by E.B. Davis
Here is another never before published Christmas mystery short story!
At seventy-nine years old, it was now or never, and I couldn’t let never happen. No, siree. The kids must never know. They’d be shocked and wonder about me for all eternity. Protecting them had come first. Now though, I had to protect myself. I’d planned and hoped that tonight’s task would resolve my problem.
I looked around the interior of my house. All in order—the house was clean, the Christmas decorations were dusted and looked right nice, and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. Even the star on top of the tree was straight—for once. I would have given myself a figurative pat on the back, but the gesture was premature.
After finishing our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of beef stew with buttermilk biscuits, my son and daughter and their families left at nine p.m. to attend the candlelight service at church, saying they’d be back at nine in the morning. I’d begged off the service, feigning a headache and reassuring them that I just needed a good night’s sleep – not without comments and my daughter threatening to spend the night to look after me. Last thing I needed. They’re great kids, but if they thought I was in my dotage, they’d have a surprise when I really started to act my age.
I had less than twelve hours to complete my task. By eight a.m. I had to have showered, dressed and put the sticky buns in the oven. I usually make the buns Christmas morning so they’ll be nice and fresh, but I’d made the dough in the afternoon and stashed it out in the garage, inside my car so it wouldn’t freeze. Had my kids seen the dough in the refrigerator, it would have elicited questions. When I finished my task, I’d take it back in the house and let it rise. None of them would know the difference.
Working in the dark made my task harder. But then, I was supposed to be in bed. I put on my coat, boots and gloves and retrieved the wheelbarrow from the tool shed, positioning it near the kitchen door. My Christmas list included a new pair of gloves. Burning these tonight in the garden fire barrel would get rid of one piece of evidence and wearing the new gloves exclusively would let them know how much I liked them.
Two canvas tarps sat in the bottom of the wheelbarrow. One would join my gloves in the fire barrel later. I threw one tarp on the kitchen floor, took the other tarp and spread it neatly inside the wheelbarrow, letting the sides of the tarp drape down. Then, I stepped inside on the rug and took off my boots, having no need to get my clean floor dirty. My socks came off, too. In bare feet, I wouldn’t slip on the hardwood treads.
Once in the attic, I stood stock-still. After nearly forty-five years, this moment had still come too soon. But I had to do it. I steeled myself. It wasn’t so much the horror, but my disgust and aversion that I had to shore. I felt around the doorframe and found the keys to the padlock that I had screwed on the door all those years ago. The kids never came up here. I sort of drilled that notion into them when they were young. Programmed them, like. Funny how those lessons you teach your little ones last a long time. Worked for me, and even if they didn’t know it, it worked for them, too, since they never allowed the grandkids up here.
I reached into my coat pocket and found the WD-40, sprayed inside the lock and slipped in the key. The lock was stiff as I turned it, but it popped open. The next task, opening the door, wasn’t as easy. I took a deep breath since I might not take another until I got outside. Knew that wasn’t true, but all the same, I’d try. My other pocket held my flashlight. I turned it on and put my hand on the doorknob. The door stuck, and I yanked it open. On the closet floor lay the old canvas tarp, lumpy and dusty, enveloping the body.
Memories came back to me, but with my time limitation, I had to keep on task. I spread out the new tarp, grabbed the end of the old tarp and tugged. It slid out easily, which I hadn’t anticipated. I’d lined the inside with a sheet of plastic so nothing would seep out onto the canvas and the floor. Must be all dried up by now.
The body had smelled for a while. I’d told whoever dropped by that a raccoon must have died inside of a wall. Couldn’t tell where, I’d claimed. In a house this old, I thought my story believable. During the first summer, the kids and I slept in a tent in the backyard. Turned it into an adventure for them. They loved living outdoors. We’d use the downstairs bathroom and the refrigerator, but we cooked on the grill. I even put the TV on the back stoop so they could watch cartoons. By fall, the odor dissipated. By winter, I almost didn’t think about the body up here.
