March 20, 2020
Revenge Is Necessary - First Place Winner Winner of the 2019 First Chapter Contest
By Bill Mathis
Junior - Shaw Philip Skogman, Junior, age 17
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Junior ran faster, his bare feet churning. His feet sunk into the dirt drive, already muddy from three days of rain and now topped with three inches of late March moisture-laden snow. The snow whirled around him, nearly blinding him. He didn’t feel the cold yet. Where was he headed? Where could he go in his underwear? Fruit-of-the-Loom, white t-shirt and tighty-whiteys, at seven on a Saturday morning. His dad might come after him if he headed toward his boyfriend Beany’s house.
The image of his father with a shotgun bursting in on him and Beany in Junior’s bed pulsed with every heartbeat. Beany’s words as Junior raced down the stairs still echoed. “Run, Forrest! Run!” The same words his mother screamed at his track meets. She loved the movie Forrest Gump. He knew Beany escaped down the back stairway as Junior flew down the front one. Beany would be well on his way home. He was a fast runner, too. At least he had a place to run to.
Damn him. Sneaking into Junior’s bedroom in the early morning, or middle of the night, still dressed, crawling into his bed, ignoring the twin guest bed in the room. The bed his mother moved in over ten years ago when Beany started showing up in the middle of the night, coming in the unlocked back door, slipping up the narrow back stairway and into Junior’s room without making a sound.
What caused his father to lose his marbles? Completely lose them. It’s not like Beany never slept over before.
“Right, Junior. Duck right!” His mother’s scream, sounding from the front porch, broke his thoughts. Made his heart thump harder. How could he be thinking about his bedroom and Beany when his father, at this very second, must have the shotgun aimed at him?
He dodged right, closer to the overgrown shrubs that lined the quarter-mile driveway. He heard the shotgun bellow and simultaneously felt sharp stings on his left buttock, along the back of his upper leg. He ran faster, tried to crouch lower. Birdshot. At least it was birdshot. It smarted. He dodged into the middle of the drive and quickly back to the right. Did that several times. Why? He wasn’t sure. Maybe zig-zagging would make it harder for his dad to focus on a moving target. He knew what was in the other barrel of the gun. A slug. That would more than sting if it hit him. It would kill him. His dad was a good shot.
His mother’s scream again tore through the wet, thick air. No words. It was followed by the shotgun blasting again and his dad bellowing as if in pain. Junior threw himself into the ditch and lay in the cold sloppy mud and snow. Hearing nothing, no sound of a thud or a slug whistling by him, he stood, turned and took several cautious steps toward the house. His mother’s voice floated toward him through the heavy silent snow. It was less shrill, but still urgent, her don’t mess with me voice. “You’re safe for now. Keep running. Don’t come home.”
What the hell did that mean? You’re safe, keep running, but don’t come home. He turned, lengthened his stride and settled into his 400 meter pace he ran for track. He sensed the front of his soaked t-shirt invading his nighttime warmth, but still, he didn’t feel the cold. He stayed to the edge of the drive, on the grass slippery beneath the snow. He turned right when the driveway ended. Onto the country road. A half mile further was the small Lutheran church and cemetery where maybe someone would be and let him in. His dad must have ignored Beany who was probably home by now. Would he or his mom call nine-one-one?
Why didn’t he hear his dad’s diesel pickup starting up, coming after him? His feet began to sense the cold and the occasional small stone. He was glad the road was mostly dirt, not all gravel. How long did it take to get frostbite? He was approaching the fence of the cemetery when he heard a vehicle slowly splashing behind him. He glanced back. It wasn’t his dad’s pickup. Junior slowed to a walk as the old pickup eased to a stop beside him. He glanced in and saw Jens Hanson, motioning for him to climb in. There was a tarp covering something in the backend. It was shaped like a casket. Junior opened the door and slid into the warmth. He grabbed the blanket on the seat and pulled it around him like it was the last one on earth.
Jens Hanson, age 51
Jens Hanson glanced at the clock. Six-forty-five a.m. In the rear embalming room of the funeral home, he adjusted the tie on his father’s body. He touched the ancient floral drapes torn from his parents’ tottering farmhouse living room that now lined the homemade wooden casket. Too many memories, good and bad. He shook his head, closed the casket and secured it. His father died, finally, yesterday afternoon. His mother thirty-five years ago.
