Novels and Short Stories
by John F. Dillon
Death of the Matriarch
Christmas on the Coosa
Encounter in Zurich
The Shadow in the Blue Suit
A Spooky Place
Return to Islamorada
A Tale Before Departure
by John F. Dillon
There were no previsions for water or electricity in the shack built to store supplies during the construction of the golf course. It was erected in half a day with discarded lumber and set in the thicket, approximately ten feet off the third fairway. The flat roof of tarred paper and shingles attached to wooden boards with roofing nails slopped slightly from the front to the back and did not leak. Light seeped through the spaces between the wooded slats of its walls. It was abandoned and forgotten once the golf course was completed and slowly dissolved into the ever-growing scrubs and vines that were a part of ignored rough that enclosed carefully cultivated fairways and meticulously manicured greens.
The shack remained empty until the man sought refuge from a summer shower. He was one of the many broken by war. Numbed from the horrors of nightmarish visions with alcohol provided from the stipend of a less than grateful nation, his soundless struggle continued on a battlefield within. He was aged and ageless, tall and thin with yellowed, winkled skin and a scraggly beard on a sunken, skulked face framed by long unkempt hair. He smelled from lack of hygiene. The most distinguishing feature was his eyes. He looked though cloudy gray eyes that made you feel he wasn't seeing at all.
The woman followed. Born to a semi-literate, single mother that allowed the lingering temperature of unattended influenza to sap the mind of her child, she was institutionalized at the age of five then, as a young teen, transferred to an understaffed asylum. Lost in bureaucracy, she quickly became a victim of multiple rape and abuse before being declared harmless and released to a hypocritical society. Barely existing, she appeared on the streets in rags, hunched and mumbling incoherently. Her lined face, half hidden behind yellow and gray strands of dirt-caked hair, held sunken eyes that peered at an angle from below the grimy brim of a baseball cap as she begged with outstretched, trembling, cupped, hands.
No one knew when the rags hid an impregnated body and no one but the tormented man witnessed the boys birth in the windowless shack. The tiny child with no record of being, remained unnoticed by the outside. his undernourished cries unheard.
Early one misty morning in late spring, the woman left for another day of begging. She never returned.
The man remained with the boy. Each day he would rise would move throughout the city's alleyways begging and scrounging for food bits. He'd return before the end of evening twilight and sit with the boy as the solitary light of night seeped through the warped timber walls.
During one of his daily excursions, the man saw a discarded high-back wooden chair protruding from an alleyway dumpster and took it to the shack. A few days later he returned to the shack with two wheels from an abandoned baby carriage. He attached the wheels to the bottom rungs of the chair with a stone hammer and rusty nails. When he finished, he tied the boys tiny body, crippled by malnutrition, to the seat with a hunk of twine and waited. Just after sundown, when all the golfers were gone, he gripped the top two rungs of the chair, tilted it back, and pushed the boy outdoors.
The boy whimpered when his petite body was exposed to the open. Tiny hands flew to shield the light. Delicate eyes peeked through boned fingers and the petite skull face came alive with wonder. The hands moved as widening eyes attempted to capture everything before him.
The boy was always in danger of toppling as the man pushed the chair to the fairway, over the greens to the next fairway and the next. A squirrel ran before them, froze, looked at the boy then disappeared in the rough. The movement flushed quail. The violent flapping of their wings as they fought to join the blackbirds gliding above caused the boy to retort with fright and he squealed. The little face filled with glee when the fear turned to amazement. The man stopped, looked at the boy and for the first time since leaving hell, the cloud faded and the mans eyes cleared. His lips slowly moved into a feeble smile. Thereafter, every evening after dusk, the man poked his head from the doorway and scanned the outside. Assured no one was in the area, he would push the boy from the shack and together they hiked about the golf course. The man would point to the fish at the water holes, the soaring birds, and the animals scurrying in the rough. He'd stop, gather a wild plant and place its colorful stem alongside the boy. A hint of a smile would appear as he watched the boys exploration of delicate pedals and reaction to the sweet scent. When darkness fell, the man would catch fireflies in cradled hands. He'd release them before the wide-eyed child then watch as the boys little mouth contorted into the semblance of a laugh and emitted sheiks of joy. Later, they would sit on the elevated green and paw the chopped grass with their feet as they lay on their back and followed the movement of the stars. Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, man and boy would reluctantly return to the semi-darkness of the shack.
Despite his caution, the scraggly man, propelling the contraption bearing a child dressed in rags, was observed.
Sometime before the end of summer, a golf cart pulled to the edge of the rough and stopped near the shack. A matronly woman stepped out. She marched to the half-open door and yelled inside. The man responded by slamming the door. The woman returned the following day in a car bearing a sheriffs emblem then stood aside as a deputy pushed his way into the shack. The deputy emerged a few minutes later carrying the frightened boy. The child barely murmured as they loaded his frail body into the back of the car and sped away.
The sun had not risen before the man left the following morning. An expression of nothingness was frozen on his face. The smile was gone, never to return as the gray cloud returned and once again blanketed his eyes.
Wide eyed and too frightened by the constant hospital lights and the constant noises, the boy was washed, probed, prodded and studied. His chair was replaced with one that moved on soundless bearings in large spoke wheels. The woman replaced by stout matronly women in white that tucked soft blankets about his tiny shoulders and kneaded his deformed legs. For a short time, he became the center of activity a curiosity. When the notoriety faded, he was deposited in a ward filled with others that peered from dark circled eyes through stainless bedside bars.
The man was never replaced. Certainly not by the overworked staff that listened to the boys rasping lungs with cold spectroscopes while tapping his skeletal body with heavy fingers or the ones that invoked pain by stretching his wasted arms and twisted legs or man with the dark glasses that simply sat taking notes while waiting for but never hearing the sound of the boys voice.
Budget considerations and an administrators pen quickly removed the curiosity and cuddling. Personnel were instructed to dispense levels of service commensurate with levels of coverage to assure those that invested with commerce were granted compensation. They had little time for the tiny ward of the state.
No one observed the slight tremor of the boys finger when the virus invaded; nor did they hear the tiny wheeze. When the intensity increased it was too late. His tiny lungs filled and as the frail body weakened the little heart stopped.
The staff puzzled at the strange expression on his face. None recognized it as the smile of a boy in danger of toppling from a make shift chair that was being pushed over fairway greens. No one saw the squirrel stop and look to the boy before disappearing in the rough. They never witnessed the movement of flushed quail or the violent flapping of wings fighting to join soaring blackbirds; or the goldfish at the clear water holes; or the animals scurrying in the underbrush; nor did they feel the stem and delicate pedals of a wild plant or taste its bouquet. And, as darkness closed and time ceased, they missed the trail light from fireflies competing with movement of the stars in the heavens.
Fall and winter passed and the shack remains empty. The woman is gone. The man is gone. The boy is gone. All are gone. All are forgotten. The door hangs half-open by a single hinge. It's late afternoon shadow falls on a dirt floor partially covered with flattened cardboard boxes. Dust filled planes of sunlighta slither through gaps in a barren wall to a bare dirty mattress that no gives longer comfort as it sits on a warped slab of plywood perched above two railroad ties. A five-gallon white paint bucket sits near the bottom of the busted bed. There is nothing else except...of course...for the chair.