning sun pitched in, adding a warm glow to all that it bathed.
The refreshing interlude would be short-lived, however—these fronts had a knack for dragging trouble along behind them—and sure enough, off to the west, towering thunderheads loomed against a darkening sky, rumbling ominously to one another as if planning their assault.
Chad’s bedroom window was open, and the soft, steady rhythm of the curtains riding the breeze—lifting into the room momentarily, only to lose the wave and fall again, lightly slapping the sill with each return—had gently prodded him awake.
The young boy had slept later than usual—but not so late as to miss Saturday morning cartoons, no sir. Chad never missed Saturday morning cartoons. The Roadrunner was his favorite, and, suddenly aware that it was about time for the show to start, he threw his covers off, hurried into the living room, turned on the TV, and planted himself on the floor not three feet from the screen. It was perfect timing, too: a commercial was playing, meaning The Roadrunner was about to start!
Like any five-year-old, Chad wasn’t particularly interested in the commercial—a preview for the local news program coming on later that morning—so was only half-watching the makeup- laden anchorwoman as she expertly feigned sincerity while offering up enticing tidbits of the upcoming news stories: a multi-car pileup on the highway had sent several people to the hospital, including a pregnant woman who went into labor in the ambulance, and the doctors were now desperately trying to save her two-month premature baby; an alleged sex scandal involving the Governor and a couple of his aides (which in this case happen to be young men) which, of course, both he and his wife are rigorously denying; the ongoing manhunt for a serial killer (which the media has nicknamed “The Judge”, due to his modus operandi of imparting his own personal brand of “justice” on his victims), and a prominent expert in criminal psychology was being flown in from New York to help construct a psychological profile in order to aid local authorities in identifying and apprehending the maniac before he strikes again; and finally: a massive storm front was approaching from the west, bringing with it the possibility of record rainfall, flash flooding, high winds, and damaging hail…
No, Chad wasn’t interested in any of that; so as the commercial droned on, his attention was easily captured by a large fly that suddenly struck the living room window to his right, bouncing against it with a series of loud, buzzing thuds before finally coming to rest on the glass.
But just as the boy looked over at it, the fly launched itself off the window in what seemed a kamikaze dive directly toward him. With an enthusiastic smile, the youngster jumped to his feet, waving his arms wildly—a child’s gallant but futile attempt to catch a fly—but the insect whipped effortlessly around him and made for the hallway.
Giggling joyously, Chad turned to pursue the tiny aircraft across the living room—but stopped just short of the hallway.
He did not want to go down there.
Not yet, anyway.
He stood at the threshold of the dark corridor and watched as the fly disappeared into the shadows. He knew better than to pursue it any further—or to venture down the hall for any reason, for that matter. His mother was still asleep in her bedroom at the end of the hall, and he had learned long ago that it was not wise to wake her up on Saturday mornings.
Scratching his silky blonde head, he peered down the hall a moment longer, longing for his mother to wake and join him. It was lonely watching TV by himself, even if it was his favorite show in the whole world. But with no signs of activity emanating from his mother’s bedroom, and no more sign of the Kamikaze Fly, he sighed heavily and headed back into the living room, slumped with disappointment—until the opening music to The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show began blaring gaily from the TV, that is!
Upon hearing the tune, the boy dashed across the living room and did a “Stealing-Second-Base-Slide” on the slick hardwood floor. He had invented the slide only days before, and, after demonstrating it to his mother, she had clapped her hands in approval, and officially dubbed it its title. Chad had beamed with pride.
This morning he was wearing his favorite pajamas—the ones with the slippers built in—and they made his new slide even more fun, enabling him to slide much further than usual. This time, his lengthy slide landed him squarely in front of the TV, and a smile crossed his face from ear to ear. Baby blues glowing, cheeks flushed with youthful exuberance, the child rejoiced as his all- time favorite show had finally begun!
He decided right then and there that this was going to be a mighty fine day—and he couldn’t wait for his mother to wake and join him…
Linda Bohman was a full-time waitress at Denny’s down by the mall, and a part-time nursing student at the local community college. At twenty-three, she was vibrant and attractive, with a naturally dark complexion, huge brown eyes, and long, auburn hair that tumbled down her back. Tall, but not too tall; about five-foot-six, last time she remembered her parents measuring her, marking her progress throughout her childhood on the back of her bedroom door.
Or the last time she remembered really giving a damn.
Life had been hard for her since those days.
