December 2, 2010
So Mikey Cunningham of The Hours fame was judging the NPR 3-Minute Fiction contest a couple months back. The rules were simple. Start a story with the line, “Some people swore that the house was haunted,” and end it with the line, “Nothing was ever the same again after that.” Don’t exceed 600 words and if you win, your entry will be read aloud the FM radio! Like Little Orphan Annie!
I entered a subtle little tale of teenage machismo and abandoned farmhouses. And guess what? Mikey didn’t like it. I lost. Actually, I’ll give myself some credit. I’m pretty sure I just missed the cut of the top 25 runners-up. That fact isn’t exactly confirmed by Carl Kasell, but I’m going to operate under the notion. And if 27th is good enough for the Maldives, then it’s good enough for me.
I thought of tucking the story away in a drawer and pulling it out on rainy Sundays to provide myself with a good windowsill weep, because what else am I gonna do, send it to the Paris Review? Postage to France is expensive! Then I remembered I have a blog and so I might as well share it in the style that is popular with the youth of today. That is, blogically (check Urban Dictionary for me, cause that’s gotta be something the kids say). So here you go. A very short story.
Oh yeah, and after reading it, read this real life tale that was uncovered a few weeks after my fictional one hit the bottom of Ira Glass’s trash can. Disturbing and creepy to say the least.
Some people swore that the house was haunted. Mark thought haunted wouldn’t fly. Poltergeists were subtle, and the time for subtle had passed. We needed raving. Bleeding. A sweaty lunatic with a painty maul.
Kelly had a girl’s name, but he insisted that back when men were men, they were called Kelly. Lesley. Marion.
“Sue?” asked Mark.
“Sure. Song about it, isn’t there?”
I drove. Always. Hand on the tuner. In search of night music. Not dark exactly, but something that stalked.
“This works,” Mark said.
“Whatever.” Kelly rolled down the window and I could smell the stuff they sprayed to kill mosquitoes. It was a summer of puddles, the summer that was supposed to matter.
We pulled up, noticed that Byron’s place had nylon siding and a sofa on the porch.
“Making crystal in the bathtub, I bet.”
I shook my head, but Mark probably wasn’t far off. I poked the horn, just enough to announce our presence.
Byron was out immediately, screen door snapping behind him. Kelly ducked down to hide his face and I motioned to the back seat.
We’d gone about half a mile when Byron acknowledged it was Kelly sitting shotgun. “Not hittin’ that party, are we?”
“Bingo.” Mark was enjoying this all too much.
“You gonna shoot me? Drop me in a ditch?”
“Something like that.”
It still puzzles me. Why accept the ride in the first place? He knew our loyalties.
Kelly finally said something. “No one’s gonna kill you.”
“Should I even try to mount a defense?”
“Ever been to the old Covington farm?” I asked.
“Sure. Empty silo. Good for acoustics.”
“James Taylor of Jersey?” Mark teased. “Girls find them romantic? Silos?”
“We never did anything. But that doesn’t matter, does it?”
It didn’t. Not now. “Know the story of the Covingtons?” I asked.
“Farmers. Long time ago. What’s to know?”
“Pig farmers. Kids were probably eight and ten when they were killed in a car accident. Dad was driving. Mom had distracted him. People thought the pair would turn to booze. They didn’t. They just stopped. Everything. Went down to the cellar, closed the door. Pigs slowly starved. Some went cannibal. When relatives showed up, they found a farm littered with carcasses. They opened the cellar—”
“—and found farmer and wife dead, still holding hands,” Byron said. “I’ve heard this type of story before.”
As the road switched from asphalt to gravel, I thought of campfires.
“That’s not it at all,” I told him. “They found them alive, but only barely. They’d chained themselves to pipes, so even if they wanted to escape, they couldn’t. And they couldn’t hold hands cause they made sure the chains were just short enough so they couldn’t touch. Punishment, I guess.”
Hanging branches swatted at the windshield. We were close.
Kelly stayed in the car. Said this was never his idea. “Friends are there to do the things you can’t,” Mark told him more than once.
Had Byron made a run for it, this would have been the moment. But he’d seen Mark in Gym. Knew what those legs were capable of. I was in front. In back, Mark, wearing the chain like a boxer’s belt. He gave it a shake, a ghostly rattle.
“Sue in there?”
“Jesus, no,” Mark said. “Think we’d do this to a girl?”
“Thought you’d be faithful to the story.”
I opened the front door. Glass and cheap ceramics decorated the floor. This is where kids came to break things. I flicked on my headlamp and stepped inside.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.