A California Magazine with Local Focus and Global Appeal:
Community - Entertainment - Human Interest


Weekly issues every Saturday morning and other special articles throughout the week — there's something for everyone. Check out our sister site KRL News & Reviews for even more articles every week.

Previous post:

Next post:


Heir of Innocence By Nancy Brewka-Clark: A Dark Short Story for Halloween

IN THE October 27 ISSUE

FROM THE 2018 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Nancy Brewka-Clark

Enjoy this dark short story perfect for your Halloween reading! It was originally published by Orchard Press Mysteries.

When Lemuel Kittredge came to, he was high, high up, lying in a drafty cage of planks and rusty pipes.

Weak sunlight drifted in like smoke through cracks in three of the walls. The fourth wall had been mostly window but now it was just a giant, rectangular hole, paneless and raw where birds and small climbing animals had chewed and pecked at the rotting wood.

He should have destroyed the old fire tower along with the rest of the forest. Instead, he had left one hilltop of old-growth trees standing to shut up the environmentalists. Turn it into a little park, the tree-huggers had begged, so future generations could have a taste of what the great, rolling forests had been like. They had wanted the tower to come down, though, saying it was too much of an attractive nuisance to kids.forest

But taking it down piece by piece and trucking it out without destroying the trees around it would have cost too much. Besides, kids living in his billion-dollar development didn’t care about poking around outdoors, fatties, most of them, computer junkies who were too lazy even to climb the hill, never mind one hundred rickety steps just to see air.

When Lemuel tried to sit up, the rib where the slug grazed it lit up white hot, just like someone was holding the steady, butane flame of a cigarette lighter to it. He sank back a little on the makeshift mattress of newspaper-stuffed garbage bags, trying to ease the pain both in his side and in his bladder. He was damned if he’d embarrass himself in front of this young jackass by either wetting himself or begging for something in which to urinate.

The jackass was kneeling with last year’s Christmas present, a Remington twelve-gauge shotgun, poked out the window. He was silhouetted against the pale dawn sky like he was posing for some kook paramilitary publication, except the goofballs in those rags didn’t wear navy blue blazers with gold-crest buttons saying “VERITAS” or handmade red silk bowties or one-hundred-per-cent cotton Brooks Brothers shirts.

“Mark,” Lemuel said.

The jackass shook his head. “In a minute.”

“Listen,” the old man said, trying to shift his full body weight without twisting his midriff, “about last night—”

Mark Kittredge laughed. “You sound like a girl.”

Lemuel tried to laugh, too. “Do I? Funny, nobody’s ever accused me of that before, or at least not after I hit puberty. Mark—”

“I told you, wait,” his grandson said without turning his head. “There,” he muttered to himself. “I think I see something moving just…over…”

Lemuel felt the agony in his ribcage as his whole body jerked mindlessly upright. “For God’s sake, don’t shoot!”

Mark’s back stiffened. Slowly he withdrew the shotgun barrel from the window. “Grampa, don’t yell. I do not like it when you yell.”

Lemuel gave his head a little jerk of a nod to show he understood. “Okay, son. I apologize.”

“And I’m not your son,” Mark muttered. “He’s dead.”

“Right.” Lemuel felt faint.

Mark cocked his head. He raised the shotgun, pointed it back out. After a minute he sighed, lowered the barrel again and said, “Too bad you’re hurt.”

Lemuel felt his heart leap. “I’m O.K.”

Mark turned and looked at him with blue eyes so wide and innocent he could have been a mischievous three-year-old with a plastic popgun trying to kill flies. “Really?”

Lemuel nodded. When he spoke, he couldn’t recognize his own voice. “I’m fine.”

With a grin and a toss of his blond hair, Mark raised the shotgun again and aimed it at Lemuel. “Then I guess I screwed up. Maybe I should fix that, right?”

Lemuel froze.

“Got you in my sights,” Mark said in the drawling, muffled voice a man uses when he’s aiming down a gun barrel. “You know, Gramps, this is a great gun. Good for deer. Especially good for turkeys.”

Involuntarily Lemuel’s eyes followed the dot and dash progress of a flock of crows across the blue-white screen of sky.clouds

Mark laughed into the walnut stock of his gun. “The only thing that could be behind me, Gramps, is an angel, some big, old bugger with wings and a nightgown.” His finger curled on the trigger. “And speaking of angels—”

Three things scalded Lemuel Kittredge simultaneously: tears, urine, and shame.

