Freeman's Front Porch Musings

Home of an aspiring writer seeking to improve his craft.

The Recluse: Another rewrite…

A small cedar cabin sat nestled behind majestic pine and oak trees, a green steel gate blocked the drive. An ancient stone fence surrounded the property, locals claimed the fence was a historical marker from the Civil War, but the owner hadn’t properly maintained the fence, because time had worn down the structure and collapsed it in several places. People often passed by and slowed down to look. They weren’t looking at the house; they searched for the reclusive owner, Davy Ford.

When Davy first moved into the cabin, he hung a sign on the metal gate, it read: Prayer’s the best way to meet the Lord, but trespassing is faster. In the four years he lived in the cabin, no one dared trespass.

 As is so often the case, stories circulated about the mean hermit that lived in the cabin at the end of town. Old men  sat  in front of the drugstore with an old checkerboard in between them, resting on old whiskey barrels, and told  the youngsters stories about Davy. 

They’d say, “He once ate the flesh of a kid. When the cops showed up, he had blood pouring from his mouth, and his eyes glazed over with madness.” Another old man would add,  “The police asked him why he’d done it, Davy  said, “Me like tender meat.” 

Other tales circulated about the loner. Some tales were more fantastic than others, but they all centralized on the fact that Davy Ford was a monster. Many children listened to the tales with a mixture of shock and horror, all except for one girl named Annabelle.

Annabelle Franks, Belle to her friends, stood by the gate with her friend Billy. Sweat soaked her straw-colored hair. She scratched her cheek and wiped at her sweaty brow, then muttered, “It’s  a hot one today.” Her best friend Billy Thurston, 13, stood beside her and swallowed hard. Belle brimmed with confidence as she stared down the drive.

“Let’s go have a look around, Billy.”

Billy jerked his head back and forth with such force Belle thought his head might come off, and Billy crossed his arms. His mouth tightened into a straight line, and his frown deepened. “Are you crazy, Belle? You’ve heard the stories about him; he ate children to survive the war.”

Belle scrunched up her nose and frowned. Her blue eyes darkened, and she nudged Billy with her elbow. He shrugged off her nudge and took a couple of steps away from her, Belle followed and nudged him again. His cowardice irritated Belle, and she snapped, “That’s not true! Those old men are yanking your chain. Nobody checks on this man. What if something happened to him?”

“I don’t care,” Billy replied. “It ain’t my job to check on him.”

 Billy crossed his arms and shook his head. His red hair swooped down in his eyes, and he shoved it to the side. Belle looked at him but said nothing. I’ll just stare at him until he does what I want. Billy groused, “I ain’t going. It’s modern times. Pretty sure he’s got a phone. If he’s in trouble, he can call 911 like everyone else.”

Belle grinned and watched as Billy pouted. She liked to fluster him, so she feigned indifference, then said, “Fine, stay here sissy. I’m going down there to check it out. I’m an emancipated woman; I can fend for myself.”

Belle’s attempt to stir Billy from his lethargy fell on deaf ears. Billy shrugged again and retorted, “I’ll be here when you get back, cause I ain’t going. Don’t get eaten.”

Annabelle jumped the fence and started down the drive. The driveway was brick, like they had back in the olden times. Shoots of grass came up through the brick, and moss covered some of it which made walking tricky. The yard was multi-level. Rows of flowers, long overtaken by weeds, grew along the fence. Now and then, Belle would catch sight of a concrete statue or a garden gnome sticking out from between the weeds. Poison Ivy hung off the fence.

Belle hummed to herself,  oblivious to the world about her. A noise sounded behind her, and she let out a yelp and spun around to face the source of the racket. It was Billy. 

“ I thought you were frightened,” snapped Belle.

Billy rubbed his arms like he had wandered through Antarctica naked. Fear caused him to shiver, and Belle waited for him to respond. He glanced around at the overgrown garden and statues. “You called me a sissy,” Billy choked out.  “I’m not. I’m a thinker, and I don’t think this is a good idea.” 

Belle giggled and punched Billy on the shoulder. Sweat drenched Billy’s thick red hair, his visage pale. Belle wore her thin hair in a ponytail, or a ‘pull handle’ the bullies at school called it.

“Too late,” Belle responded with a grin.

Together, they made their way toward the cabin.  Dark curtains hung in the windows; and the curtains were closed. Spider webs were visible on the porch. Angels stood in the flower beds that ran in front of a porch that had seen better years, and the angels were in no better shape. Some had broken wings; others had cracked faces. 

“I hope that ain’t a sign,” Billy whispered. 

Belle hushed him and made her way onto the porch and raised her hand to knock, when the door opened. Belle gasped and backed up; her eyes the size of half dollars. Billy yelped and backed up with his hands raised. 

An angry voice snarled, “Can you not read?” 

Belle shook her head yes, but found no words to answer. A short, muscular, bald man walked out on the porch. His hazel eyes seemed to pierce the very souls of Belle and Billy, and he crossed his arms and waited for a response. Billy gripped Belle’s hand and prepared to run. 

Belle freed her hand from Billy’s grasp and extended her hand to the recluse. The man looked at her offered hand and then back at her, and raised his eyebrows. Belle grinned at the man, and exclaimed, “Howdy, neighbor. I’m Annabelle, and you are…”

“Not interested,” the man growled.  “Beat it, kid. Don’t come back.”

Belle stood her ground and locked eyes with the hermit; the hermit didn’t budge. Billy intervened, and in a squeaky voice he said, “Sir, we didn’t mean to disturb you. We should be going.”

“Uh-huh,” the hermit snapped.“That’s a great idea.”

Billy pulled Belle toward the gate, his strides long and purposeful. Belle swatted his hand, but he refused to let go. He raced toward the safety of the green metal gate, and didn’t let go until they arrived.

Belle shouted, “Why did you drag me off the porch Billy?” While she slapped at his hands and arms, but Billy never flinched. He ignored her punches and doubled over to catch his breath. Belle continued her assault, and after catching his breath, Billy stood upright and yelled, “Because you’re a brainless idiot!”

“I am not!”

Belle crossed her arms and turned from Billy. She had made it to the porch and found the guy, but she did not get to talk to him. Her failure to get his name or have a conversation with the hermit incensed her further. 

“Everyone around here knows the man is a psychopath, except for you, Belle. What would you have done if he made you a snack?”

Belle turned her nose up and refused to answer her friend. Billy shook his head in disgust and walked away from Belle. How stupid could one person be? Why was Belle the only one who cared about this psycho?

“I’d imagine Billy, if that had happened, I would no longer be here to give a crap.”


“But nothing,” Belle shouted.  “No one in this town has ever gone to see this poor man; ain’t nobody gave a rip. ‘Oh, he’s this or that.’ Don’t nobody know nothin’. Was there blood coming out of his mouth, Billy? Was he munching on a human leg and sucking the marrow out?”

Billy scowled, and snapped, “Don’t be dumb, Belle.”

Annabelle punched him dead in the chest. She reared back to hit him again, but Billy sidestepped the second blow, and put his hands up to protect himself from further blows.

“You don’t be dumb, Billy. Out here believin’ everything people tell you.”

Billy kicked dirt and crossed his arms. He went down there with her after he said he wasn’t going to. Heck, he had even saved her life from being cannibalized. Was she grateful? Heck, no. Billy’s dad, in moments of sheer frustration, often told him ‘there’s no pleasing a woman.’ Billy was at the point of agreeing with his father’s assessment today.

“I should have left you on the porch,” Billy  snapped. Belle picked up a rock and threw it at Billy, but he ducked it, and Belle picked up another to chuck at him.

“You dang right you should have. I’m a grown woman, Billy. I don’t need no man bossing me around.”

“You’re 13, Belle. I’m sorry, okay?”

“Age doesn’t mean nothin’ Billy. Womanhood is different from manhood. You’d know that if you weren’t so dumb.”

