Five parts to be posted, all short-ish. This will be finished pretty quickly, I've got some time.
Not what everyone was expecting (unless you were expecting faith healers and impoverished Oregonians), just an idea I've had for a while.
Now with slightly more editing.
"Go to the dump," his father said. "See what they left."
Casey had wrapped his stout fingers around the red bucket and glanced back at the house. Anger composed of a human face had peered out from the front window, urging him on with coal-black eyes. His father scared him, always had, even before he had gone and murdered all those people people. Casey straightened his shoulders and took long strides that looked strange on a ten year old boy.
His legs tired quickly. When he stepped into the dank shade of the woods and the path narrowed to a sprinkling of sharp rocks, his pace slowed. His back rounded. Rot filled the air. Casey had eased down the steer embankment of mud and climbed the low fence of the junkyard.
No one else ventured into the misty realms of derelict tractors and broken plates so early Sunday morning. Alone, he poked at molding fruit and squished pound cake with a long stick. When he found something good — usually fruit snacks — he would pick it up gingerly and drop it into his red bucket to take home.
Somewhere to his left, a twig snapped.
Casey spun around so quickly he almost lost his bucket. His slate eyes flicked from one trash heap to another. Which direction had that come from? He sloshed through the mud to investigate.
The faith healer's son crouched over a bird's nest that had fallen onto a heap of refuse.
Casey knew him from school. Beau dressed in khaki slacks and a pressed white shirt and wore a red tie on Fridays, even though now he had only a Spongebob shirt and cut-off shorts. He never looked up to meet anyone's eyes and today was no different. He looked so out of place, standing before a shrine of apple cores and delicate fish bones, staring at his once-shiny shoes.
"What do you have there?" Casey asked, to break the enormous silence.
"Bird's nest. They're all dead."
He held it out for Casey's inspection.
Casey crept forward. He took the nest from Beau and examined it critically. Broken eggs bleeding yellow-orange, crumpled against the side. Slimy feathers. Tiny skulls. The acrid smell of rot and garbage permeated the nest.
"Did you kill them?"
Beau shook his head.
"I wouldn't blame you if you did."
Beau shook his head again.
"I think I can bring them back to life," he said, without the waver of a lie. "I want to have a witness."
Casey's brow knit together. He thought of all the people he had ever called a witness — the lilac-haired ladies at the door, witnesses of Jehovah; Moses, witness of God; Mrs. Johnston; witness of the car crash on fifty-sixth. He touched his face, imagining it wrinkled and old from the burden of secrets. "A witness," he echoed. "I bet you can't do it."
"I be — have faith that I could."
Casey set the nest on the ground and took a step back. "So do it then," he said, half a challenge and half unbridled curiosity. He'd never met someone who would claim such a thing. "I bet you can't."
Beau crouched in the mud. A low hum began in the back of his throat. Concentration narrowed Beau's eyes, thinned his lips, furrowed his brow. His throat opened in ululation that echoed off the mountains of refuse. So out of place, here, in a world of ugliness and decay. He reached out to touch the edge of the nest with shaking fingers, eyes squeezed shut at the last moment. The hum splintered into a spell of broken syllables. It wasn't English or Spanish or any other language Casey had heard before; instead, it reminded him of the speech of angels, the songs of life.
The creature began to shriek, not like a sparrow but like a man.
Casey stared at the nest, his jaw dropped in horror, before crouching down to heave into a patch of dandelions. This was the voice of his father's anger and his mother's sadness and his own abandonment. The voice of stark cliffs, broken-down trucks, rusting Bread and Circus signs, rotting wooden wagon wheels, highways. The voice of matriarchs who lost three generations of men to the war. Casey emptied the contents of his stomach, and when he had finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I told you," Beau croaked.
"It sounds like it's in pain," Casey whispered. He climbed to his feet. "Kill it."
Beau's lip curled and he looked away, his own face tinged with green. "I can't kill it," he said, eying the rock on the ground between them. "You do it. You kill it. You wanted me to bring it back."