No more reminiscing, I reprimanded myself as I grabbed the end of the tarp. Water must weigh a lot because the body’s lightness surprised me. Thank goodness. At my age, transporting a two hundred pound man would have taxed me. I’d sealed the plastic inside with tape, which was sure to have dried out now, then tied the ends of the tarp with twine, like he was a big piece of saltwater taffy. My stomach turned just thinking about it. I was afraid the old tarp would break, its fabric brittle with age, so I wrapped the old tarp in the new one. The duct tape and scissors bulged from the same pocket that held the DW-40. I cut strips and sealed the new tarp in a neat bundle.
Getting him down the steps was my biggest worry. When I’d lifted him up here, I’d only had to go one flight up, and I was a lot younger then. Carrying him in my arms wouldn’t do—even now I couldn’t stomach being that close to the SOB. But I wasn’t looking forward to the noise of his bones clanking against the hardwood treads. As I schlepped him to the top of the stairs, I hoped nothing spilled out on his way down. The thought sickened me. Washing the staircase in the middle of the night wasn’t on the schedule. Last thing I needed to do.
I pulled the tarp more than halfway down the first riser. It started sliding down the stairs on its own powered by gravity so I kept a hold on it until I stepped into a better position. The clanking I’d feared didn’t occur. Adding the tarp increased the heft and kept its shape without bending. Nothing inside the tarp cut loose as it bridged from tread to tread. I held on to the railing with one hand, descended a few steps, and braked with the other hand, controlling its forward motion until I got to the landing. Then, I repeated the maneuver three more times until I was back down in the kitchen. By then, I was sweating like a hog.
In planning this task, I’d measured the width between the wheelbarrow handles. Their greater wideness than the doorframe brought my plan together. I opened the door, leaned over and jerked the front of the wheelbarrow into the door opening. Then, I tipped it so that the front end was down and jammed the handles into the doorframe where it stuck backend up in that elevated position. I’d practiced getting the wheelbarrow into position this week while I decorated the house with evergreens from my garden.
I lugged the tarp into the front of the wheelbarrow. After putting on my socks and boots, I climbed out the dining room window, from which I’d already removed the screen, closed the window and pulled the tarp into the wheelbarrow from between the handles. When the weight redistributed to the back, the wheelbarrow descended. As it came down, I jumped back. It made a bang as the metal supports under the handles hit the concrete. I stopped for a minute to make sure no one had heard, but my property had no close neighbors—yet.
While the unbending tarp had helped on the stairs, on the wheelbarrow it balanced on the two ends without sinking into the bottom making it difficult to move and balance. I gritted my teeth and pushed down in the middle, felt a few hard things resist my pressure, but it gave way, putting weight into the bottom of the wheelbarrow so I could maneuver it.
The concrete stoop at the back door had sunk over years to the level of the surrounding yard. When not a creature stirred, I placed the shovel in the wheelbarrow aside the body, put my back into my task, turning the wheelbarrow around, and toted the body through the backyard and through the trees, having cleared the path yesterday.
I’ve always tried to think ahead, like selling three acres to that nice young couple. Now that I was older having a few youngsters around was a good idea. They were so grateful that they dropped by one time to show me their blueprints since we would be neighbors.
Well back from the property line and masked by a row of trees, the footers had been poured for the house and for a separate garage. I’d watched the men use a bobcat to level the ground for the slab of both structures. After Christmas, I’d heard, they would dump and level four inches of stone on top of the dirt, put a vapor barrier over the stone, then pour concrete over top of it and smooth it. Like I said, I think ahead, and it was now or never. I could dig dirt, but I never could have shoveled all that stone.
I edged the wheelbarrow over to the footers of the garage. Using the young couple was bad enough. I couldn’t go to my grave knowing they were living over top of Bobby. Having a half-ton truck over top of him though, sort of made me feel good. Would keep that sucker down.