Billy went and sat down by the post. He leaned back against it and waited; Belle was furious. There wasn’t anything to do but let her cool off. He pulled the brim of his hat down and closed his eyes. 

He could hear Belle  muttering and kicking dirt. Billy dozed in the lazy sunshine. After a while she  grew  silent, and he felt her drop to the ground beside him.

“We were so close, Billy.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry, I dragged you off the porch.”

“Yeah,” Belle sighed. “Sorry, I called you dumb.”

“It’s alright. I am dumb. I’m friends with you.”

Belle scrunched up her nose and giggled, and Billy gave her a crooked grin. He stood to his feet and offered his hand to Belle. The sun had set and twilight caused the street lamps to kick on with a hum. 

Billy asked, “Ready to head home?”

Belle took his hand and got to her feet. She detested parting from her friend and hated the idea of going home. There might have been worse things in the world than going home to a drug addict mother, but if there were, you couldn’t prove it by Belle.

“Yeah, but I wished I didn’t have to.”

“I know, but it won’t always be that way, Belle.”

Davy Ford watched the children from the window in his living room. He checked his drapes, shut off the lights, and locked his doors. Satisfied that his home was secure, he went down to the sub-basement.. 

Stupid kids, Davy thought as he sat in front of his laptop. Since his return from the war, Davy had opted for an isolated existence, not for mental health reasons or from a deep-rooted hatred for his neighbors, but because he felt trapped in a world he no longer understood. Words were his friends, and he found a sense of peace in writing his emotions out. Davy opened his word processor and stared at the blank screen. His cursor flashed, and for several minutes he tried to clear his mind and think of a title. 

All this time back, and not once was I invaded. Leave it to two kids to breach my perimeter.

Davy typed, Just Another Day in Hell, onto the digital paper. For a moment, he considered adding ‘based on true events,’ but he didn’t. Davy had enough problems without angering the Department of Defense. 

His phone buzzed and distracted him from the screen. A notice from the local church informed him his group would meet on Tuesday at 1500. Davy stared at it and started to not respond, but  his doctor would want an update, so he responded with, “Okay, I’ll see you then.”

Davy hated going to the meetings. However, his doctor thought it would do him good to meet new people. She checked on his attendance and they spoke about the meetings  at his appointments.

Dr. R. Watkins, local head shrinker for the veteran community,  recommended Davy attend these group meetings at MountainTop Faith Center. It felt good to congregate with veterans from all wars, but to dig into raw naked emotion, he struggled to find peace in ripping open old wounds. 

The pastor of the church would sometimes tell her story. She had been a helicopter pilot in the National Guard, but she had never walked the blood-soaked sands of the desert. Her closest encounter with danger had been on a search and rescue mission in the mountains during a wildfire. 

It was a good story, but it wasn’t war. 

Davy placed the phone down and focused on his screen. This story would not write itself, and Davy set his fingertips on the keyboard. Life in the sand sucked, he wrote.

While Davy unburdened his heart, Belle walked home. Her momma, Wilma, had a nasty reputation, not that she cared one whit what others thought of her. Wilma’s boyfriend Jocko had a nasty rep too. When people saw them together, everyone knew trouble wasn’t far behind them. Wilma sat on the porch and watched Belle enter the yard. She smiled at the wavering image of her blonde-haired daughter as she depressed the plunger of the syringe loaded with heroin.

“Hiya, darling,” she muttered, as the heroin rushed through her veins. Wilma slumped against the rotted post and gulped the air greedily. Belle looked at her mom,  the needle still stuck in Wilma’s vein.  Belle pulled the syringe out and set it to the side; Wilma snored. 

Jocko walked out onto the porch bare chested and licked  his lips provocatively. ‘A few more years and that fruit will be worth picking. Just got to tough it out with her junkie momma until then.’

He asked Belle, “You want a hit?”

Belle shook her head no and went to move around him. Jocko smacked her on the rump, and said, “One day, you will want some, and then I’ll give you all you can handle.” He smiled at Belle, his yellow teeth flashing menacingly. Belle suppressed the urge to vomit and continued inside. 

Inside, Belle climbed the stairs that led to her room. Cockroaches scattered when she flipped on the light; the hot night air was suffocating. Belle opened the window and turned on a lamp. She checked her bed for bugs and roaches. She crawled on the bed, propping herself upright against the pillows, and opened  her favorite story, The Sword and The Stone, by T. H. White. Belle read until her eyes grew heavy. 

During the night, she woke several times. Jocko and Wilma would laugh raucously about something they saw on television, or they would argue, and Jocko would slap Wilma around. Belle covered her head with her pillow and tried to ignore the anguished sobs of her mother.

As dawn approached, Belle rose from her bed and prepared for the day. She showered and dressed in a yellow sundress with flowers on the material, brushed her hair and let it hang loose about her narrow shoulders, and wore her best black shoes. Then she topped off her outfit with a big, floppy hat that drooped on all sides. Belle smiled in the mirror and whispered, “I am beautiful. I am not my mother.”

At 0900, she slipped from the house and stood on the corner until the van from MountainTop Faith Center arrived. She boarded the bus and stared out the window. Children’s laughter carried through the bus, and for once, Belle felt at home and at peace.

Davy stood in front of his window and peeked from behind the curtain. No one was near his gate, no one had crossed his perimeter. He sipped coffee from his steel mug and kept watch. People drove by and always slowed down to look at the cabin. These ‘on-lookers’, busybodies Davy called them, were an annoyance, but part and parcel of living in a small town. It was the price of being the local freak and monster.

“Keep moving. Nothing to see here.”

 His home front secured, Davy sat in his recliner and flicked on the local news in hopes something good was going on somewhere in the world. It was all bad news. 

War had broken out in Europe, and once again threatened all the neighboring countries and nation-states surrounding the hot zone. People never learned from history, they insisted upon making the same mistakes over and over. Davy shut off the television, but not before the sins of his past ate at his mind.

“It wasn’t worth it,” he thought, not for the first time. “All the blood and guts, all the destruction. It was all for naught.”

Davy sat in the dark alone, with only his dark thoughts and demons for company. 

At 1300, Billy waited for Belle at the bus stop. He wiped the sweat out of his eyes and watched the van come down the road. Belle saw him from her seat on the bus and waved; Billy waved back. The bus stopped, and the driver opened the door. Belle leaped out and almost tackled Billy. 

“Hey, Billy. We had an awesome church service!”

“Well, that’s good,” Billy stammered, unsure of what the difference was between a good or bad service. “You seem wound up; did you get converted?”

“No, I just feel light. You know, like a feather.”

Billy laughed. “Light, huh? Bet you can’t beat me in a race to Old Man Washington’s place.”

“You’re on, Billy.”

They lined up side by side. Belle looked at Billy and told him to count to three. Billy grinned at his friend. The scrawny redneck girl had disappeared, and a beautiful young woman had emerged. Billy had a hard time keeping his eyes off Belle.

“One…two…two and a half…three!” 

Both took off like racehorses at the track; Billy and Belle were neck to neck. Belle reached out and shoved Billy, and he stumbled and slowed down to regain his balance. Belle finished first and bent at the waist to catch her breath. Billy came up and punched her in the shoulder.

“You cheated,” Billy yelled.

Belle shook her head, and  both panted hard and stayed bent over at the waist until they regained their breath. 

“No, I did not,” Belle retorted. “I took advantage of you being too focused. That’s not cheating, that is being smart.”

“Whatever,” Billy snapped.

“Suck it up, Billy. You lost to a girl.”

Billy and Belle walked to the shade of an old oak tree. They leaned against it and caught their breath. Belle grinned slyly and wiped at the sweat on her brow. She could see her remark stung, and Billy swallowed hard and tried to restrain himself from saying something mean. 

Belle asked, “What do you want to do now?”