Jens slightly opened the wide back door. He peeked to make sure no one was around, swung it out and blocked it. He pushed the cart holding the casket to the lowered tailgate of his truck. After sliding the casket onto the bed, he secured a tarp tightly around it before closing the tailgate. Returning the cart inside, he double-checked the room to make sure everything was in place, with nothing left for someone else to clean up. He pulled the note out of his flannel shirt pocket and propped it against the desk phone. It read, Sorry to leave so suddenly. Dad died. He’s embalmed and buried. I appreciate you letting me work here over the past three years. I won’t return. Jens Hanson
No, I won’t return here, he thought. I did my duty to my father and I don’t want to deal with a funeral service. The hassles of buying a plot and trying to remember the names of the few people still alive and cognitive enough to remember Dad. Besides, I’ve embalmed and buried enough people in my lifetime. Now, it’s time to take care of myself. He climbed into the cab, started the twenty-five year old, rusted, Ford F250 and placed his hand on the shift lever. His phone vibrated in his jeans pocket. A text from Connie Shaw. Help. Junior running on Cty Y. Shaw shot. Don’t come to house.
Windshield wipers on high and squeaking, Jens threw the lever into gear and headed south out of Midville. He turned right on County Road Y, a straight, narrow farm road that ran by fallow corn and soybean fields. He crossed Milliken Road; a quarter mile further, the Shaw driveway. Through the streaky wipers and wet heavy snow, he caught glimpses of white, then realized it was Junior running barefoot in his underwear. Easing to a stop, he noticed pelts and splotches of blood on the tall teen’s left hip. Damn, what the heck happened? He motioned the boy to jump in.
It seemed Junior couldn’t climb in fast enough. He grabbed the car blanket, wrapped it about him as he shivered and his teeth chattered. His breath steamed up the windshield, he curled into a ball on the seat, his head nearly touching Jens’ hip. Jens jammed the heat to high and flipped on the defrost. He drove five-hundred feet further and pulled into the cemetery, navigating barely visible lanes till he reached the back and parked behind a thick row of arborvitae and scrub brush. His old front-end loader and backhoe from the farm waited next to a hole he dug last night just before he embalmed his father. He had no intention of towing it back to the family farm. He shut the lights off, left the pickup engine idling,
Junior seemed to be in shock. He didn’t open his eyes or speak.
“Stay down, son. I’ll be just a few minutes, then we’re getting the hell away from here.”
Junior gave a low moan.
Neither spoke when they heard the sounds of sirens coming down the road. In the dense and snowy air, Jens could see a police car and ambulance move slowly, ghost-like, through the slush and mud. Their sounds died shortly after passing the cemetery. Jens figured they ended up at the Skogman home, across the fields from the graveyard, easy to see on most days. Not today.
Jens stayed in the truck until, five minutes later, he heard the sirens start up again and leave the area, headed away, east and north, toward Summerville, the county seat. Probably take them forty minutes in this weather. The boy didn’t say a word, just shivered and slowly seemed to bring his breathing to a normal rate.
Jens patted Junior lightly on his wet head, climbed out, gently closed the door, walked to the back and lowered the tailgate. He placed two pieces of two-by-six lumber against the gate and down into the grave to form a ramp. He guided the casket down the skids, between the dirt walls, leaving the tarp on. Closest thing to a vault the old man will get, he thought. He muscled the skids out from under the casket and threw them into the shrubs, jumped on the backhoe, fired it up and quickly loaded the dirt back into the hole, building it a little higher so it would settle level. He turned the backhoe off, climbed down and scattered some grass seed.
No one else was buried this far back in the cemetery. The row of brush and trees was a wind and snow break. He figured no one would notice the backhoe or the grave for some time. Very few people were buried here anymore. The old church was occasionally used for weddings, receptions, funerals or special community events, not regular services. Leaving the key in the tractor’s ignition, Jens Hanson stepped toward the truck, wiping his face and hands with his handkerchief.