During the spring of 1980—between her junior and senior years of high school—she had gotten pregnant. She was afraid to tell Jake, didn’t know how he would take it. But one night, after finally working up the courage, she broke the news to him—and bless his heart, he actually asked her to marry him!
But she had declined; though he had graduated two years earlier, and already had a decent job working the docks down at the mill, she knew—even at her young, naïve age of seventeen—that she did not truly love him. At least not the way she knew she could love a man; or even the way she should love her husband.
Though he attempted not to show it, she sensed his relief when she declined. And, in reality, she was relieved too—probably even more so than he.
They hugged each other for awhile. Then, after a long period of awkward silence, he quietly stood, kissed her on the forehead, and left without another word. After listening to the sounds of his departure—the screen door banging shut, his boots knocking across the old wooden porch, his truck roaring to life and crunching down the gravel drive—she began to cry.
Lying in bed, she cried and cried, into the darkness, until the tears no longer came. Then, she silently resolved herself to her situation. She decided she would do her damnedest to make the best of things, to give her child a good life, and to do everything in her power to make something of herself as well—with or without a husband. And she would never feel sorry for herself in the process.
Eventually she learned that Jake had enlisted in the army, and was now stationed overseas. And, though he never made any further attempt to contact her or Chad, he did mail her a check every month, like clockwork.
And those checks helped tremendously, because when she finally turned eighteen—after sustaining a generous helping of harassment from her ever-understanding and overly-religious father, with no intervention from her spineless mother—she left home. Fleeing to the other side of town, she rented a tiny house and, mid-semester of her senior year, dropped out of school to have Chad.
So for awhile, the monthly support from Chad’s father was all the income she had.
But that was over five years ago; now, Linda and Chad were doing just fine. She eventually completed her G.E.D., and was now waitressing full-time, going to nursing school three evenings a week, and raising and supporting her child to boot. She had even managed to reconcile with her mother—who, it turns out, was more than happy to help with the baby.
Not bad, Linda often thought. Not bad at all…now, if I can just finish my degree and become a full-time nurse before I turn thirty…
Chad was now thoroughly engrossed in this morning’s episode of The Roadrunner, and was laughing hysterically at the antics of Wile E. Coyote and his ACME tornado seeds—when he suddenly clapped his hands to his mouth, abruptly stifling himself.
How could he be so stupid?
He was being so loud, making such a ruckus—knowing full well the consequences he would face if he woke his mother!
Eyes wide with horror, hands still clamped to his mouth, he turned and peered down the hallway, expecting his mother to burst from her room at any moment and show him how appreciative she was of all the racket he was making.
However, all remained quiet. After several moments, he decided it was safe, and uncovered his mouth with a sigh of relief.
Just as he was turning back to the TV, the Kamikaze Fly burst back into the living room from the hallway, flying at top speed, and again directly toward Chad. Delighted, the boy jumped up into the fly’s path, hands up, determined to catch it this time.
But before he even flinched, the fly again banked quickly around him and continued across the room to the far window.
As the fly zipped by, Chad spun around so quickly that he lost his balance and fell to his hands and knees with a thump! Unhurt, he remained in crawling position, looking up at the window as the fly danced and buzzed against the glass.
Keeping his eyes locked on the fly, the boy stood slowly—but this time was armed with a wide plastic baseball bat, the words “FAT BAT” molded along its side. The fly remained motionless for a moment, as if studying the situation. Then, it proceeded to nonchalantly clean itself—first its feet, then its face—as if pretending not to notice the boy approaching.
Creeping toward the window, Chad raised the bat into home-run position. He was gonna smack that big ol’ fly clear into next week (he wasn’t quite sure exactly how this feat was accomplished, but his mother had convinced him that it was definitely possible, if you were to hit someone—or some fly—hard enough).
He just needed to get just a little bit closer…
Just then, the phone rang.
Chad glanced across the room at the phone sitting on the end table next to the couch, then back to the Kamikaze Fly perched on the window before him.
He glanced back at the phone, then back up at the fly. It was just sitting there, motionless—a perfect target!
A third ring.
He had no choice but to answer it, before it woke his mother. In resignation, he lowered the FAT BAT to the floor, dragging it behind him across the room to the phone. He picked up the receiver, just as the hammer struck the bell inside to begin another ring, resulting in a single, sharp, diiiinnngggg…
“Hello?” Peering across the room as he spoke, he could still see the enemy insect, its tiny black silhouette set sharply against the glare of what was quickly becoming an overcast sky as the storms approached.