Billy shrugged and muttered, “I don’t care.” Belle winked at him and grinned, but Billy didn’t return her grin. She gave him a light shove and said, “Let’s go to the waterway. I have some money; we can get a Coke to share.”

“Sounds good.”

Together, the two friends walked off toward the store to grab a soda and maybe a Little Debbie snack cake. Belle bought a glass bottle of Barq’s Root Beer and a fig bar, and the pair walked to a picnic bench under a tall pecan tree and watched a barge drift lazily down the waterway.

Billy asked, “How did it go last night?”

Belle shrugged and nibbled at her portion of the fig bar. “Jocko smacked Wilma around again. She cried and begged him to stop, and I guess he did when he was tired of beating her. They were asleep on the couch when I left this morning.”

Billy didn’t know what to say to that, so he ate the rest of his cake and stayed quiet. After a while Billy asked, “Wanna climb that tree?” Belle grinned and nodded. “Ladies first,” she chuckled as she ran toward the oak. She leapt to the lowest branch and pulled herself up, and Billy grinned. This is perfect. Why can’t every day be like this?

Billy and Belle spent the rest of the day at the waterway, skipping stones and playing in the water. They made their way home with the setting sun. Billy walked his friend to the front gate of her ramshackle home. The lights were off, and her mom’s car was gone from the driveway. Belle smiled at Billy as she opened the gate. 

“I better get inside,” Belle said. 

“Yeah, I have to get home myself,” Billy responded, his eyes locked with Belle’s. 

Belle leaned close and gave Billy a peck on the cheek. Billy’s heart raced; his face blushed crimson. Belle giggled at his obvious discomfort and scrunched up her nose playfully, and said, “Maybe tomorrow we could go see the hermit.”

“I don’t know about that, Belle. He acted like he wanted to be left alone.”

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” insisted Belle.

Billy nodded his head, but he was not in a hurry to revisit the cabin in the woods. He watched Belle walk into the house and waited until her room lamp clicked on. Then he slowly made his way home, replaying the kiss over and over in his mind.

Davy watched the sun go down from his sub-basement window. He had spent the day working on his story, but. for every word he chose, another five got deleted. Writing had become a source of frustration for him. With a heavy sigh he pushed back from his desk and walked to his closet.

He dug out a box filled with books of movies he collected throughout his deployments. Davy had thousands of movies he’d bought from various markets. He turned on his television and slid a movie into the disc tray. 

The disc whirred and spun and  came on. The quality of the movie was shoddy, and Davy quickly lost interest in it. He went back to his computer and stared at the blank screen. Come on, think of something to write…

Davy pecked out a sentence and looked at what was written. “The brown sand of the desert soaked up  blood like a sponge. Life had no value here. It was just another day in hell.”

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Mondays’ suck, everybody says so. Everyone hated when the weekend disappeared, but the five days of trials between weekends made people appreciate the brief respite from the work week. Belle waited for the bus and saw Billy walking up. She smiled, and he smiled back. 

“Hey,” Billy said. 

“Hey, Billy.”

“I hate Mondays,” Billy groused as he sat on the bench next to Belle. She pushed her hair out of her face, and she replied, “Me too.”

Monday dragged by, and Belle couldn’t figure out why. At first break, Billy and Belle sat outside on the steps and talked. Other kids hung out with their phones and friends and conversed in low tones like they were discussing national secrets or the location of buried treasure. 

The school bully, Gavin Benson, plopped down between Belle and Billy. He shoved his nose into Belle’s hair and sniffed. Gavin’s friends all laughed and crowded around them, and their presence emboldened Gavin.

“Smell that? Smells like whore up in here,” Gavin shouted.

His pals laughed and pointed at Belle, and Billy’s anger rose inside him, but he did nothing. Belle’s face turned crimson, but she remained quiet. What could she say? Her mother had a reputation, and Belle was guilty by association. 

Gavin grinned and continued to berate Belle by saying, “Oh, that’s right, Belle. Your mom’s the whore. Is she still shacked up with that drug dealer? Like mother, like daughter. What do you charge for your services?”

Billy stood and balled up his fists; Gavin grinned. Billy backed down and the boys snickered. 

“That’s enough,” Billy snapped. “Leave us alone.”

Gavin laughed and shrugged, then said,  “No problem, Billy.”

 Billy nodded, and Gavin punched him in the solar plexus. Billy doubled over, and Gavin grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head back.

“It’s over when I say it’s over,” Gavin snarled.  “Now, there are two whores out here.” 

The bullies hooted and started up the steps; Belle kneeled down by her friend. Tears trickled down her face, and she angrily wiped them away. 

“You shouldn’t have said anything Billy. My mom is….”

Billy coughed, shook his head, and put his hand on Belle’s shoulder. “You’re not your mother, Belle.”

That afternoon, Belle and Billy disembarked from the bus. Billy sat on the bench and waited for Belle to say something. She had sat in silence the rest of the day since their encounter with Gavin and his cohorts.

Belle felt dirty, not because of anything she had done, but as if her mother’s sins passed onto her. As if her mother’s drug addiction would become her addiction as well. Hot tears stung her eyes when she gave into these dark thoughts. She blinked her tears away and wiped them with the back of her hand. 

“I’m going to go home Billy. We can try again tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I am going with you,” Billy said. “We will do it tomorrow.”

They said goodbye, and Billy watched as Belle trudged toward home. He waited until she had vanished from his view, then he turned and walked toward the recluse’s cabin.

Davy stood by the window and peeked out the curtain, his paranoia was strong and not misplaced. He sipped his hot coffee and watched as a shadow leaped over the gate. Davy waited to see who dared trespass on his property. Apparently, all the readers had vanished from his hometown. Now, people ignored the sign and did whatever they wanted. He needed to change that.

The figure drew close to the house, and Davy recognized the boy from the other day. He was alone. And, I thought the kid had good sense…

Davy stepped back from the curtain and shoved a sidearm into his right jean pocket. “Apparently, I need to instill the fear of God in this young’un.”

Billy stood in the driveway and looked at the broken angels in the flowerbeds, and wondered if he would join the concrete statues if he disturbed the man inside the cabin. His thoughts ran wild as he thought of every reason not to knock on the door. Billy stared at the cabin and sought to build up some courage. He needn’t waste any more time. The door opened, and the recluse stepped out onto the porch.

Billy’s breath caught in his throat when he saw the gun jutting out of the man’s pocket. He put his hands up and swallowed hard.

“Please don’t shoot me, mister.” 

“Why are you here, boy?”

“I need to learn to fight,” Billy stammered. The words rushed out of his mouth. The man said nothing. “Bullies called my friend a whore. I need to stop them from picking on my friend.”

Davy said nothing for a long moment. The kid seemed sincere in his approach, but you could never be certain when dealing with people. He crossed his arms and asked, “Is your friend a whore?”

“No, sir. She’s 13.”

A smile tugged at the corner of the man’s mouth briefly and then vanished. His eyes were cold, reptilian even. Billy considered fleeing, but he thought of Belle-and her tears, and Billy stuck it out for his friend.

“Where’s your dad, boy? Didn’t he teach you anything?”

“My dad died fighting in the war,” said Billy. “He was a hero. If he were here, he’d beat the brakes of those boys.”

“I know nothing about fighting. I’m a man of peace.”

“A man of peace?” Billy snorted, and then retorted,  “Yeah, right. All the old folks claim you’re a maniac, a killer of children. They say you eat the flesh of your victims and suck the marrow from  bones.”

“Is that right?” The hermit didn’t bat an eye, and he asked,  “And what about you boy? What do you believe?”

“I don’t believe you’re a man of peace,” Billy said. “Soldiers learn to fight, and you’re a soldier. If you don’t want to help me, just say so.”

The man watched Billy, his eyes never blinking as he stared at him. Billy stepped toward the porch. “All the old folks think you’re a monster. Is that why you don’t leave your home?”