"Don't you know about mercy killings?" Casey picked up the stone and hefted it in his palm. It was pale, the color of the overcast morning. Heavy. He ran his fingers over the smooth surface. "I didn't think you could really do it."
"I told you, the Lord's blessed me."
"Blessed you? It might as well be dead!" Casey jerked his head at the still-twitching, half-living mass. He shoved the stone into Beau's hands. His stomach threatened to rebel again, and he kept a tight grip on his red bucket to keep his bearings. "That's no better than being dead. Kill it."
Beau's face collapsed into a frown. His gaze flicked from the rock to the nest and back. Perspiration formed on the bridge of his nose. "But..."
The screeching continued, familiar and unbearable, followed by a gurgling.
Casey wrenched the stone back and brought it down with no more hesitation. "It is done," he said. "Now it can go."
That is how it began.
One Fourth of July, years later — when they had become tentative friends, and Casey's mom had died, and neither remembered if their first meeting had been a dream — they went down to the river, sat on a moss-covered log, sipped Pabst. Beau threw empty cans into the already-rusty water as he gulped undue courage into his belly. From the west, the bluish smoke of the church barbecue wafted down the craggy hill to the place where earth met the river, to the canyon dug out by that river's own toiling hand. Fireworks bloomed in the dark sky, bright blossoms of color accompanied by a distant thunder.
Happy Independence Day.
"I'm sorry about your mom," Beau said to a shivering Casey, who sat near to him, as if it were winter.
Guns cracked the shell of the night.
Casey flinched and shot Beau a sideways glance. They hadn't always been friends, but Greenhill, Oregon seemed to be shrinking constantly, relentlessly, and now they were friends. Or something like friends. This was acceptable because neither of them had many friends to spare.
Any friends to spare.
Trembling, pressed close as branches grown together, Casey said to Beau: "Don't be sorry. I know who's at fault here."
First, his father's trial had wasted his mother's slender form. Then, just as rapidly, she ballooned out with the remnants of their marriage — a squawking, wailing child that would be the death of her. He bit back the sharp ring of resentment and turned his attention back on the moonlight, refracted between the lapping waves.
"Do you have to leave?"
Casey shook his head. "Gonna live with my cousin." He jerked his thumb: "She lives a few blocks south of here."
His Aunt Marge had always dreamed of becoming a world-renowned agricultural engineer. She attended the community college for six years in order to earn her associates degree before trucking off to university. Her doctorate focused mainly on a theoretical process of separating post-glacial snow and volcanic ash through a complicated river filtration system, several prototypes of which she had built in her basement.
One day, the University of Hawaii requested that she come to give a lecture.
Casey still remembers her calling him on the phone, just slightly too late for politeness, to suggest he go live with his cousin in her little metal trailer. "They'd like me to stay on as a guest researcher," she had said. "It's not like the beach back there, it ain't cold. Not even in January, they said. It's perfect — you can't go on livin' in that house, and my Destiny needs a good, upstandin' boy like yourself to keep her in line."
And so he had agreed.
Beau seemed to like the idea. "I live near the highway, too. By the farms."
"And the mountains" Casey said, nodding absently. His eyes, glassy, drifted over the sweep of the river, the swooping branches of the viper-green foliage, the beetles crawling over flat-faced rocks still warm with the day. "I'm thinking it's not so bad."
And it wasn't.
Peach squatted on the sidewalk. She plucked sticks of chalk from the red plastic bucket and drew wide-mouthed flowers on the concrete. She squinted her eyes against the afternoon sun. Spring was beginning to give way to summer, making it too hot to be outside, but Casey had insisted. Destiny sat in the plastic lawn chair, thumbing through her glossy magazine and adjusting her oversize sunglasses.
"Let's go for a walk," Peach suggested as she put her chalk back into the bucket and closed the lid. "I'm sick of chalk." She giggled at her own rhyme and toed on her pink sneakers.
Destiny peered over the top of her magazine. "Where'd you want to go?"
