Once upon a time, things were what they are and if nothing had happened I'd have no story to tell.
Before my father passed, he and I used to go on hunting trip every two weeks. There were still large pieces of land back then, the world wasn't quite so over populated and animals lived where they should-in the wild. And in the wild is where my pa and I would find ourselves every other weekend with hunting rifles, dressed in khakis and eating tuna sandwiches, stalking the wood that made up the Northern outskirts of New Kitchener County in Alabama. What mainly populated that wood was ducks, bucks, and mean old grizzlies. Of course, my pa and I, we hunted the ducks and bucks and left the grizzlies to their own tracking.
And for me this was fine. I mean, most girls my age would scream and cry when I told them I hunted and killed Bambi every other Saturday, but it never bothered me, except one time I got to thinking all philosophically bout this and that such and how God giveth life and all that hoo hah. We weren't of the religious sort, my family and I, but one day I was telling a schoolmate we called Father Pie about my hunting and he told me about God and how He was the only one who was allowed to give or take life, especially since we killed those ducks but never ate them, or the deer for that matter cause some government bumpkin came out and told us all that the animals in the wood were not so good for eating on account of them drinking the contaminated water from the stream or some such nonsense.
So on our next hunting outing I told my pa what Father Pie had said to me about killing just for fun and how it was wrong and all.
And my da, well, he got all real serious like and grabbed my shoulder just so and leaned down to look me in the eye, and he said, "Honey bunches, sometimes as folks we need to do something a little wrong to keep us from doing something a lot wrong, and if God does exist, I'm sure He appreciates the effort."
Jeremiah Ryan's Last Round
Jeremiah was a good Lad
Who always looked in sensible light
Who never followed his friends' fad
But always did what was right
Jeremiah Ryan stands, quite rad
Raven hair shining as he bows in the spotlight
Jeremiah Ryan had been the paperboy in his neighborhood for over three years, and in November 1974, business was a-booming as ever.
Jerry did the paper run every morning, riding his bike in fine weather and borrowing his dad's old beat-up Chevy when the weather was poor. He'd been doing this for three years, and after so many years of service he knew one thing for sure: he'd miss having an excuse to wake up at the crack of dawn every day to ride his bike around his lovely neighborhood. He really would; the people in New Kitchener had much and more appreciation for a good paper boy and they had practically given him the money for his college tuition as well as a flood of recommendations that had put him on the Dean's list and, coupled with being valedictorian, had allotted him a partial scholarship to Yale.
And today was his last run.
It was sort of fitting that the weather be Sunny despite threatening rain for the past few days, and the little traffic that passed him had been folks smiling and waving real nicely, them knowing he was leaving the next day and all.
Everything that day was on the bright and shiny until he passed Beth's house. He and Beth had been 'together' since they were both twelve, childhood sweethearts if ever one could believe that love could be found so you, and grew up to be close friends and practically engaged for the past year. Only, Beth had had to abandon her acceptance into Yale on account of her father was a giant dick-mind you- and wouldn't let her go far away and wouldn't let his daughter get loans. He passed the house and threw the newspaper and for a second caught a glimpse of her unmistakable honey-blonde hair through the window.
There was pang in his heart. They had had a terrible fight the night before, worse then they'd ever been through-and that was saying a lot since they had a knack for bickering. Beth had laid it all clear that she was sure that he would find some Yale girl who would replace Beth in his heart so: "Let us be honest to ourselves. You're gonna want this girl instead of your ghostly Beth which all you have of her is a photograph by your bed, and then there'll be tears and shock and heartbreak six months from now instead of leaving it up as friends right here on good terms, what do you say?" He had disagreed and they'd fought: screaming, yelling, throwing things and crying most of the night and had ended up leaving each other on really bad terms with nothing resolved between them.
But now Jerry was a man with a plan. Last night, after the fight, he had bought Beth a ring and decided that he would marry her, that way she could reapply to Yale the next semester and let her dad be damned. In the meantime, they could live in one of those campus houses for married people who went there. The idea flourished wonderfully in Jerry's mind as he rode his bike past the house, with only a pang of apprehension that he quickly shook off, he knew Beth well enough to know she went along with plans the crazier the better. She'd yell at him for being a fool, tell him he must be out of his mind, point out everything wrong with his plan, tell him it wouldn't work, and then with tears in her gorgeous gray say yes and ask what time were they leaving.
The image brought a smile to Jerry's lips as he made a turn into the woods.
The woods were just on the outskirts of New Kitchener, a dreary old place full of hanging, gnarl root trees and yellowing grass. The whole place simply looked unhealthy, of course, this was largely due to a pharmaceutical company spilling wastes into the lake that is the source of the streams responsible for keeping the place alive. So the grass and trees looked deformed and the game, what little was left, were underfed animals that were likely given mercy when they were shot. Not that anyone really shot things anymore, being inedible, as the animals were they, lost a large part of their appeal existing as they did now, in a cruel sort of irony safe from the hunter's rifle. Jerry rode through there every day, a shortcut that connected the lower class houses in the low neighborhood where Jerry lived to the upper class part neighborhood that saved Jerry twenty minutes off his rounds and made him ever the more popular with the more wealthy inhabitants of New Kitchener, and really, they had been the true funders of his Yale college funds.
