Skeletons

In a cherry picker bucket twenty feet from the ground, Charles Gilmore, heavyset with a small bald spot, wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his arm. He squinted at the intricate arrangement of wires.

Saunders, tall, lean, and dressed in jeans and a blue shirt, stood on the other side of the bucket. He concentrated on the connections before him.

Charles twisted a wire into place and glanced at Saunders. “At least it isn’t raining, eh?”

Saunders nodded; his attention focused on the wires. “I just want to tie this—”

Charles gasped. A spark caught the corner of his eyes, and he scowled. “Hey, you sure everything’s dead?”

Saunders froze. “I turned off the main—”

“Stop, look here. It’s sparking! How the—?”

Saunders lifted his hands away and glanced around. “They all go to that main terminal, see, right there. I turned it off securely, or we’d be toast already.”

Pressing a lever, Charles lowered the bucket to the ground. “Something caused that spark. I sure as hell didn’t imagine it.” He labored over the uneven ground toward the main box and surveyed the vacant field. He grunted. “There was a house here once.”

Saunders’ eyes roved right and left. “How can you tell?”

Charles pointed to his feet. “Look down.” He kicked through the thin grass, exposing a segment of a cement cover. “It’s an old well covering. Probably buried when the house was taken down. They must’ve had a line here.”

“And it’s not cut off? Don’t be crazy. Besides, the main—”

“Look at that old house over there. It’s a distance, but it’s fed by a different system. Perhaps this one is too. Come on.” Charles started to pace away.

Saunders trotted alongside as they crossed the tussocks of grass.

Charles glanced at his watch. “Dang.”

Saunders’ eyebrow rose. “What?”

“I told Jill I’d be home early. Won’t happen now. And she’s already miffed.”

Saunders marched evenly at Charles’ side, staring at the ground. “Wives. Glad I don’t have to mess with one.”

“It’s not all bad, but she’s all bent out of shape lately—it’s stupid really.” He frowned. “Well, sort of. You see, her mom’s getting old, and she forgets when things happened— talks like twenty years ago was yesterday.”

“Pretty common.”

“Yeah, but unfortunately, she let it slip to our oldest daughter that Jill gave up her first baby—it was a long time ago. Her mom never wanted her to give it up, and now she’s asking questions, demanding to see it. So Jill had to explain—”

“Skeletons creeping out of the closet, eh?”

Charles scratched his jaw as he appraised the farmhouse and a lanky dog ambling in their direction. “Yeah, but Jill is letting the past have too much power over her—”

A wiry, old man shuffled toward them, waving. “Anything I can do for you folks?” He called to his dog, and the hound changed course and scuttled under the porch.

Charles explained their work with the electric company.

The old man nodded and hunched his shoulders. “Fine, go ahead. We don’t use much electricity during the day, anyhow.”

After cutting the power to the old farmhouse, the two men once again rose in the bucket. Saunders peered at the sky and chuckled. “You think you’ve got skeletons. Everyone has something to hide.” He halted the bucket at wire level.

Charles leaned back and tucked his fingers into his belt. “It shouldn’t make any difference. Jill’s a great mom; her past is ancient history. Just like I’m not the guy I was twenty years ago—no one should care if I did a few stupid things back then.”

“Oh, but people do care. Your sins follow you—” Saunders gave a wire an angry twist and faced Charles. “Even if they aren’t even sins at all.”

Charles shrugged. “I don’t let things bother me. Jill is just overreacting. Chrissie will understand that she gave up the baby for a good reason. It’s not like it matters anymore—”

“Give me that cutter, will you?”

Charles passed the tool over. “I never judge people. I couldn’t care less if you had a dozen affairs and a couple kids on the side.”

Saunders turned and pointed at Charles with the cutter. “How about if I was a killer? Would you still feel the same?”

Charles froze. “Huh?” A smile crept over his face. “You’re joking, but really—”

“No seriously. It was manslaughter—ran a red light and killed a woman and her little boy. I hardly did any time—a little over a year and probation. Total accident.”

Charles’ gaze dropped. “Sorry, I had no idea. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I—”

Saunders shook his head. “I’ve made you uncomfortable, I get it. But just remember, your wife is right. Our past haunts us”

Charles pursed his lips, focused his gaze on the box, and nodded to the wire assembly. “You finished?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, let’s get the cover on and go home.” Charles screwed everything in place and lowered the bucket. He unhooked his belt and tossed his tools into the truck.

Saunders did the same and slipped into the passenger side of the vehicle. He glanced at Charles. “So what time do want to meet up on Saturday?”

Charles started the truck and glanced at Saunders quizzically.

“Remember—our fishing trip?”

Pulling into the right lane, Charles’ eyes darted from side-to-side. “Oh, yeah, forgot. But, hey, I think Jill’s got something planned…hate to make her any more upset.”

Saunders let his head fall back against the headrest, his gaze staring through the truck roof.

Charles glanced over. “Maybe some other time. You understand?”

Saunders exhaled and nodded slowly. “Sure do.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior: Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

The Key

oldkeyWhen people say they’re haunted, it usually conjures up images of ghosts and wraiths. But that’s not how it is with me. Six words, a beard, and the tap of a hand haunt my days and nights.

I’m probably as ordinary as a person can get, living a typically mundane life. One particularly innocent day, my client asked me to run a few papers by a local nursing home. Easy? Sure. Safe? Not so much.

I was running a tad behind schedule when I pulled into the parking lot—a totally nondescript building with a colorful banner emblazoned with “We’re so glad to see you!” rippling in a cold, February breeze. Turning from that cheery message to the field, not a half-mile away, I encountered a decided mood-changer—a prison yard.