"To the Chevron station. I got enough for Cheetos." Peach smoothed out her sundress and began down the sidewalk, towards the mouth of the trailer park. "I can go alone if you don't wanna to come."
She heard the rustling of glossy pages and the sharp slap Destiny's sandals against the sidewalk. "Your brother would kill me if I let you go by yourself. Here, hold onto me."
With a sigh, Peach reached out and grabbed Destiny's wrist. "How long until I can go by myself?"
"When you're forty." Destiny tightened her grip on the other girl's fingers. They walked alongside the current of cars. "See? A lot of traffic on this street. You'd be sorry if you got yourself hit."
"I wouldn't get myself hit."
The Chevron station smelled like chlorine. Peach went straight for the Cheetos, picking up as many bags as she could hold in her squishy hands. Her cousin purchased a neon-orange lighter and hung back near the slushie machine, impatient. "Think you have enough Cheetos there?" she asked, when Peach tumbled by again.
"Yes," said Peach, counting the coins out of one of her voluminous pockets. "No change."
The cashier smiled indulgently.
"I think that cashier thought I was your daughter," said Peach, when they were outside.
"Casey always gets mad when people're thinking I'm his daughter."
"Casey is stupid." As they edged along the highway, they passed a few punks on bicycles. One of them shot Destiny a lopsided grin, and she struggled to return it, to form her mouth into the thin crescent of a smile. "Stupid," she said again, when they had gone.
"Does Casey not want to have kids?" Peach opened the plastic bag and picked out a Cheeto. She crunched it between her teeth and her eyes, dark as pine needles, darted back and forth.
Destiny shrugged. "I don't know what Casey wants," she said. They came to the signal and Destiny hit the button once, twice, three times. "I don't even know what I want, most of the time."
"I know what I want," said Peach.
"Cheetos make a person happy."
Soon, Beau's father will drown.
They're sitting in front of the television, at the folding card table, watching late-night television. Buddy Wheeler shovels forkfuls of meatloaf and green beans. They received hard stares. Beau, who finished a long time ago, itches to leave. He should be allowed to go.
"I hear you're considering a part-time job. You know how I feel about you working."
Beau shrugs. He's had a part-time job before, under the guise of an impromptu Bible study group with Samuel Richards. Richards, in turn, spent the time at his parent's hunting cabin with his hand up the skirt of every girl in their grade. "It crossed my mind."
His father piles the last of his mashed potatoes onto his fork and swallows, holding his finger up. Gravy oozes down his chin. At first, he seems undistributed, but soon, Beau notices a drip of perspiration on his forehead. It glistens as it runs down the bridge of the aquiline nose Beau recognizes from his own profile.
Beau takes a sip of his off-brand cola.
His father reaches for his beer, taking a gulp of it, but his skin continues to purple. He slaps his wrist against the table as hard as he can, thrashing like a fish deprived of water. Or an ant under a magnifying glass. A nagging voice that sounds quite like Reverend Sampson cries out for Beau to stop it, but he finds himself unable to summon to his stepmother or even slap his father on the back to dislodge the malicious meatloaf.
The moment his smiles at his own pun, he knows why can't seem to move.
His father falls face first into the minestrone soup. He gurgles a bit, inhales a mouthful of broth, and doesn't make it. A Triscuit floats past his ear. He slumps, completely still, over his plate.
Now he can go.
Of course, his stepmother pleads for him to undo what as been done, to rescue that deposed dictator from the cold grasp of death, but Beau already knows he can't do it. He might lay his hands all day, all night, but he won't ever be able to will such an act; he must have faith in its righteousness. An act of Christ, without a willing, believing vessel means nothing.
His jaw flaps wordlessly for a moment. He drops his fork and stands up so quickly his folding chair topples backwards. A ferocity has taken hold of him, passionate as he has ever felt. Now he can leave. Now he can go.
"I can't do it," he whispers, loud enough for the two of them and the corpse. He could give her the reason, but he doesn't. He doesn't have to. He can go. He can find the one he is looking for. "I can't stay."
So he goes.
Thanks for reading.