The man stepped off the porch and walked to where Billy stood. He leaned over until he stared deeply into Billy’s eyes. Billy squirmed and looked away. Fear flooded his system, but Belle needed protection, and Billy needed to protect her. Davy sighed and motioned for the boy to follow him to the barn.

“Come on. I will show you a couple of things, then you leave and forget your way here.”

“Deal,” Billy said, as he hurried after the man.

Inside the barn, a heavy bag hung from a rafter, and Davy showed Billy how to throw a punch. He had Billy throw straights, jabs, and hooks, until Billy thought his arms would fall off. Then, Davy showed him how to throw an uppercut. As he had Billy mimic his movements, he instructed him on the mindset of fighting.

“Do not lose your cool,” said Davy. “Remember this: the elbows are hard and sharp. The feet are fragile, so are his eggs.” Davy corrected Billy, and continued,  “Punch, kick, elbow, do whatever it takes to win. There is no such thing as a fair fight. You fight to win, and you do whatever it takes to hurt the other guy.” Davy put a hand up, and Billy stopped. “If you’re grabbed from behind, bring your foot down on top of his. If you bust his nose, grab it and yank downward.”

“Yes sir,” Billy said, thankful to have a break. Davy motioned for Billy to continue with his punching.Billy punched the bag, and  Davy remarked,  “Don’t forget to move. Never move back in a straight line. Hit and move. Make him work. Okay?”

“Okay,” said Billy.

Davy barked out a combination of punches, and Billy reacted. They kept at it until the sun set. Billy panted hard, but he felt confident he could stand up for his friend. Davy stood at the door of the barn and looked at the waning light.

 He turned to Billy and said, “It’s time for you to go home.”

Billy stuck out his hand to thank Davy for his help, but the man ignored it.  Together they walked out of the barn. Davy walked onto the porch and turned to Billy. “You did good, kid. Don’t forget, the only fair fight is the fight you lose. There are no rules other than to win. Do what you have to do.”

“What do I call you?”

“You don’t,” Davy snapped.  “Remember our deal.”

“Yes, sir.”

Billy started down the drive, and he felt elated that he got to spend time with the man, even though he kept ignoring his attempt to befriend him. When he got to the gate, he turned around to wave goodbye, but the man had disappeared back into his house.

Davy watched Billy go down his driveway from the safety of his window. The boy’s statement about him being a monster had hit home. “The kid has guts,” he thought to himself. “He doesn’t have a lick of sense, but he has guts.”

Davy walked down to the sub-basement and sat down at his laptop and flipped the screen up, the clock read 1800. Something about the boy touched some part of him. He opened his word processor and typed:

“I didn’t join the military because I hated our enemies. I joined because I loved my country. After the attacks, we had to respond. Some folks joined because we endured our day in hell. Others sought revenge. Some went in for what they could get out of it. There were an assortment of reasons, but none of it really mattered. The attacks on our city were the inciting incident, and the politicians leapt at the chance to send young men and women to the slaughter.“

“When you experienced your first roadside bomb, your first kill, your first innocent bystander murdered because they were different, reasoning had nothing to do with any of it. War was a time of chaos, a time of madness. Reality and war would never mix. It was just another day in hell.”

Davy shut down his laptop and walked back upstairs. He dropped onto the couch, turned on his television, and watched Looney Tunes. He chuckled at the antics of Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner, and he watched cartoons until his eyes grew heavy. 

Tomorrow, he’d go to his meeting and listen to stories of other veterans. He would drink coffee and eat a snack. Then he would pretend to listen intently to their troubles, all while he avoided talking about his own. He would smile to show that he was present in the room.

But in reality, it would be just another day in hell.

At 1445 the following day, Davy ambled into MountainTop Faith Center. A gaggle of veterans sat on plastic chairs, each chair painted a different color, and held quiet conversations amongst themselves. Some blew on their hot coffee; others talked about their favorite baseball teams, or discussed who the worst politicians were. Everyone had a favorite, or worst, and no two were the same. 

A few veterans noticed him when he walked in. They nodded at him; Davy nodded back. He poured a cup of coffee and scooped up a dry donut, then walked to the back row. Davy nibbled on the dry pastry and sipped his coffee, while listening to a few different conversations at the same time. 

A young woman named Betty led the group. She was a psychologist in town, and ‘had a burden for those who returned from war still struggling with the baggage.’ It was nice to hear that. As a member of the church, Betty had received permission from the pastor to start a meeting for the local veteran community. 

It had been in place for a year, and many of the veterans were from the original group. Many came because it was a safe space, Davy came because his doctor checked his attendance.

Betty strolled in and gave everyone a smile. Betty had jet black hair, gray eyes, and more curves than a dirt track. Many smiled back at her, and some even flirted with her, after they covered up their wedding bands. Davy sat in the back and concentrated on making minimum movement and effort. 

“Good evening everyone,” Betty said, as she sat down. “How are you all today?”

A chorus of answers erupted from the crowd, and she glanced around the room and gave everyone another smile. Betty pulled out her folder and cleared her throat. Silence fell over the rowdy gaggle of veterans as she called off names from her list. Those present responded with ‘here.’


“Here,” he said quietly. 

She looked up and found him in the back row. She gave him a small smile. One of the original members snorted and said, ‘You need to sound off like you’ve got a pair boy.’ Some of the older men chuckled at the bully’s remarks. Davy said nothing. 

Betty cleared her throat and forced a smile at the bully. He grimaced, aware he had crossed a line. Furthermore, he had displeased the pretty woman he was trying to impress. Betty’s eyes darkened, but she kept an even tone when she responded with, “I heard him fine, Buster. Do I need to remind you we are in a church?”

“No ma’am,” Buster answered,  “I apologize for my vulgarity.”

Betty smiled, pleased that Buster had apologized; Buster smiled at her. Betty said, “Perhaps you should apologize to Davy. That way, we can start anew.”

“Um,” Buster began. 

Davy stood and waved his hand to silence the man. Betty stared at Davy and tilted her head at him in a quizzical manner, as if she couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want an apology for the insult he’d endured.

“I don’t need his apology,” Davy said sharply. “It’s all good.”

“I think it would be best,” Betty insisted.

“Just let me apologize,” Buster snapped at Davy.

Davy cut his eyes to the loudmouth, and Buster went silent. Betty watched the confrontation but said nothing. Things were awkward, and Davy hated awkward situations. Davy turned and  walked out of the class, and as he neared the door he heard Betty excuse herself from the group. 

Betty caught up to Davy and touched his shoulder;  he turned to face her. She put both hands up, and said, “Davy, let me explain.” 

“I don’t need an explanation, Betty. I will come back to the next meeting, but I’m not staying for this one.”

“Buster needs to apologize in front of the whole group…”

“I don’t need it, and the group doesn’t need it,” Davy snapped. “Buster’s an idiot. He’s an idiot now, and he’ll be one when I return next week.”

Betty shook her head in frustration. She could not understand why fighting men would battle to the death for their brothers and sisters in combat, but they were like jackals on fresh blood when they weren’t fighting a war. 

“Okay Davy, you win. I’ll mark you present, but I expect you to be here next week.”

Davy nodded and walked out of the church. He’d suspected that these group meetings would evolve into social gatherings and cliques, and from what he’d witnessed, he wasn’t wrong.

Billy and Belle were getting off the bus when Davy arrived home. Belle wanted to visit him again, but Billy wasn’t having it and said as much. Still, Belle insisted upon going.

“Let’s go see him, Billy. I know he’s lonely.”

“No, Belle. I can’t go back there.”

“You are such a chicken,” Belle snapped. 

Belle danced around him, clucking like a hen, flapping her arms like chicken wings, and bobbing her head toward him like she intended to peck him to death. 

“Stop it, Belle. I can’t go back,” Billy groused. “It’s not that I don’t want to go with you”

Belle stopped the chicken dance and stared at Billy. She leaned close and asked, “What do you mean?” Billy stared at the ground and said nothing. 