Now what? He planned to make this trip solo, leave town, keep in touch with Connie through texts and email, to never return. Now, there was a seventeen-year old, out, gay, boy in the truck who was clueless to what just happened at his home, or why. So was Jens, though he suspected something about the boy that the boy probably didn’t have an inkling about. He wasn’t sure Connie fully admitted the possibility to herself.
Connie Marie Johnson Skogman, age 59
Connie loved her mornings, even the gray wet snowy ones. She secretly enjoyed the time between feeding her husband, Shaw, seeing him out the back door to attend to his equipment, his fields, plantings and harvesting, and waking Junior. Adding rich cream and sipping her coffee was a sacred act for her. That, plus the uninterrupted hours she could read and explore the reference books the local library ordered for her. An addiction, true, but not one that would ruin her health or injure those close to her. Ordinarily, today would be an even more special time. She didn’t have to wake Junior for school or track and next week was spring break.
However, today wasn’t an ordinary day. Setting Shaw’s breakfast in front of him shortly after five a.m., she told him she didn’t feel well and left him to finish his breakfast alone. She went upstairs, crawled back into bed and cried. She wanted to talk with Jens, one of her two best friends, in person or at least on the phone. To share their sorrow on what would have been the sixty-first birthday of his older brother Hans who died suddenly, eighteen years ago on New Year’s Eve. Over the years, the shock wore down, but the pain hadn’t. Tears slipped down her cheeks. Tears of frustration as she realized she left her cell phone downstairs. Her cell was the only phone she used to communicate with Jens. While she was fixing breakfast, before Shaw came in, they texted about Hans. Texts of her love for Hans, how much she still missed him, plus her added sorrow for Jens over the death of his father yesterday. How it felt as if his father purposefully planned to die on the birthday of his favorite son, and, like always, leave Jens to arrange the details.
Connie stretched, sighed and rolled onto her side, wanting to sleep. Going back to bed, telling her husband she felt ill, was unusual for her. Her children joked that Mom packed ten pounds into a five pound bag, and on slow days, moved at the speed of light. Thankfully, no one in the family ever recognized she slowed down and took it easy on Hans’ birthday or, on New Year’s Eve, how she prearranged her family’s activities and slipped away for some alone time.
She dozed a bit, then felt the need to use the bathroom. She was regular and consistent in her bowel habits. She always went between six-thirty and seven, usually in the bathroom off the back porch mudroom after Shaw left the house and before she awoke Junior. She got up, in her panties and t-shirt, went into their master bath and sat down. She didn’t like the feelings of sorrow this date always brought. You’d think, after all these years…
Connie sensed, rather than heard, the outside door of the mudroom close hard. Shaw rarely returned to the house this time of morning, but the heavy steps resolutely pounding up the back staircase could only be his. She heard him go past their bedroom, heard a door slam open and Shaw’s voice roar through the large farmhouse, “Get out. You’re not my son. Now go.”
Connie heard Beany’s voice shrill, “He’s got a gun. Run, Forrest! Run.”
She didn’t know Beany snuck in last night, but that was not unusual for him. As she hurried to wipe herself, she heard stumbling and bumping from Junior’s doorway, then steps running past her bedroom and lighter steps down the front stairs, followed by heavy ones. She rushed to pull on her blue jeans, struggling and tripping in her hurry. Why am I bothering to dress? What seemed to take forever was only a matter of seconds before she yanked her door open and sped into the hallway. At the head of the stairs, she caught a glimpse through the upper window of Junior racing across the yard in his underwear. She cleared the final stairs in one leap and was out the storm door in time to see Shaw move his finger from the guard to the right trigger of the double barrel, twelve gauge shotgun. The gun he kept over the back door, the right barrel loaded with birdshot, the left a slug. He was aiming at their son. “Duck right,” she screamed. “Duck right.” Her bare feet felt the cold of the snow covering the porch.
She was still moving across the wide porch when Shaw squeezed. The gun roared. She saw Junior shudder, but keep running, then start zig-zagging. She gasped as Shaw turned toward her as if he was going to aim at her.
“You’re next,” he roared, swinging further, struggling to keep his footing in the icy snow.
