Disclaimer: This short story is based on real events and has a very dark, fictional ending. Names have been changed.
* * *
This is a story about earth and heaven ~ in that order.
The Texas desert seeped cautiously into the southern part of the city, on into the rural outskirts where the land was cheap and mostly parched, save for twelve acres of cornfields. The residents there often pondered how the soil had been cultivated for that particular crop when no other real greenery or foliage existed. There were no trees and nary a single green plant to be seen for miles.
It simply wasn’t their business to inquire, though, those residents. They just kept their heads down and their mouths shut. They were all in silent agreement and everyone there instinctively knew they’d arrived at this end of the earth because it was hard to find and it made for good cover from the rest of the world. Victor Roth was no exception to this dogma, having escaped being caught for different crimes on more than one occasion.
* * *
The entire yard of the Roth’s home was barren and free of any landscaping, as the new house was still under construction. Vic was building the house, himself, alongside a crew of dayworkers he’d hand-picked. The ground had the appearance of hundreds of shattered clay containers placed carefully about in their proper place, forming an odd, misshapen puzzle of earth.
The fire ants patrolled their crevices stealthily in search of anything to sink their teeth into. They’d long since recovered from the feast of Byron Roth’s legs last week. The neighbor kids had strung Byron up to a wooden post that anchored an electric fence and they’d prit’ near scalped him. After malicious gales of laughter, they’d left him bloodied, unconscious, and still tied to the post. After some time, those fire ants had systematically moved in for their fill of savage gnashings long into the night.
But then? Well, by the next morning, Byron had been freed. He was alive and life just went on…as though nothing had even happened.
* * *
Easter morning, 1983, seemed fairly ordinary there on the edge of Brownsville. The Roths began to stir, as one by one they each shook the sleep from their bleary faces. The parents were the first to rise as they clumsily exited their crickety old bed with the rusted springs. The boys were next, each making their way to the bathroom down the hall, still half asleep.
And last to wake was the seven-year old little girl.
Jeannie waited patiently in her cot in the living room, the rope around her wrist burning her delicate skin. She couldn’t wait for the relief she’d soon feel as one of the boys came to untie her. It wasn’t that she couldn’t untie herself, she was just forbidden to.
The rope was a measure used to keep Jeannie from sneaking into the kitchen and hoarding food late at night. She didn’t dare break free, as she knew better than to raise the wrath of Vic, her adoptive father. He was brutal when angered, so she lay still, patiently waiting for her morning potty time.
She was excited today, since she’d have a chance to wear her brand new Easter Sunday dress and her shiny, new shoes from Kmart. She knew she’d look so smart and pretty and maybe her adoptive mother would finally be proud of her for a change. Despite her happy anticipation of the day to come, Jeannie waited quietly, squirming a little, partly because she had to go, partly because of the painful bite of the rope.
At last, her mother came out and growled impatiently at Jeannie to untie herself.
“Git yer ass in that bathroom. Ya got 3 minutes!”
As her mother stood coughing out her morning smoker’s bile, Jeannie hurriedly pulled the rope loose and ran down the hall to her bedroom. She grabbed her beloved dress, tights, and shoes and darted into the bathroom. Four minutes later she was at the table eating her Cheerios under her mother’s irascible scowl. Five minutes later she was outside in the yard, soaking up the warm morning sun with her brothers while they waited to leave for Easter Sunday services.
* * *
Now, the Roths weren’t any strangers to good old-fashioned makeshift fun. In every place they’d ever lived, they’d had their share of tire swings, tree-houses, hammocks, and when weather permitted, sledding on snow banks crafted by Vic. Texas was no different. Their entertainment there included a mudslide in the backyard for the kids to run and slide on during hot days and evenings.
Unfortunately, someone had left the water on after last night’s activities and Jeannie knew there would be trouble since the entire mudslide was flooded by now, leaking out of its confined space and into the rest of the yard. She fearfully wondered if it was she who’d overlooked this small task. She bristled there in the morning sun and hoped not.
Jeannie contemplated what to do about the water. As she stood there, nervously trying to figure out a solution to this problem and a way to keep it hidden, she jumped as she heard a loud scuffle. A second later, Jeannie’s stomach filled with dread as the boys suddenly came careening around the corner of the house, laughing and shrieking. Byron was chasing Terry and they were heading straight for her.
What happened next would’ve been missed if you’d blinked your eyes just once.
Before Jeannie had a chance to scramble out of the way, Terry slammed straight into her, knocking her backwards! She lost her balance and tumbled smack into the middle of the mudslide and slid a good three feet before she was finally able to gather herself together.
Jeannie realized in a flash of terror that her outfit was completely ruined.
Her mother would kill her, she just knew it.
She began to shake uncontrollably. Tears ran down her mud-streaked face as she struggled to her feet. The boys just stood there staring at her, mouths agape. It took her a few tries before she was finally able to pull herself out of the mud.
The boys took off toward the house, screaming in eerie unison,
“MOM?! Jeannie went mud sliding in her dress!! We told her not to!!”
Jeannie ran toward the house, frantically denying her brothers’ tales. It was no use; they’d always had her mother’s irrational ear. This morning was no different. She walked tentatively into the house where her mother stood, eyes blazing. Norma Roth’s words sputtered slowly out of her slacken jowls, her gravelly voice flat and excruciatingly cold.
Those words sliced through the sunshine soaked kitchen air that Easter morning with chilling precision. The pure fury in her mother’s face was unmistakable. Jeannie knew that look and it spelled danger. Her stomach sank as she tried in vain to recount what had really happened in the yard. She knew it was futile, however, so she hung her head in terror. She began to cry softly. Jeannie also knew her mother loathed that, but she just couldn’t help herself.
* * *
Jeannie never even saw it coming.
And, in a way that was a probably a good thing.
The blow to her head was swift, leaving in its wake a strange, gentle breeze. The soft caress of that breeze would be the last shred of anything good Jeannie would feel in her short life.
Her world turned gradually black as her tiny, lifeless body dropped to the floor. The blood trickling from her ear had begun to form a crimson pool around her, coaxing the mud from her matted, gossamer strands.
Seconds later, Vic ambled into the room. He looked at Jeannie with a tiny glint in his yellowish, beaded eyes and snarled one question at his drunken wife: “Where the hell we gon’ bury ‘er, ya dumb bitch?”
The words left Vic’s mouth, falling on deaf ears, as Norma Roth looked on in shocked horror. The iron skillet made a dull, sickening thud on the floor where she’d dropped it. Byron and Terry stood motionless, tears rolling down their guilt-stricken faces.
Dead silence followed.
* * *
And then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Jeannie’s spirit left her tiny body and began to drift slowly away. As she did so, a beautiful, serene smile played on the corners of Jeannie’s mouth and reached her eyes within seconds of her ascent. The mixture of blood and clay was gone. In its place, her silky hair and skin glowed softly in the glorious sunlight. Her dress was crisp and perfect; its baby blue sash gleaming as Jeannie drifted serenely.
“May peace be with you, Roth family,” Jeannie thought as she left this earth that Easter morning in 1983.
She’d be home soon ~ the home where she truly belonged, in heaven.
© 2016. KHP. All Rights Reserved.