“ If you want to go with me,” Belle began, “Why not say yes?”

“Because I told him I wouldn’t go back to his cabin,” Billy responded in a low tone.

Belle stared at Billy, her brow furrowed, and eyes narrowed. She opened and closed her mouth. “Belle’s gonna hit the roof. I knew she’d want to be there, and she wasn’t. It’s like I stole her thunder, and she won’t forgive me for it.”

“Wait, a sec,” Belle growled. “You told him you wouldn’t come back? When did you see him?”

Billy dropped on the bench; Belle scrunched up close to him. Billy muttered, “I saw him yesterday.” Belle smiled and punched Billy on the shoulder.

 Belle shouted, “What’s he like? Why did you go? Why didn’t you take me?”

“You wanted to go home after Gavin called you a whore. I figured I needed to learn to fight, and I went to see if he would teach me.”

“Did he teach you?”

“Some,” said Billy, “but he scared me to death. He had a gun in his pocket,” Billy choked out. 

Belle’s eyes widened, but she smiled at Billy. His heart raced, and a small smile crept across his face. 

“I know how to fight, Billy. You didn’t have to…”

“I like you,” Billy gushed. “I don’t want nothing to happen to you.”

Belle punched him on the shoulder; Billy punched her back. Belle  smiled and said, “That’s sweet of you Billy. You’re still going with me.”

“No. No, no, no. Belle, me and him made a deal. If he helped me, I would stay away from his cabin. He will kill me if I go back.”

Belle giggled, and said,  “He won’t  kill you. Murder’s against the law.”

Billy sighed and hung his head, and Belle grinned. She winked at Billy and placed a hand on his cheek, and Billy sighed.

“Belle, when has the illegality of murder ever kept anyone from killing someone? He told me to remember our deal.”

“Hush, Billy. It’s settled. We’re going, and if he gets mad, he’ll get over it.”

The sun disappeared into the west, and Billy waved goodbye to the girl of his dreams. Fear clutched Billy’s heart as he walked home.

 What would Davy do to him, if Billy broke their deal?

Jocko and Wilma sat on the end of the porch that was broken. Their eyes appeared dead, but they followed her every moment. How two people stoned out of their minds missed nothing freaked Belle out, especially Jocko. 

He was a predator, and Belle knew it. She tried to limit her interactions with him, but he seemed keen to remind her of his lustful desire for her. Wilma only cared about her habit, and if she was aware of Jocko’s disgusting desires, she never let on. As Belle walked up the sidewalk, Jocko licked his lips and growled like a hungry wolf. Belle ignored him.

“Hey, momma.”

“Hey sugar bear,” Wilma slurred.

Belle hugged her mom and went inside. Her mother’s addiction was nothing new, nor was her god awful taste in men. If it wasn’t Jocko, she’d shack up with another loser. 

Belle didn’t hate her mother; she just did not understand what made Wilma miserable. At 13, Belle was aware she didn’t have all the answers, but what could have possibly happened in her mother’s past to make her shoot up every day? What did she have to bury under the layers of drug abuse?

Jocko followed Belle upstairs, all while panting like a dog in heat and making rude gestures behind her, while muttering ‘mmm-mm-mmm-mm-mmm’. Belle slammed the door in his face, but outside her door he continued to pant. He knocked on the door and  beat on it until she yelled, “What, Jocko?”

“You know you looking fine, dontcha? You wanna get stoned, baby?”

“No, I don’t,” Belle snapped. “I want you to go away.”

Jocko snickered. “Go away, HA! One day you will beg me for it, and on that day I’m gonna make you mine.”

Belle waited for his footsteps to fade away. She crawled on her bed and hugged her bear, Mr. George. Belle pulled the bear to her face and cried; her tears wet the ragged fur of her Goodwill friend.

She recalled what the Sunday School teacher had said during class. “Regardless of where you are, you’re not so far away that God can’t reach you.” She clutched Mr. George to her chest and whispered, “Mr. God, if you’re out there, I don’t want to be like my momma. Please, don’t let me end up like her.”

At 0500, Belle slipped out and walked to the bus stop. Between the cockroaches and Jocko’s panting, Belle couldn’t sleep. Stars twinkled and filled the night sky, and humans were on the move to work or to other destinations.

Sunrise was an hour away, but a figure stepped from the shadows. As the silhouette drew near, Belle doubted the wisdom of leaving her house. Maybe Jocko ain’t so bad.  Then she remembered how he’d followed her upstairs, while making vulgar suggestions on how they could spend some quality time together.

As the figure stepped into the amber glow of the street lamp, she recognized the figure as the man from the cabin. She waved at him, and he nodded in response.

“Morning,” Belle said cheerfully.

Davy scowled at her and considered pushing past her without a word spoken. Somehow, he figured his rudeness wouldn’t deter her. She was bent on meeting him, and he might as well get it over with.

“Morning,” said Davy.

 Just my luck I’d run into this chatterbox, but at least it’s not Buster.

Belle smiled and asked, “What brings you out so early? Are you going to work?”

Davy stood by the street lamp and rested. He was out of shape, but today was the first day of him working his body back into fighting condition. It also  seemed to be the day when he would begin socializing with the people.

“No,” Davy growled. Belle didn’t notice, instead she stood and extended her hand to Davy and said, “I’m Belle, and you are…”

Davy stared at Belle. She wasn’t tall, but she wasn’t short either. Her eyes were pale blue, and her teeth weren’t perfect, but she had a beautiful smile. Davy sighed heavily, then said, “Look, kid, why do you want to know who I am?”

“Because you look like you could use a friend,” Belle answered. 

Davy scowled at her; Belle smiled back and patted the bench. Davy sat down on the end and leaned back. “I’m Davy,” he said without making eye contact. Belle beamed a smile at him, and he guffawed. 

“Hiya, Davy! Did you fight in the war?”

Davy sighed and nodded. It was always the same questions. Did you fight in the war? Did you kill anybody? What is it like to kill them? Do they fall funny? Belle waited for him to respond. Davy stood and stretched. 

“Look kid,…” he started, but Belle stopped him.

“It’s not kid, it’s Belle,” she interjected.

“Why are you out here?”

Belle shrugged and crossed her arms. If Davy wanted to get cross with her, she would show him how it was done. Besides, he had ignored all her attempts to be friendly, and his grouchiness irritated her. 

“Because my mom is a drug addict, and I don’t feel safe at home,” she snapped. 

Davy shook his head and sat down next to her. Belle fought off her smile and sat with her arms crossed. They sat in silence for several moments before Davy spoke again.

“I’m sorry,  Belle. That’s rotten luck.”

“I ain’t scared of my momma, Davy. She has a disease. It’s her rotten boyfriend that scares me.”

“So, report him to the police,” Davy guffawed. 

Belle scowled at Davy and stared at him as if he had escaped from a lunatic asylum. “They won’t do nothing,” Belle snapped. “Everybody knows who Jocko is and what he does. Nobody stops him. Besides, most of the police are doing business with him.”

“Well, not everybody knows Jocko,” Davy retorted, his voice ice cold. “This is my first time hearing about him.”

Belle laughed, and she punched Davy on the shoulder. Davy stared at her until she quit laughing.

“So, did you fight in the war, Davy?”

“Yes, Belle. I fought in the stupid war.” Belle smiled and said, “I thought so.” Davy frowned, and Belle fired off another question.

“Why don’t you work?”

Davy stared at her, and she scrunched up her nose at him. A small smile crept across his mouth, but he killed it. He looked away from Belle until he regained his composure.

“I am retired, and disabled,” Davy said.

Belle stood and looked at Davy, then she leaned forward and looked deep into his eyes. Davy frowned, but Belle didn’t care.

“You don’t look disabled,” she said her tone dipped in disbelief.