Jerry only spared his depressing surroundings a glance as he sped away-a superstition unbeknownst to him sending chills down his spine and making the tiny hairs on his arms stand erect. A natural reflex from watching one too many horror films made him feel the need to look behind him in case a guy with some terrifying mask was following. Looking back, of course, he saw nothing, and in doing this action his entirely missed the danger that was approaching ahead, a large rock was in his path. Just as he swung his gaze to the front of him, he saw that he had gone off course and was speeding into the rock. And Jerry felt his heart bend as if bracing for impact, a feeling of rawness in his chest, he tried to swerve away but it was far too late.
Jerry marveled in the unexpected feeling of being half-propelled and half-entangled by his bike as his front wheel collided with the large stone, the impact was far more intense than he had guessed in the fateful split second before he collided. Jerry's upper half was weightless for a long moment before gravity kicked in and he began to fall fast. His flailing arms managed to break his fall to a degree that his face didn't take much punishment when his chest and abdomen met the dusty ground with a loud thud. His left knee collided with the ground and for a second, Jerry saw stars as the bike landed with him and his right leg became entangled in the chain.
Jerry lay in the dirt for several moments, shocked and in pain. Gingerly, he forced his arms to dig into the ground and he pushed himself up, turning as far as he could to survey the damage done to his legs. His right leg was painfully entangled in the chain, its metal edges biting into the flesh of his calf, while the jeans on his left leg was torn at the knee and he could see a sickening amount of blood, dirt and something white that he prayed was not bone.
"Shit!" he gasped at his leg when he tried to move, "Shit, shit, shit!" he turned as far as he could, winded by the effort he lay down on his back, dry heaving from pain and fear.
"Shit." A small voice said. Jerry sat up quickly, his eyes darting between the trees and the shadows, "Who's there?" he whimpered.
"Who's there?" the voice echoed, its tone somewhat mocking.
"C'mon, whoever's there, I've hurt myself bad, please…help me!" Jerry was almost crying now.
Suddenly there was rustling in the trees, and out of the shadows came a girl who couldn't have been more than ten or eleven. She was a skinny thing, and from beneath a thicket of long, curly platinum hair was a sallow, angular face with warm honey colored eyes. She was dressed in a too-big vintage brown dress that looked so faded it may have been red in another life. The bottom of the dress was cut haphazardly around her calves to reveal two bare feet and the skin of her bare arms, calves, neck and face was so fair that the light gray-brown stains made it seem as if they were in fact shadows, hollowing out her already bony exterior. "Hello," she said in a hoarse yet calm voice, she made no move to assist him.
"Hello!" Jeremiah cried haplessly, "Please, I've been hurt, could you move the bike."
For a second, the girl looked as if she might turn away, but, much to Jerry's relief, she tentatively made her knock kneed way to where Jeremiah lay.
He smiled up at her as she slowly undid the chain around his leg, "I'm Jeremiah, you can call me Jerry though."
The girl didn't reply, her warm gaze fixed upon the task of undoing the tangle of chain. Finally, with a final harsh tug, she pulled the rusted, bloody chain clear away from Jerry's leg, and held it at arm's length, dangling it over his head.
"I suppose I'll have to get a new one, eh?" Jerry breathed uneasily. In the silence of the wood, one could hear a pin drop, the sound of the chain rattling could have been a bomb going off. "Umm…would you mind helping me lift the bike, my arms are shaking real bad."
The rattling stopped. She turned her warm eyes to Jerry's green ones, and Jerry realized he had been wrong. People say that brown-eyed people are warm, he looked closely and found only ice in the honey colored pools, "My pa and I used to hunt things here…we used to kill deer."
"That's...nice," Jerry said, more questioningly than anything else.
"Ever kill a deer before?" she asked quietly.
"No," Jerry replied, "n-no, I never was one for hunting, and you can't eat the game anyway." Jerry began to try and force the bike off him but there was so much pain and his arms were so weak from the shock he can hardly bare to keep them up.
"You know, before it dies, a buck will twitch and like gasp for a long time, sometimes for several minutes. My dad usually shoots it in the head if it keeps on but I once watched one twitch for an 'ole hour." The girl paused.
Jerry didn't reply to that, so she continued on, "I've always wondered," now grasping the two ends of the chain between her hands and pulling it taught, "what do people do when they're dying?"
Jerry tried to grasp for an answer, but it was needless. The girl quickly closed the distance between the two of them and stretched the chain across Jerry's neck until she saw blood pool around it. Jerry thrashed and moaned and gasped as she forced the chain harder into his throat. He choked, tears streaming from his green eyes as he stared unseeingly into the girl's cold eyes, forcing into his mind's eye instead the image of Beth, smiling with tears in her blue, almond shaped eyes, saying: "Yes, you idiot, yes!"
Jerry closed his eyes against the image before him and let Beth and his mother and father fill his mind, all of them smiling at him.
Jerry's face had turned blue by the time he stopped breathing and the girl let go. The undertaker had done his job satisfactorily that day, although it had been depressing to work on someone so healthy looking and young, but he had had to use extra makeup that day, to hide the unnatural blue pallor and all the cuts and bruises, poor kid.
Almost the entire neighborhood had attended his funeral, Jerry's mother had made it an open ceremony because she knew she couldn't possibly know all the people on Jerry's paper route who would want to pay their respects, and right she'd been.
So while all the neighbors talked among themselves, Jerry's mom and Beth had set arm in arm crying themselves silly in the back as Mr. Ryan took care of the fine details.
And in the upper part of town, a mother read about a dead paperboy and cleaned a brown dress caked in mud and something else.