Connie saw red. Anger. How dare he aim a gun at her? Self-preservation took over. She launched herself at him, grabbing onto the gun with both hands. She was tall, five-nine, and wiry strong. Shaw’s feet went out from under him. Connie lost her footing. The gun blasted. Shaw screamed. Connie found herself half on, half off of her husband, her hands still on the gun, him writhing in pain.
She jumped up, laid the gun aside. The blood on her jeans and bare feet was Shaw’s. Not hers. She felt no pain. Shaw wasn’t dead. His left calf looked like raw hamburger coming out of the grinder. She could see both the tibia bone and the fibula were shattered, maybe the ankle too. Muscle, flesh, tendons and skin were torn away, dangling or plastered into the floor of the porch. Blood spurted out. Must be the fibular and the posterior tibial arteries, she thought. Everything was rushing through her mind at once. She mentally calmed herself. Now was not the time to analyze and recall everything she read and studied about human anatomy. The bleeding must be stopped. “Shaw, quit trying to move, lay still!”
She glanced down the snowy, fog-like drive, glimpsed Junior cautiously starting back toward her. She used her tough mother voice to yell, “You’re safe for now. Keep running. Don’t come home.” That much, she instinctively realized. Her son could not come home. Not right now. How long, she wasn’t sure. Whether her husband lived or died, she knew her secrets could come out during this mess. That much she was sure of. She wanted to run down the driveway to hold Junior, hug him, try to explain, but now wasn’t the time.
I have to stay in control, she kept telling herself as she raced back through the house, wondering what the quickest thing was for a tourniquet. In the mudroom, she noticed a new bag of zip-ties, thirty-six inch long, wide ones, the kind always needed around a farm. She grabbed several and tore back to Shaw. Dropping to the floor beside him, she slipped one under his leg above the knee, slid the tip through and ratcheted it as tight as she could. The blood slowed. She placed a second one below the knee. Shaw screamed as she yanked it tight. The bleeding stopped. Shock was the next stage he would face. She ran back into the house, grabbed some large towels along with a throw blanket from the family room couch.
After covering him, she returned to the kitchen and used the land line to call nine-one-one. “This is Connie Shaw on the corner of County Y and Milliken. My husband just suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and needs immediate help.” She hung up. EMS knew who they were and how their house was set back a quarter mile from each road with a driveway from each. Grabbing her cell phone from the kitchen table, she texted Jens Hanson. He always told her he would take care of Junior or the girls if she needed him to. She hated to change Jens’ plans to move away today, but had no choice. Neither did he. Neither did Junior, at least for now. As she placed her cell phone in her purse, she realized she found the phone on the table, not in her purse where she always kept it. Did she leave it out and on the table this morning, after she and Jens were texting? Before she told Shaw she was going back to bed?
She took a big breath, went to the mudroom, pulled socks on over her blood-covered feet and laced on her leather work boots. This was not how she thought her day would go. Her husband of thirty-five years, father to five of her children and two more from his first wife, went freaking nuts. She thought she might know one reason, but was that enough to set him off like this, to kill his son and wife? The guilt she always felt on this day sunk deeper, especially about the second secret, the one she hadn’t admitted to herself since Hans died. She shook her head to clear it. No, she wouldn’t give into the guilt. Whether it precipitated this or not, something must have snapped in Shaw, her silent, unemotional, dependable husband. The placement of her phone on the table and not in her purse felt odd, again.
Confused, she hurried down the long hall, past the formal dining room, the library/guest room, and the living room, toward the open, two story front foyer with the main staircase to the second level. On the porch, she knelt beside Shaw. His eyes still looked angry, or was that the pain of a twelve-gauge slug shredding his leg? She didn’t speak to him. Maybe there’d be time later. Maybe not. Either way, she knew their lives would never be the same.
A county sheriff car and an ambulance struggled up the drive, sirens blaring.
“Looks like the slug tore away the flesh, shattered both bones, plus the arteries, nerves, muscles…” The EMT shook his head. He asked Shaw some questions and received short answers or hand squeezes. “I’m not a doc, but I think repairing the leg will be risky.”
“Can he even keep the leg?” Connie watched Shaw’s eyes flicker as she asked. She couldn’t read them, but then, she usually couldn’t.
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