Although the nighttime temperatures were starting to freeze, the ground was still soft. As I dug the grave, I thought about what I’d done. Bastard—and that wasn’t swearing—that was my opinion. I should know since his mother was my mother-in-law. Carol had died fifteen years ago. How two sons could have been so different, I didn’t know. He must have had a different father than my late husband, Darren, who died in Vietnam. Nurture or nature, who’s to say? Maybe holding her responsible wasn’t fair. She was widowed, too, and helped out with the kids, offering money when I was short. Life hadn’t been easy as a widow with two kids, especially when Carol kept saying that at least she had one son left, that is, until Bobby disappeared—under the tarp.
After Darren’s death, Bobby started coming around like he was filling his brother’s shoes. He’d do a few chores for me and play with the kids. At first, I’d appreciated him taking the time. He seemed like the good man his brother had been. But, when I came though the hallway and saw him reaching into my little girl’s pants, fiddling, I backed away. The terror I’d seen in my daughter’s eyes brought a burning anger over me. Bad enough to have lost her dad, but to suffer at the hands of her pervert uncle—I got angry at God for letting that happen.
My son’s baseball bat was in his room. I grabbed the bat and placed it near her doorway in the hall, made some noise and entered my daughter’s room, telling her to go outside to play with her brother. She seemed relieved and ran down the stairs. Bobby sat on the bed with bewilderment on his face, like he was wondering what had gotten into me. His performance was sickening. So caught up in acting innocent, when I leaned out into the hallway and got the baseball bat, he didn’t notice. I whacked him real good the first time, but I continued until I was sure he was dead. Clear as a bell, I heard Darren’s voice telling me that I’d done the right thing. Maybe I imagined that part, but I didn’t feel guilty. Jenny liked the new drapes and bedspread I bought for her.
The investigation hadn’t amounted to much. Carol reported his disappearance right away. They asked us a bunch of questions those first few days. I worried they’d come back after the body started smelling, but the investigation went on the backburner. I went into the police station a time or two to try and help them, which also saved them the trip out to my house. After a few months, Bobby’s name didn’t come up much anymore.
Even though I didn’t feel guilty, I’ve prayed for my soul since then. The good Book says thou shall not kill, but then there were always exceptions to the rules. My motherhood manual said to protect your kids. I wondered for a while about if I should have made a big stink and forced Bobby to get treatment and rehabilitation. But, I’ve looked at the statistics. Pedophiles don’t change their stripes. None of that would have done any good. Killing him was the only solution.
Anger must have fueled me. Before long, I had dug a grave about six feet down. I dumped the body and shoveled the dirt back into the hole. Not all of it fit. Men don’t notice little, old ladies, but little, old ladies notice everything. Spying on them, I took note of the tool they had used to smooth the dirt and where they kept it and the key. I liberated the metal rake, smoothed and leveled the hole with the surrounding dirt, erasing my footprints as well. Once they poured stone, the dirt would sink some more, but if anyone noticed, they’d think that it needed more stone and fill in the depression. No one would know after they covered the stone with vapor barrier and concrete. I returned their metal rake, locking it as they had and putting the key back in their hidey-hole. Then, I put my shovel inside my wheelbarrow and carted it home.
As I threw my gloves and the tarp into the fire barrel I’d already stuffed with kindling and lit, I looked up. The sky was dark, but one star shone brighter than the rest. The star might have looked the same as that night above the manger. The brilliance of the star lit my face and twinkled. I’d like to think that it was a sign of forgiveness. I’d been real good. Carol might not have believed me, might have turned me in. I couldn’t let that happen. I had my kids to raise. But then, I also thought not revealing his death and what caused his death had been a kindness to her. Not knowing was hard. But then, knowing would have been harder, I thought.
I prayed until the fire died and went into my car to retrieve the dough. One day I’ll find out if I’ve been forgiven, but in the meantime, I planned to enjoy Christmas with my family.
You can find more of E.B.’s short stories, and more Christmas short stories, in KRL’s Terrific Tales section.