Mark dropped the barrel. “Hey, don’t cry. I was just kidding.” He wrinkled his nose. “Do you smell something?”

Lemuel lay on what he had come to think of as his deathbed having to bite his lip to keep from spraying up huge gouts of laughter into the hairless face of this jackass of his loins, well, his dead son’s loins. All of a sudden he felt light, released of all worldly pain, beyond all human fear. He fixed his eyes on Mark’s face. “After your dad died, I thought, well, I’ve got Mark.”

Mark frowned.

“Yes, that’s what I thought,” Lemuel said in that same dispassionate voice. “I thought I was so lucky, having a smart, good-looking grandson like you, somebody who’d take over for me, take care of me.” With a sigh, Lemuel shut his eyes. “That’s right, Mark. I actually thought I was lucky.”

“Shut up.”

Lemuel shrugged. “Why? It’s the truth. Until last night I thought I had the best grandson a man could ever have.”

“Shut up!”

While he waited for the shot, or the kick, or the bludgeon, he smiled up blindly like a man basking in sunlight. “You couldn’t wait. Never could.”

Mark knelt. “Oh, man.” The voice was so young. “I was just going to make you jump out the window and then I was going back to Cambridge.”

Jackass, Lemuel thought. He could feel the dried blood from his ribcage sticking like glue to his fingers. “And then what?”

“Wait for them to come and tell me,” Mark said.

Lemuel nodded, absent-mindedly picking at the dried smears with his nails. “And then?”

Mark sighed. “I’d cry, I guess.”

“Thank you,” Lemuel said. “And then you’d laugh all the way to the bank.”

“Yeah,” his grandson said. “Something like that.”

Lemuel heard Mark shift back on his heels. “Do I seem like the suicidal type?” he asked.

“Well, not until lately,” Mark said. “You know.”

Lemuel shrugged. “The prostate, you mean.”

Mark sighed. “Yeah.”

“These days people don’t kill themselves because they have cancer,” Lemuel said. “Hell, I could have lived for another fifteen, twenty years.”

“Gross,” Mark said. He laughed, then stopped. “What do you mean, could have?”

“Well,” Lemuel said, shifting on the garbage bags so that he could get in a little scratch between his shoulder blades, “you’re still going to go through with it, aren’t you?”

“What?”

The jackass sounded like he had sucked helium. “Why not?”

His grandson said peevishly, “You got shot, remember?”

Lemuel twiddled his thumbs to get the blood off. “So?”

“I thought you were some kind of brain trust,” Mark said. “Think about it. If you jumped now you’d still have that graze on your ribs. They’d take one look at that and figure out something was fishy.”

Lemuel nodded. “True.”

“And,” Mark said, “they’d figure out it was from a twelve-gauge and somebody would think back to last Christmas and I’d be screwed.”

“Too bad,” Lemuel said. He smiled. “You shouldn’t have shot me.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Mark mumbled. “I mean, you were just poking along on those stairs. All I meant to do was hustle you a little.”

“By sticking my Christmas present to you in my ribs,” Lemuel said.

“Well, yeah.” Mark’s knuckles popped. “But nobody asked you to trip.”

“You’ll ruin your finger joints doing that.” Lemuel murmured. “So, where are we?”

“I don’t know.” Mark’s voice had gotten lower and lower, too.

“What do you want to do?”

Jackass looked miserable, squatting there still holding the shotgun. “Get out of here.”

“Then what?”

“Just go on, I guess,” Mark said gloomily. Like a defeated Sandinista, he laid down the gun and rested his chin on his knees. They were clothed by trousers that must have cost as much as Lemuel would have once spent on a car. “Act like nothing happened.”

Lemuel’s eyebrows rose. “Easy for you to say.”

Mark looked down at him with the face of a just-fallen angel. “I’m your only heir,” he pointed out reasonably. “You won’t do anything to me.”

“That’s not what’s worrying me,” Lemuel said. He grinned up into the beautiful face. “How do I know you won’t come after me again? Put glass in my sugar bowl? Put arsenic in my gin? Cut the brake line on the Mercedes?”