“Oh, well thanks. I will make sure to brief my doctor.”

She giggled at Davy’s serious demeanor and plopped down right next to him. Davy sat on the bench with her until Billy appeared. Davy stood and nodded toward Billy. 

“Here comes your friend,” Davy said, pointing in the direction of Billy. 

Belle jumped to her feet and waved at Billy. Billy waved back. She motioned wildly for Billy to run to where she stood with Davy, but Billy was still half-asleep, and he maintained his zombie-like pace. 

“Hurry,” Belle shouted.

She turned to where Davy had sat, but he had disappeared when she turned her back to him. She sat down on the bench and waited for Billy. He walked up and sat beside her.

“What’s the freaking rush? We’ve got twenty minutes before the bus shows up.”

She gestured at the empty bench where Davy had sat. Billy shook his head and shrugged, and said, “What, Belle? It’s a bench.”

“He was here Billy.”

“Who was here?”

“The man from the cabin. His name’s Davy, and he fought in the war.”

“He was here?”

“Yep. I talked to him.”

“Did he say he was going to kill me?”

“No, Billy. He didn’t say he was going to kill you.”

The bus topped the hill, and they stood. Mrs. Dennis hated waiting for children to get on the bus. “Get a move on,” she’d yell if you didn’t move fast enough. She was a mean ole woman, but the school board kept her around.

The day progressed nicely, and neither Belle nor Billy encountered trouble throughout the first part of the day. At lunch, she and Billy sat in the corner and chatted about Davy. 

Billy asked Belle, “Did you tell him about Jocko?”

Belle nodded; her eyes shined with excitement. Billy leaned forward and waited for her to tell him. She was excited, happy even, and Billy liked to see Belle happy. 

“I did. He didn’t know who he was though.” Billy shrugged and responded, “Doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think he gets out much. I think he hates people and tries to stay away from them.”

“Yeah,” said Belle. “He seems kind of sad.”

From across the cafeteria, Gavin and his pals watched as Billy and Belle conversed with one another. They were so engrossed in their conversation they never saw Gavin. He approached them from the side and tossed his lunch on Belle. 

“Oops, my bad lovebirds,” Gavin laughed.  “I didn’t see you there.”

Belle looked at her clothes, chocolate gravy covered Belle’s white blouse. Billy stood to his feet and balled up his fists. Gavin’s friends gathered around and made a loose circle about the two boys. 

“Apologize Gavin,” Billy growled.  “Right now.”

 Gavin laughed and shoved Billy, then said, “Or what, Billy? You gonna fight me?”

Belle touched her friend’s hand, and said, “Billy, it’s okay. I have another blouse in my locker.” 

“No,” Billy snarled. “This ends today. If you want to fight Gavin, let’s go.”

Taunts of ooh, and get ‘em, sounded from the crowd. Gavin rushed in and bear hugged Billy. “The foot is fragile,” the man had told Billy. He picked up his right foot and smashed it down on Gavin’s foot as hard as he could.

Gavin released him with a howl, and Billy reared back and punched Gavin in the nose. Blood gushed out, and Gavin’s eyes grew large at the sight of his blood. Billy wasn’t done. As Gavin stared at the blood on his hand, Billy kicked him in the crotch, and Gavin collapsed to the ground. He groaned, and Billy remembered the man’s advice: “If you bust his nose, grab it and yank down.” 

Billy gripped Gavin’s nose and pulled his face close to him. Billy whispered, “Neither me nor Belle better have a problem with you from this day forward, Gavin. Otherwise, you might get hurt. Do you understand?” Gavin sobbed, and Billy dropped his head to the ground. 

“Yeah,” Gavin cried. “I understand. Please, don’t hit me any more.” 

Billy snarled, “Get, boy. Before I forget myself.” Gavin scampered away, and Billy turned to walk back to his table. 

Belle looked at Billy as he sat down. She had left when the fight started and changed her blouse. She caught the end of the fight when Billy had stood over Gavin and given him his opportunity to leave.

“You didn’t have to fight, Billy. I could have changed.” Billy shook his head, and muttered, “It would never end if I didn’t stand up to him, Belle.”

She nodded and grinned at him, and said, “It was pretty sweet seeing you give him an out. Thanks for standing up for me.”

“It’s what friends do, Belle.”

People came by and slapped Billy on the back, some shook his hand. For the first time in his life, Billy felt like he belonged.  His victory was all the sweeter because he had stood up for Belle when she needed a friend the most. The rest of the day flew by, and Billy couldn’t wait to tell Davy.

Davy walked down the bricked driveway to his cabin, his breaths came in gasps. He arrived home before too many people in town saw him struggling to keep an even pace. Davy showered and dressed in Wrangler jeans, an old Carhartt tee, and brown Sketcher slip-on shoes. He made a cup of coffee and went down to the sub-basement, where he powered on his laptop and opened his word processor. 

“War,” he typed, “is a cruel mistress. I gave my life to her. To right the wrongs and defend the weak. It was my opportunity to be strong for someone else, but it didn’t turn out that way. In the end, I was weak. War broke me, and the darkness that lurked in my heart swallowed me up…”

There was too much truth in his statement. He shut down his computer and sipped his coffee. Tears welled up in his eyes, and for once, he did not hide them. 

Davy had gone to war with the noblest of intentions, but  intentions were useless. Innocent people on both sides got hurt. The politicians had shut the war down, declared victory over the enemy, but it wasn’t true. The enemy had recovered much of the territory that cost American lives to capture it. 

The war was pointless, and the innocent always suffered…

Davy thought of Belle and her situation. How many times had he seen similar situations, both here at home and in the killing fields? The sad truth of the matter was this: It could always be worse, but worse than that was how society was okay with it, as long as it happened to someone else.

Wilma and Jocko watched as Belle walked into the yard. Neither were riding a new high. Their eyes were clear, not a sign of haze was in either pair of eyes. Wilma’s eyes were sad, but Jocko looked dangerous. Like he had taken what he had been craving, like the eyes of a stalker about to spring a trap upon unsuspecting prey.

“Hey, momma.”

“Hey sugar bear,” Wilma replied. “How was school?”

“It was okay,” Belle replied hesitantly. “I’m swamped with homework.”

“Listen, I need to talk to you, okay?”

“Okay, momma.”

Wilma licked her lips and looked away. She took a deep breath and forced a smile at her daughter. Belle could see the anguish in her eyes, but didn’t know what to do, or how to help her mother find peace.

Jocko sat by and watched as mother and daughter conversed in hushed tones. His eyes never left Belle, and she felt as if he might drag her upstairs and have his way with her. His unblinking eyes caused her to become uncomfortable. Wilma took her hand and whispered,  “Jocko has asked me to marry him.”

Belle grimaced, then asked, “You said no, right?”

“Um, no,” Wilma chuckled dryly,  “I said yes. It would do you good to have a father figure in the house.” Belle scrunched her face up, and snapped, “What does HE know about being a father figure? Or a role model? He’s a drug dealer, for God’s sake!”

“Shut your mouth, Belle,” Jocko growled at her. “Your mother has curbed her addiction. She’s an adult. No one forced her to make this decision.”

Belle nearly choked on her words, but spat out, “An adult? My mother? Please, she is an addict. She goes where her need carries her.”

“That’s enough Belle,” Wilma whispered quietly. 

Belle could see hatred in Jocko’s eyes, but Belle couldn’t care less what he hated, or what happened next. Belle shook her head and stormed toward the door. She spun around and yelled, “It’ll be a cold day in the lake of fire before I call Jocko my dad.”

Wilma and Jocko watched as Belle stormed off. Jocko picked up the pipe and handed it to Wilma. She fired it up and sucked in the crack; she breathed it out slowly. “Things are going to be better with Jocko here full time. Belle needs a firm hand.”

“You remember our deal Wilma.”

“I remember. You get Belle, and you keep me in stock with the good stuff.”