Brushing dark comparisons aside, I hurried inside and ran smack into a large common dining room. Old folks milled about, aimlessly, it seemed. I spotted a nurse-type in her flowered top and waved my manila folder stuffed with my client’s “important papers.” A quick explanation and the flowered top flew off in hot pursuit of the needed signatures.

So, I just stood there, looking about, pretending I wasn’t looking about. It got awkward—real quick. I perused the menu, listened to the laugh track playing on a large screen television, and studied the “Report Abuse Here” sign. I turned around and surveyed the room. Any sign of abuse?

A couple old guys slumped at a table, one with his head down and his eyes closed, though his legs were in perpetual motion, the other chattered away undaunted by his less-than-enthusiastic audience. Several figures slept in front of the television, while a young man cleared tables nearby. Several old gals, the lively ones of the bunch, were looking my way. Oh no. One, with a crippled leg, limped toward me. Lord, did she think she knew me? What did she want? Where could I hide?

Too late. She’d seen me. Stretching out her hand, she reached for my arm. Would she fall? Tackle me? I searched wildly for a nurse, an aide; frankly, anyone under seventy would have been a Godsend at that moment.

I watched her hand reach out—and she patted my arm. I managed a squeak. “Need help?” After a brief smile, she limped on, her gaze focused on some mission up ahead.

“Nope. Just glad I can still get around.” She sounded like she meant it too. I looked at my arm, where she had patted me. Had she seen my panic? Was she comforting me?

The flowered-shirt nurse trotted up, a satisfied smile alerting me to her success. “The director said you should come back next week for—” I hardly heard the next words. Next week? Come back? Here? Dandy. I marched to the double doors, shoved the handle, and promptly set off every alarm in the place.

The following week was as busy as a spring tornado, but everywhere I went I saw that hand, felt that gentle pat, and heard those bloody, comforting words “Just glad….” Life is a mystery. I thought I had accepted that long ago. But now, I was a mystery to myself. When the manila folder was thrust unceremoniously back into my hands, I drove back to that parking lot overlooking the prison yard.

Squaring my shoulders like a soldier facing combat, I marched myself through the doors, breezing right by some old guy sitting in a wheelchair by the front glass doors, his gaze searching the parking lot. Must be waiting for someone. Maybe a son with grandkids—something like that. Sure.

In a moment, I stood before the throng of elderlies, searched for the flower-topped nurse, but instead a large man in blue lumbered over. Taking my manila envelope like a precious charge, he snail-paced away. Okay—so what’s on the menu today? This week? Any card catalogs I could peruse? I skirted by the Elderly Abuse notice.

Weakening, my gaze traveled the room. Before I realize what I’d done, I had stepped further into the room. A woman on my right sat at a table and gazed up at me, her eyes wide and frightened. Was she afraid of me?

I looked away—fast.

A man rocked in his chair—back and forth—while another woman talked and talked though not a soul was listening. The woman on the right cleared her throat. She leaned in, shoulders hunched, using every bit of courage to speak. Without warning, her gaze plunged into my own.

“If you’d just give me the key—I could get out of here.”

My heart stopped. Or it jumped to my throat. It certainly wasn’t where it was supposed to be, doing its job. I tried to say something, but no words would form on my lips. Desperate, she repeated her plea.

“If you’d just give me the key—I could get out of here.”

Lord have mercy, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I met the man in blue half way across the room and bolted for the door. The old man didn’t even flinch at the breeze from my passing, his gaze stayed fixed ahead, scanning the parking lot.

I spent the next week trying to rid myself of the echo in my mind, “If you’d just give me the key….” And the feel of my empty chest, where my heart should have been, the pat of a gentle hand, and the horror of knowing that the man in blue was going to wheel that old guy back to the common room—alone.

By the middle of the week, I needed serious therapy. But as that was not an option, I confided my hauntings to a friend of mine, Sammy, Sam for short.

Sam is a dear girl—woman—person, I suppose. In her own way. She listened patiently enough, and then she began her lament. It’s the government’s lack of decency, a selfish bunch of…causes all our troubles, religious zealots, insensitive relatives, you name it—Sam had a name to blame. When I finally admitted to myself that she wasn’t listening, I went home to the tune of “If you’d just give me the key….”

In fact, I never intended to go back to that nursing home. But in some kind of Christmas Carol twist, my client discovered one more signature was needed.

Fate, sure enough.

This time I came prepared. I ducked my head and shielded my eyes from the prison yard; I whizzed by the old man by the front door; I ignored the menu and practically knocked over a scruffy bearded kid who loped along to the center of the room. Flower-shirt was back, and she didn’t need to ask. She just plucked the manila folder from my grasp and suggested I sit and enjoy the live music before she trotted off.

Live music?

The kid who looked like he had slept on a park bench all night unslung a guitar off his back and sat down in front, smiling, nodding at people like he was having a good time. Joking even!

I leaned against the wall, prepared for nothing. The kid’s dark, lanky hair, tattered jeans and threadbare jacket told their own story. He sang country stuff mostly, though he’d stop to answer a question or change tunes at a request. He and the old folks exchanged teasing jibes. Obviously, he’d been here before.

I gazed around the room. Most of the folks had gathered around. The sleepers stayed put—in their own worlds. Some folks rocked, some stared, a few drooled as was their way. But the woman from last week smiled up at the kid through shining eyes. No mention of a key. And the front-door guy had wheeled himself in, one foot tapping away.

Suddenly the manila envelope was thrust into my hands. But I wasn’t ready to leave. Why? I don’t even like country music.

It’s been months now, and I’ve never gone back. But I am haunted, I tell you—haunted by a gentle pat and a scruffy young man—with a key.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00