“Well, good morning, Mr. Bohman!” A woman’s loving voice greeted on the other end. “How’s my favorite young man in the whole world?”
Immediately recognizing the kind voice, the boy exclaimed, “Gramma!”
Chad absolutely loved his grandmother; and he knew that whenever she called, it usually meant she would be coming over to visit…and whenever she came over to visit, she never failed to bring him a surprise—like cake or cookies or ice cream, or sometimes even a really great toy!
Grinning with joy, he was now absolutely certain that this was going to be a fine day indeed. “I’m fine, Gramma! Are you coming over today?!”
“I might drop by later today, yes, sweetheart,” she teased. “But first I need to speak to your mother. Will you get her for me please?”
“Sure, Gramma!” Without hesitating, he dropped the receiver on the table with a clunk!, tossed the FAT BAT onto the couch, and ran excitedly across the room toward the hallway.
This was perfect! Now he had an excuse to wake his mother—because her mother told him to!
His lonely morning would finally be over, and he wouldn’t even be in trouble for waking her! However, what kind of mood she would be in upon waking had yet to be seen; it could be pretty bad. Last night had been one of those nights, which Chad had come to hate—just as he had come to hate her foul moods during the mornings that followed…
On Fridays, Linda like to work the mid-shift so she could get off work early enough to go out with her coworkers that night. The girls usually went dancing at a club somewhere downtown, but sometimes they just went to a local hangout for a few rounds of pool or darts—and more than a few rounds of drinks. It was the only time she allowed herself to let loose, go out and have some fun—so Friday nights had become sacred, her “girls’ night out.”
It had been that way for as long as Chad could remember, and he didn’t mind. He rather liked Julie, his usual Friday night babysitter. She played every game in the world with Chad, and she usually let him stay up later than his bedtime (he was never to tell his mother, though—this was their little secret!)
Yes, Jules was okay in Chad’s book.
Although they were always careful to be sure Chad was in bed by the time his mother arrived home, he could never go to sleep. He would lie awake, eagerly awaiting her return—for when she finally arrived home, she invariably came into his bedroom and spent some time with him.
And it was always a wonderful time.
Without fail, she was extremely loving and affectionate toward him, smiling and giggling. Chad loved how she acted toward him on these occasions, regardless of her mediciny breath. He didn’t know what that strange odor was—but didn’t much care either; he simply came to cherish the time he got to spend with her on Friday nights after she got home from “girls’ night out.”
Usually. . .
Problem was, sometimes she didn’t come home alone. These were the nights Chad had come to hate with every bone in his body. It didn’t happen often—but when it did, it was awful. She would come in with some strange man, rush Julie out the door, crack Chad’s bedroom door to check on him, then close it and that was it. Then Chad would lie there, tears running down his cheeks as he listened to her spending his cherished time laughing and giggling with the stranger, instead of with him! This was supposed to be his time!
And sometimes, his mother and The Stranger would retreat to her bedroom, close the door, and remain there for a long time.
Once, curious, Chad had tip-toed down the hall and listened, ear pressed to her bedroom door. What he had heard inside had terrified him; it sounded like he was hurting her—or maybe even killing her!
The muffled sounds of violence—coupled with her subdued squeals and gasps—sent him running back to his room in wide-eyed horror, where he lay under his covers quietly weeping, wondering what was happening to his beloved mother.
Eventually, though, he heard them emerge from her bedroom, and she seemed just fine, talking and giggling softly with The Stranger.
And soon thereafter, he left.
Chad was confused, but greatly relieved that his mother was okay.
Ever since that night, he was no longer so afraid for his mother when she brought one of those strangers home—but he hated it with a passion all the same. Not only did it destroy his much-anticipated late-night visit with her, but she was never much fun the following mornings, either. She always looked and acted as if she were ill, and was very short-tempered and impatient with him.
He did not understand this, but connected it with the nights that she brought the strangers home. He quickly learned to hate those nights—and those strangers…
And last night had been one of those nights. But it hadn’t happened for quite some time, so he wasn’t overly upset about it this time. But now came the big test: when he wakes her, will she be in the terrible mood which generally follows the “Friday Night With The Stranger” episodes?
He was about to find out.
As the boy approached the hallway, the Kamikaze Fly again launched itself off the living room window toward him. Making a wide bank, it streaked by and buzzed down the darkened corridor ahead of him. Now ecstatic, Chad shrieked with laughter and gave chase.