“That’s right. You get the good stuff after I’ve wrecked your little girl.” Jocko leered at Wilma, and continued, “We made a deal, and you’re gonna hold up your end.”

“Go easy on her Jocko.”

Jocko gripped Wilma by the face and pulled her close. She looked into his eyes; madness shined in the two burnt out orbs. She struggled to get loose, but Jocko leaned close to her face, and she couldn’t look away.

“Look at me, whore,” Jocko snarled.  “I’m going to ruin your daughter, and you’re gonna watch me do it. Then you’re going to live knowing you served her up to me. When I’m done with her, I’m gonna pimp her out to my friends. She’ll be used up by the time she’s 16.”

Wilma sobbed and threw the pipe down, and Jocko laughed. Suddenly, the drugs weren’t so important, but Wilma had made her deal with the devil. It was too late to change the terms of the agreement, and Jocko wouldn’t negotiate.

Davy sat in his sub-basement and wiped his tears. Those that are gone have no need for them, and they do me little good. What’s done is done. He felt as if he was nothing more than a damaged husk. A soulless, empty skeleton who had no purpose. 

He went into the kitchen and made coffee. His need for the stimulant bordered on addiction. A knock sounded at the door. Davy stared out the peephole and recognized the boy. “Jesus, what do you have to do to get rid of this kid?”

“Mr. Davy,” Billy blurted out,  “are you home?”

Davy rubbed his head and opened the door. Billy grinned at him; Davy waited for him to speak.

“I wanted to let you know I stood up to the bully today. I won,” Billy said. 

“That’s great, kid. We had a deal, remember?”

“Yes sir, I am leaving now.”

Davy watched as Billy ran down his driveway. “Good on you, kid. Always stand for something, even if it’s not popular. Stand for the weak; stand for those who can’t find the courage to defend themselves.”

Davy closed the door and locked it, then walked back to make his coffee. Scratch that, kid. Don’t do nothing. Standing for something would only lead you to heartache. Stay in the shadows. Be a nobody. Live a life of quiet dignity and peace.

War had destroyed Davy’s peace, it destroyed everything he held dear. Then, when it was all said and done, it left him alone and bitter.  An empty, soulless husk, no good to anyone.

Davy tossed and turned on the couch all night. He dreamt of sand and blood, guts and wounds. In his mind he heard the screams of those who suffered until Death removed them from this mortal coil. If you make yourselves sheep, the wolves will feast.

He sat on the couch in the dark. Predators didn’t always prey on the weak, sometimes, they feasted on the strong. He thought of Belle. “The poor girl languishes between an addict and a scumbag.” Maybe she would come by today, and they would have the chance to speak concerning her situation. 

Davy owed no one anything, but he felt he had let down Belle. She tried to befriend him, Davy refused. Billy tried to overcome the walls Davy had built up, but Davy had stopped him. These kids needed help, and Davy could no longer sit idly by while this predator preyed upon them.

“It’s time for me to quit feeling sorry for myself and be the man the military forged me into. The helpless need protecting.”

Wilma woke to Jocko standing at the foot of her bed staring at her, munching on a carrot. She brushed the hair out of her face and tried to smile. Her black toothed smile did little to improve her ragged looks. At one time, Wilma was a beautiful woman. Back when everything was right in her world.

Now, the drugs had taken her looks, her eyes testified to her unyielding desire for more drugs, regardless of what it cost. Even if it meant pimping out her daughter to her boyfriend, Wilma needed her next high.

“Morning,” she said.

Wilma reached for Jocko, but he ignored her. He finished his carrot and continued to stare at her. Fear knotted up in her stomach, and she knew her time as Jocko’s girl had ended. 

“Get out of bed and get in the shower,” Jocko snapped. “We’re getting married today. I’m wrecking Belle tonight, and you are going to watch.”

Wilma whimpered, and a tear ran down her cheek. “He doesn’t love you, idiot. You’ve served up your daughter to an animal, to feed a habit that you should have shaken years ago.”

“No, I won’t marry you,” Wilma said in a shaky voice. 

She never should have shacked up with Jocko, he had made his intentions clear from day one. From the time Belle had turned nine, Jocko had threatened to turn her inside out when she got older. The drugs had lied to Wilma about how much time she had to get her daughter out of here.

Jocko looked at Wilma and laughed. He raised his eyebrows and took a menacing step toward her. Jocko cupped a hand to his ear and said,“What’s that? I didn’t hear you.”

Wilma crawled out of bed and stood. If she was going to be beaten or worse, she would go out on her feet. She wobbled, then steadied herself, and emphasized each word by stabbing a finger towards Jocko.

“I-am-not-marrying-you. I will not serve up my daughter to an animal like yo-“

Jocko’s right hand crashed into her jaw, and rapid blows landed one after another. Wilma giggled. Her laughter drove Jocko’s blood rage higher. He soccer kicked her across the room and went to work on her ribs. 

“You’re a mangy dog,” Jocko snarled. “You show your teeth, you get dealt with.” 

He kicked Wilma until she passed out, then stood over her panting, his breaths came in ragged gasps. Jocko stood over Wilma’s unconscious body, and spittle dripped from his lips like a rabid dog. He wiped it with the back of his hand. 

“You are a stupid broad, Wilma. I don’t need you to get what I want, I’ll take it.”

Jocko loaded Wilma into his van and drove her to the Urgent Care unit on the outskirts of Fredericksburg. He pulled into the parking lot and rolled her unconscious body out into the parking lot and drove off. 

Several moments passed before anyone noticed Wilma in the lot. Some of the staff rushed out and lifted her body into a wheelchair and rushed her indoors. 

“Dr. Savage, please report to Room Three. Doctor Savage to Room Three.”

Dr. Bernadette Savage rushed through the halls to Room Three. She snapped out orders and started inspecting the body. The woman was in rough shape, but this wasn’t some new thing to Bernadette. 

“Dear God in Heaven,” Bernadette said. 

One of the nurses asked, “What is it?” 

“We need to get this woman stabilized,” Bernadette snapped. “Who brought her in?”

“No one,” the nurse answered. An ambulance crew found her unconscious in the parking lot.”

Bernadette pointed at Wilma’s face, the bruising was sickly yellow and a deep shade of purple. Wilma’s thin lips, cracked and bloody, puffed up like she’d reached the limits of Botox. 

 Bernadette pointed, then said, “You see that? Someone beat this poor woman senseless. We are going to need multiple MRIs to get a detailed picture of what we’re dealing with. Start the usual process. I will do a thorough examination of her, and we’ll go from there.”

Jocko made his way to Belle’s school. He drove erratically through traffic; he honked the horn and whipped around those who blocked him from his goal. The blood rage from earlier still rushed through his veins, but he finally arrived at Fredericksburg Middle School.  Jocko leaped from the vehicle and rushed inside.

Mrs. Tina Elks, who had taught students for thirty years, watched as Jocko rushed in and looked around.

“Oh boy, here comes trouble.”

Jocko rushed in; his face contorted with rage as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Mrs. Elks waited for him to speak. He walked up to the desk and glared at Tina. 

“Hey old lady,” snapped Jocko, “I need to pick up Belle Franks.”

“And you are?”

Jocko snapped, “I’m going to be her dad. Someone attacked her mother, and she is at the Urgent Care.”

“I hate to hear that,” Tina replied, “It’s a sad world we live in now. Unfortunately, I can’t release Belle to you. However, I will make a note and give it to her teacher.”

“Old woman, you don’t understand. I need Belle.”

Mrs. Elks forced a smile to her thin lips and  watched Jocko. He was all over the place scratching, wiping at his face, his eyes bugged out. He kept licking his lips, but what caught Mrs. Elk’s attention was his emphasis on the word need.

“Yeah, he’s strung out on drugs. Addicts always use the word need. I’m not handing Belle over to this train wreck.”