“How could I?” Mark protested. “You’ll be on the lookout, right?” He smiled. “You just hand over the money and I leave you alone. I promise. Scout’s honor.”money

“Well, I guess that’s fair,” Lemuel said. He held out a hand. It looked like something you’d buy in a Halloween horror shop, dried blood still stuck in the hairs on the back, more blood under the yellowed fingernails, gray veins sticking up under the crinkled flesh. “Help me up.”

It didn’t take much to yank the jackass down onto the garbage bags. “Hey!” Mark cried as he fell.

Lemuel rolled aside, shoving the gun with one wide sweeping arc of his arm to the far side of the tower. Using Mark’s backside as a bolster, he shoved himself upward, first to his knees, then to his feet. Stamping hard on Mark’s hand as it grabbed for his ankle, Lemuel half-staggered across the rotting floorboards. “Jackass,” he panted, and flung himself down on the gun.

“What are you doing?” Mark howled. He was sitting up among the black plastic billows sucking his fingers. “You broke my hand!”

Lemuel leveled the gun. He looked down the sights. His finger itched to pull the trigger. “Mark, let me ask you something.” His grandson tearfully put his hurt hand to his mouth and began sucking on it, all the while gazing at his grandfather like a bewildered two-year-old. “Remember your dad?”

Mark looked disgusted. “Duh.”

“Let me be more specific,” Lemuel smiled. “Remember how he died? Suicide, no questions.” He shook his head. “Wrong. I should know.”

For a second or two, Mark went on nursing his hand. Then, slowly, he lowered it. “What do you mean?” He actually snickered, the jackass. “Like, you shot him?”

“Smart boy.” Lemuel smiled again, almost enjoying himself. “That’s why you brought me here. You figured people would think my death was just a sad case of history repeating itself. Suicide gene.”

Mark stayed frozen.

Lemuel sighed. “Funny, when you think about it, lightning striking twice. I shoot my son. His son shoots me. And nobody’s the wiser. Except the shooter.”

Mark cleared his throat. “You killed Dad? No way!”

Lemuel’s smile turned even sadder. “He turned on me. Up here. Same thing. Money. Always money.”

Mark laughed. “And what, he held you up? Like a robber?”

“He had a gun, a little snub-nosed Beretta. We fought. He tripped. I won. Of course, the difference is, when he went, I still had you.” Lemuel lowered the gun barrel. “Without you, who am I?”

“Wow,” Mark breathed. Slowly, he uncoiled himself from the garbage bags. Walking very slowly, an old man’s walk, he came face to face with his grandfather.

“Take it,” Lemuel said. He held out the shotgun with both hands. “Go on. Take it.”

For a moment, four hands held the gun. Then Mark Kittredge reclaimed his present. “Thanks, Gramps.”

“My pleasure,” Lemuel said.

He went to the stairs with all the hairs on his neck rising. Placing his hand on the rusty railing, he put out one foot and stepped, then the other. Balanced there, he looked down, down, down, wondering what was taking the jackass so long.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & more Halloween mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also check our our new mystery podcast! The October episodes are perfect for Halloween!

Nancy Brewka-Clark lives and writes on Boston’s North Shore in the city of Beverly, which was part of Salem until 1668, making her familiar with the wily ways of witches.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gail FarrellyNo Gravatar
Twitter: @gailfarrelly
October 28, 2018 at 9:36pm

Very powerful story, Nancy. Well done. I enjoyed it.

Happy Halloween!

Reply

2 Nancy Brewka-ClarkNo Gravatar October 29, 2018 at 4:25pm

Thank you so much, Gail.

Reply

3 Nancy E CoffeyNo Gravatar October 29, 2018 at 7:17am

Wow–you kept me on the edge of a rickety step the whole way through! Nice going. Happy Halloween. Love, Nancy

Reply

4 Nancy Brewka-ClarkNo Gravatar October 29, 2018 at 4:26pm

Thanks, my friend.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Twitter ID
(ID only; No links or "@" symbols)

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post:

  • Arts & Entertainment

  • Books & Tales

  • Community

  • Education

  • Food Fun

  • Helping Hands

  • Hometown History

  • Pets

  • Teens

  • Terrific Tales