The door to his mother’s room was open just a crack, and the fly flew effortlessly through and vanished within. Chad was right behind it, running full stride. He rammed the door with all his strength, sending it flying open, and called to his mother.
But he stopped in his tracks as the horror of the scene before him struck full force. He glanced wildly around the room, his five-year-old mind attempting—mostly unsuccessfully—to grasp what he was seeing.
His mother lay motionless on the bed, fully naked and covered in blood, staring lifelessly at the ceiling above. The window beside the bed was open, and countless flies had swarmed in from the rotting garbage cans lining the alley outside to feast instead on her fresh blood. They were everywhere—flying, landing, crawling, flying, landing, crawling…
Chad spotted a big one—the Kamikaze Fly?—crawling around on one of her glazed eyes, its tongue darting in and out, sucking up the tasty fluids.
The boy’s eyes wandered silently over his mother’s bloody body: her mouth was sealed with duct tape, which was wrapped entirely around her head; her throat had been sliced open, all the way across, and her blood had spilled over the pillows, soaked the mattress, and pooled on the floor beneath; her wrists and ankles were bound to the bedposts with some kind of thick wire, wrapped tightly under the bed knobs; her right ankle had apparently broken free, and was now bent at a grotesque angle, the bed knob snapped off the post and lying in the blood on the floor.
Chad’s eyes dropped from her broken ankle to the bed knob on the floor, where he noticed a trail of large, bloody boot prints, which he followed across the hardwood floor to the open window. Looking from the window to the nightstand next to the bed, he saw a tall green bottle standing there, along with two wine glasses—one lying over on its side, the other still upright and half-full.
In the upright glass, a solitary fly floated lifelessly atop the silvery liquid.
His eyes drifted slowly back to his mother’s taped face, her lifeless eyes—then up to the blood-spattered wall above her.
Something was written there.
The boy could not read the words, but he knew they were bad.
He sensed it.
Some kind of evil message had been scrawled across the wall in his beloved mother’s blood, directly above her now dead body, with thin red streaks trickling down from the corners of the letters and disappearing behind the bed. Dotted with feasting flies, the message announced:
As if on cue, a brilliant flash of lightening burned the room white, and thunder shook the room, sending the flies momentarily abuzz.
Now, there are no reasoning mechanisms, no mental defenses, no ability whatsoever instilled in this young child’s mind to deal with such a horrific scene; the intense terror— powered by a massive surge of adrenaline—wiped out in a single ugly stroke any mental or emotional development his young mind had managed to achieve in his brief five years of existence.
Stunned, Chad turned away, and slowly made his way back to the living room. As he approached the phone, his mind made one final, desperate attempt to implement a defense mechanism, to sustain some shred of sanity, to explain the horror in some way that the young boy could accept.
He picked up the receiver off the table and whispered into it, “Mommy’s not home yet.”
Plain and simple.
That simply wasn’t his mother lying in there, covered in her own blood and swarming with flies; it couldn’t be, so it wasn’t. She just hadn’t returned home yet, that’s all.
The rest is already forgotten.
“What?” He faintly heard his grandmother gasp in disbelief, now sounding a million miles away. “You mean she’s been gone all night and you’re home by yourself? Good heavens, child, where did she go?”
Chad didn’t answer.
“Chad? Chad! Are you still there, sweetheart?” She was becoming alarmed, but tried to calm herself, for fear of frightening her grandson. Then, in a more subdued, somewhat shaky voice, she pleaded: “Now Chad, you be a good boy and tell Grandma where Mommy is…”
His mind’s final line of defense was failing, and massive shock was setting in. With a blank stare, he slowly hung up the phone, turned, walked zombie-like to the TV, and plopped down on the floor in front of it.
In a moment the phone was ringing again, his grandmother desperately trying to find out just what the hell was going on at her daughter’s house.
The phone rang and rang, but Chad did not stir. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show theme song blared at the show’s end, but Chad did not stir. He sat and stared—not at the TV, but through it—seeing nothing, hearing nothing, feeling nothing, comprehending nothing.
Eventually, the phone stopped ringing.
On the other side of town, Chad’s grandmother grabbed her purse and yanked her sweater and umbrella off the coat rack as she rushed out the door, fast on her way to her daughter’s house.
This time, Chad didn’t notice the Kamikaze Fly when it emerged once again from the depths of the hallway. Banking around the boy—even though he made no threatening movements this time—it landed back on the living room window, where it began meticulously cleaning its face and feet of the tiny particles of blood that lingered there.
Outside, it began to rain.
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