Jocko approached the desk and slammed his hand down. He leaned forward and snarled, “Get my kid here now.” Mrs. Elks smiled at him, and the door opened behind him. Jocko whirled around and came face-to-face with the school resource officer.

“Is there a problem here, Mrs. Elks?”

“I don’t know, officer. Is there a problem here, young man?”

Jocko threw his hands up and shrugged. Jocko scratched at his arm and laughed, then said, “Nope, ain’t no problem. I’ll tell her mom that you guys won’t do your jobs. Y’all deal with her when she gets better.”

He turned and pushed his way past the security guard. Jocko burst through the front doors and rushed across the parking lot. This was only a temporary setback. He’d sign out Wilma from the Urgent Care and make her give him his prize. 

Nothing would keep him from his prize. He would have Belle, and he would take his rage out on her innocent body. By God, he would take immense pleasure in ruining her life.

Belle was his for the taking.

Mrs. Elks explained the situation to the security guard once they were certain that Jocko had left the grounds. The guard sat down across from her and pulled out a notepad.

“Okay, Mrs. Elks. Start from the beginning, please.”

“He came in here like a tornado, rip snorting about how someone had attacked Belle’s mother,” Tina exclaimed. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he was the one that attacked her,” Mrs. Elks growled. The security guard shook his head and wrote her statement verbatim.

“Horrible,” he muttered. “Do we know if there is any truth to it?”

“I don’t know,” Tina Elks responded.

“Let me make some calls and see what I can learn.”

The security guard, his name was Glen Wadsworth Fry, called  Urgent Care. After a moment, the receptionist transferred his call to Dr. Bernadette Savage. She answered in a snappy but clear voice. 

“This is Doctor Savage.”

“Hi, my name is Glen Fry, and I’m a security guard at Fredericksburg Middle School. I’m calling on behalf of a student here.”

“I’m busy…”

“Yes, I’m sure you are, but I am looking for a woman named Wilma Franks. Her daughter is a student here at Fredericksburg Middle School.”

Doctor Savage took a deep breath, and said,“She’s here.”

“Did someone assault her, Doctor?”

“Yes, and then some.”

“What do you mean?”

“I put her into a medical coma to save her. Look, someone beat her to the point of death. I’m looking at a mess of broken bones; there’s swelling in her brain. This woman may not make it.”

“Okay, thank you Doctor Savage.”

Glen Fry hung up the phone, and Mrs. Elks waited for him to say something, and when he didn’t, she asked, “Well, Wadsworth? Did you find her or not?”

“She’s at the Urgent Care.”

“Is she coming to get her daughter?”

“No ma’am, she’s not.”

“Why not?”

“Because she is in a coma, and the doctor said she might not make it. Who’s her next of kin?”

Mrs. Elks tapped a few keys and shook her head. The emergency contact information was blank. “No one,” she said. “The contact information is blank.”

“We need to speak to Belle then. She must stay with someone.” 

Mrs. Elks nodded her head and whispered, “The poor girl.” 

Glen left the office and walked down the hallway to Belle’s class. He knocked on the door and waited. Mrs. Simmons answered the door. Glen whispered a few words, and Mrs. Simmons nodded. She motioned for Belle to come to the door. Glen led her to the office, and motioned to an empty chair in front of Mrs. Elk’s desk.

“Sit down, Belle,” he said. “We need to speak with you.”

Belle waited. 

“Baby,” Mrs. Elks said as she took Belle’s hands in hers, “we’ve got some bad news.”

“Jocko killed my mom, didn’t he?”

Mrs. Elks and Glen looked at each other, then looked back at Belle. 

Glen asked, “Belle, where did that come from?”

“Jocko has been after me for years, and he asked momma to marry him. I overheard him talking to her last night. He only did it to get at me.”

“Belle, someone attacked your mother, and  she is at the Urgent Care. There is no one on your emergency contact information. Do you have somewhere to go?”

“Yes sir. I can go to Davy’s.”

Glen frowned and asked,“Who is Davy?”

“He is my friend. I’ll be safe with him.”

“Sweetie,” Mrs. Elks began, “we can’t let you stay with just anybody. We’ll put you in Child Services…”

“No, thank you.”

“It’s only temporary, Belle. “

“I’ll go to Davy’s. Or I can stay with Billy and his folks.”


“How’s my momma?”

“They had to put her in a coma to protect her. She’s going to be fine…”

“I think I’m going to be sick…”

Belle covered her mouth and lurched to her feet. Glen took her by the arm and rushed to the bathroom; he waited outside for her to finish. Belle walked to the last stall and opened a small window let out into the ball court. She pushed the window out and slipped from the building. 

“Ain’t no way I’m going to Child Services.”

Davy sat on his porch and considered his revelation that a good man is not a harmless man. In his pondering, he noticed a multi-colored van across from his gate. “Now, who could that be?” A good man always does the right thing. He stands tall when the world falls apart around him. Time and life had beaten Davy down, but at rock bottom, he found his purpose.

Motion at his gate caught his eye. Belle climbed over the gate and sprinted toward him. He watched as she raced onto the porch.

“Davy,” she panted, “I need a place to stay.”

“Do what now?” He frowned and asked,  “Why do you need to stay here?”

“Jocko beat my mother. She’s at the Urgent Care.”

“Okay, calm down,” Davy said. “Start at the beginning and tell me what happened.”

“Yesterday, I went home  and Momma and Jocko were waiting for me. They told me they were getting married. I ran upstairs and locked my door. My window is always open. I heard Jocko tell momma that he was going to wreck me, and he was going to make her watch.”

“Sweet Jesus. Where is Jocko now?”

“He’s across the street in the van. He’s going to hurt me, Davy. He’s got evil plans for me, and my momma’s gonna die.”

“He will not hurt you, Belle. You can stay here as long as you want. Go inside and start your homework. I’ll see what he has to say.”

Davy waited until Belle went inside, and he heard the click of the lock being engaged. He walked to his truck and pulled out his Springfield Hellcat and shoved it into his right pocket. Then he started up the drive.

Jocko watched as Davy drew near. He rolled down the window and lifted his chin in Davy’s direction. Jocko smacked his lips, and asked, “Can I help you, boy?” 

Davy smiled coldly at Jocko. It was clear that Jocko was  an overconfident man, who always thought he could intimidate his way through any situation. Davy had no use for indirect verbiage, so he approached the van and snapped,  “What do you want?”

Jocko grinned, his teeth black with rot, and he said, “I want that little girl that ran down your driveway. You go get her and bring her to me, and I won’t kill you.”

“Mmhmm. You think you’re a wolf, but you’re not.” Jocko sucked on his teeth, and slurred, “Yeah, I’m a wolf.”

“No,” Davy said with a laugh, “You can be a wolf, or you can be a sheep, but you can’t be both. You’re going to have to pick a struggle.”

Jocko cradled a sawed off shotgun between his legs. The feel of the wooden stock gave him a sense of courage, and he lifted his chin toward Davy’s cabin and snarled, “Go get Belle, boy. Don’t make me tell you twice.”

Davy grinned and shook his head, and replied, “Belle will not be leaving with you. Take this busted piece of junk, along with your habit, and don’t ever come back.”

Jocko screamed as he pulled the shotgun up to shoot Davy. By the time he got the shotgun out the window, Davy had  closed the distance. He grabbed the barrel of the shotgun and yanked Jocko half out the window. Then, pulled his sidearm and pressed it against Jocko’s temple. He squeezed the trigger, and the pistol roared. Jocko slumped to the ground, never to harm another woman or child again.

Davy’s neighbor had  called the police when the shotgun appeared. Sirens wailed. Davy nodded to his neighbor and leaned against the van to wait for the cops. He smiled when he realized he had taken a stand for good, he had protected the weak and the defenseless. 

While he wasn’t ready to be called a good man; he was on his way to becoming a better one.

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: