“A Dangerous Story”
By F.J. Wilson
The Pecan leaves made lacy shadows across her face as she lay in the soft weeds. ‘Mary Beth’ remembered summers of long ago picking up the pecans in the fall; filling up the burlap sacks and turning in the bounty at the end of the day for a nickel a pound. So much money for such a little girl to have, fifty cents or even seventy-five cents on a good Saturday. But now the old pecan trees held no bounty, only secrets; bad secrets that scar the soul and break the spirit. She lay until the moon came directly overhead caressing her wounded soul and damaged body making her feel oddly young again; strong and invincible.
He left early; didn’t even bother to wake her; just packed a quick bag and walked out the door as if going to work. She knew from his love making the night before he’d be leaving; she felt it in his touch and in his kiss. Then his eyes said; this is the end, there is no more; I’ve spent my time here and you’re not enough for me to stay longer. How to feel? Did she love him? Was she relieved at his leaving? He took too much of her with him. He carried parts of her in his heart and soul and even his smell held her cologne. She felt used up and dismantled. He took the best parts of her and threw the rest back; those parts weren’t good enough so he allowed her to keep them.
She used the biggest knife in the kitchen drawer… the one that always made her think of bad things in bad people… the one that made her shudder every time she saw it. Lying quietly under the trees in the dark she carved her initials in her leg. They’d say she was crazy, but she had to prove to herself that she wasn’t afraid and she existed outside his love. She was alive and she knew who she was. So she carved her initials in her thigh, in capital letters, and thought about adding some vines and flowers around the initials, like an old embroidered handkerchief she’d once seen in a ladies purse at church, but the blood was coming so fast she couldn’t see how to place the design, so she blotted the opened places on her leg and applied pressure with the edge of her jacket. She stared at her little farm house on the edge of the orchard to see if he’d returned, knowing he hadn’t.
As a moving cloud un-covered the moon Deputy Travis saw the slight movement in the orchard… low under the tree. It was too small to be a cow in trouble and no calves had been born lately. Some dread pulled him out of his Patrol Car and into the orchard. He drew his gun and walked steadily toward the movement. It was a person; maybe kids necking or doing drugs. He left his flash light on the front seat of the patrol car, no time to turn back to get it, he’d have to use what moonlight was available.
“I’m a Deputy Sheriff, stand up and let me see who you are?”
The movement stopped and the quiet took on an ominous roar in his ears. He heard the stories told about this orchard, about the things people had seen and heard.
“Stand up, I can’t see you.” His heart beat so fast he had to steady his gun with both hands.
“I said, stand up! Put your hands on your head.” That’d let them know he was armed.
“I can’t. Help me.” The voice was soft and sad but her voice stopped the roaring in his ears.
He started to breathe again, it was a girl and she seemed to be in trouble. Still, he kept the pressure on the weapon. Women could be just as dangerous as men. Why was she out here by herself unless she was up to no good?
“I can’t stand up. I’ve hurt myself.” The voice was weak and very scared.
“Stay there I’ll help you, do you need an ambulance?”
“I think so.” She had panicked when he drove up and the headlights lighted up the night and the puddle of liquid red that was her thigh. The fear brought her mind back from wherever it’d been to cause such violent behavior.
“Oh, Jesus what have I done?” Morgan stared down at the butcher knife lying between her legs on the ground, its work over; a tool to be reckoned with for a job well done… evidenced by the gashes in her leg. Then she remembered she had come into the orchard to clear her head and take a break from the characters she’d been creating on her computer. ‘Carl’ had just left ‘Mary Beth’ in the ghost story she was writing and it had become too real for her; she needed to step away and get a breath of air and go back to it later. She heard the Deputy speak into his radio and ask for help as she looked up at the moon and saw that the moon didn’t care, the pecan leaves had begun to ignore her and the very ground on which she was bleeding seemed to want to be elsewhere. She knew she mattered to no one and she’d never felt this alone in her whole life.
Travis ran and talked as he tried to get back to her with the first aid kit and call for an ambulance at the same time. He could see the blood through the headlights of the car. There was a lot of it and she looked to be getting weaker as he ran to her. The blood was coming from large gashes on her left leg. Moments like this he questioned his choice of careers. Travis, by nature was a gentle soul and disliked violence. His mama thought he carried a deep foolish need to rid the world of all bad people. His daddy understood him though; he knew Travis just wanted to make a difference in this world and leave it a better place for his having been.
“Mam, stay awake for me, okay? The ambulance will be here in a minute, stay with me alright, we’ll get you fixed up real soon. Just stay with me now. Come on, stay with me.”
He pulled the towel he brought with the first aid kit from the trunk and applied direct pressure to the wound, praying there was nothing in the gash he was driving further into her leg, Jesus, why hadn’t he paid more attention at the EMR Seminars.
“Mam, can you tell me what happened? Don’t go to sleep okay, I need you to stay with me and tell me what happened.” She was sinking into unconsciousness but he could hear the ambulance.
“Thank God, Mark’s on duty tonight, he gets here before yesterday, this is your lucky day; he’ll be here any minute. Stay with me, now. Yes mam, this could be your lucky day. Can you tell me your name?”
Morgan had to think through the fog that used to be her memory. Her name, what was her name, Morgan, of course, Morgan. Who could forget their own name? But when she tried to open her mouth, her jaw was so heavy she couldn’t make it work and the smell was back, that horribly sweet bitter smell that clogged the brain and burned the nose. Her name was Morgan, and she was dying alone… but her name was ‘Mary Beth’ a character she herself created… the moon looked down with disdain.
Travis helped get the unconscious woman into the ambulance, and went back to his Patrol car to report in to the Sheriff. He’d have to take the big flash light from the front seat and go over every inch of that pecan orchard to see if there were tracks or clues to what happened. He carefully went around the orchard stepping slowly not to destroy precious information that he’d need later. He probably should wait for the Sheriff, but instead, he continued to the house alone and walked around outside looking inside the windows. The bright lights of the house illuminated each corner and space a person could possibly hide. One closet door in the bedroom was closed and stood un-inviting and foreboding. It was the only place a person could be hiding. Travis took a deep breath, un-holstered his gun and started up the steps and across the porch and opened the front door. He stood just inside, looking at
the little farm house just as it was left. Travis could see the woman’s computer screen was moving to the swaying tulips of Holland in a brightly colored screen saver. The cup of coffee next to a pile of mail to be opened waited to be refilled and probably reheated and the desk that represented so much of the woman’s life stood disheveled but comfortable waiting for a return. One wall was covered with the framed awards and book jackets of a very successful writing career. A broken Ouija Board had been stuffed in a waste basket under the desk along with books on the paranormal, their worn pages flagged and tagged from seemingly extensive research. There was a lingering smell of rosemary on baked chicken drifting through the open kitchen door drawn out by the draft from the front door. He walked cautiously into the kitchen and looked around. The knife drawer was open creating the only disturbance in an otherwise orderly and homey kitchen. Travis opened the back screen door and stepped out carefully, wondering if something happened to him would his dad remember to let his dog, Missy out of the barn and feed her before morning. He went back in the house and walked closer to the little closet, and thought of all the ‘Let’s Make A Deal’s’ of his childhood. “Will you take door number one, or what’s behind the curtain?” Travis got in position to open the door and be prepared to kill. What was that smell, stronger as he went closer to the closet, sweet, horribly sweet, bitter and old. And where did the different fear come from. This was not the fear of a human adversary waiting in a small closet; but horrible un-recognizable fear. The fear mixed itself into the sweet horrible smell and became, white fear, debilitating white fear slowing him down and yet making him sweat. He stopped not because of his fear, but because his feet wouldn’t move forward. The smell so sick and sweet now, his nose was stopping up and his eyes were filling with tears and the tears were burning his eyes as if cutting into strong onions… he couldn’t see. They were running into his mouth, choking him on the sickly sweet salt water flowing from his eyes. The tears ran off his chin and down his arms to his gun and nothing in this world could make him open that door. He tried to bury his face in the sleeve of his shirt, but nothing stopped the awful burning or the disgusting smell. He found the courage to move by backing up toward the front door. The tears dried up and the fear began to lift and the smell took on a color and it was the color of dried rotting roses and brown clotted blood. The putrid color of the smell gathered itself together and floated across his vision back into the closet. Travis smelled that odor on the girl in the orchard. He’d thought it was blood, but now he could identify the sickly sweet stench of the rotting petals and decaying flesh. He heard the siren of the patrol car coming into the orchard and went out on the front porch to make sense of what had just happened… and to get away from the evil in the house.
Curtis got out of the patrol car and walked up on the porch.
“Jesus Travis, what happened to you, you look like you gone’ faint boy?”
“Give me a minute, Curtis, I‘ve been through a lot here, how’s the girl?”
“She ain’t gone make it. Did she tell you anything?”
Travis suddenly became scared and began to sweat again. Curtis could see he was genuinely frightened of what’d happened tonight. Travis didn’t want to admit it, but he knew what ever was in that closet was not from around this planet and certainly not human. He’d seen enough ghost stories on TV to know there was some evil in that closet and it had probably destroyed that poor woman.
“Curtis, you believe in ghost?” He tried to sound calm, but his hands were trembling and he had to put them in his pockets so Curtis wouldn’t notice them.
“I don’t know. Myra and I used to get spooked out in the old cemetery when we used to go park and neck out there. Why? You seen a ghost boy?” Curtis loved picking on Travis. The only way he could still believe in himself was to keep Travis from out-doing him at every turn. Curtis was too old to be doing this anymore, but couldn’t quit. He knew if he quit, he’d die. Being a Sheriff was all he knew. He had no other skills and no hobbies and he hated being in the same room with Myra. Travis had come along, a young man, likeable and good at his job and suddenly Curtis felt old and used up; worn out and somehow blamed it all on Travis.
“What happened to her, Curtis?”
“She tried to monogram herself with that butcher knife you found out there. One sick bitch, boy.”
“God, Curtis, shut up! Don’t you ever just get sick of your own mouth?”
“Nope.” It irritated the hell out of Curtis for Travis to pull his ‘better than thou’ gentleman stuff. Of course the woman was sick, cutting herself up that way. He turned to look at Travis and saw again how upset the kid was. Reaching down to a place he kept well hidden he pulled up some sympathy for the kid.
“Look, kid, this is tough. I’ve just seen a lot more of this crap than you. You get a little rough around the edges over the years. What did you find inside?”
Travis looked at the older man and saw he was serious and really wanted to know.
“Evil, evil… and it stank, Curtis and it burns the eyes.”
“Boy, you been out here in these old woods by yourself too long. What the hell you talking about?”
“Do me a favor Curtis”?
“Go inside there and look in the bedroom closet.”
“Why you to scared to?” Curtis loosened the safety strap across his holster and went inside.
“Well, come on, give me some backup, If I’m gonna find the boogie man in the closet, I ain’t doin it by myself. One damn closet in the whole house and I can’t believe you ain’t checked it out. If there was anybody in there, he’d be long gone out the back while we was standin’ here jawin’.”
Travis stood just inside the front door. He wasn’t about to go back in the bedroom, but he could shoot from here if anyone should jump out. Besides, he knew there was no one human in there to jump out.
Curtis approached the closet…
“If you’re in the closet, come out with your hands up, or I’m comin in”. He stepped out of the way of the door as he flung it open and aimed. Just as Travis had known… there was no one. Travis looked at the closet and back at Curtis?
A few dresses, a sweater and jacket were the only things hanging in the little closet. Travis saw some computer disks and office supplies on the top shelf. A few shoes and a tired umbrella took up space where just a few minutes before there was deep, horrible evil.
“I told you kid, you got ya pecker all shrunk up for nothin’.”
Like all people who have an encounter with another world, Travis began to wonder if he’d imagined it. After all, he’d been through a lot tonight with the woman bleeding to death right there in front of him and everything. Other than a few car wrecks that was his first real look at so much blood and from a suicide yet. Maybe something as morally and spiritually wrong as suicide creates that kind of evil and he just happened to get in its way.
“Curtis, I’m gonna go see that woman and see how she is. You wanna stay here and lock up?”
“Sure kid, go ahead, you’ve had a rough one.” Curtis tried to remember a time he’d been as moved by death as Travis and couldn’t.
Travis got to the hospital minutes before Morgan died. He walked softly into the room and looked down at her small deathly white face. Why would anyone be in such despair as to kill themselves? And how could anyone be in such misery as to do it the way she did? Travis bent down close to her ear and started to say a sweet good-bye to the woman he didn’t know, couldn’t save, and didn’t understand; but the smell was there, in her hair, on her skin, and mingling on her last breaths. He jerked his head up so fast, it startled what was left of her energy and she opened her eyes. She looked into his and recognized the man who had tried to save her.
“Morgan?” Travis wanted so badly to have the answers of her life.
“Mary Beth”. She whispered in that sickly sweet breath, that was so horrible he was going to vomit, and he was having trouble staying in the same room with her.
Travis walked out of the hospital in a daze. He’d never been that close to someone dying before. He needed to get home. He needed to see his mom watching her soap operas she taped while at work. She’d be sitting in her chair with her shoes off; stocking feet propped on the little stool that was his grandma’s. He didn’t need to tell her all of this; it’d just upset her, but he needed to be there in the room with his mom. He could tell his dad all about it later at the bar over a few beers and he’d help him make sense out of it, but right now he just needed to be in the room with his mom. He needed to smell his mom and get rid of the sweet sick odor of rotting roses and decaying flesh. Travis drove to his mother’s house and walked around to the kitchen door. She was home and just as he hoped was watching her soaps.
“Hey, honey, you want me to put this on pause?”
“No mam, I just came to get something out of my old room.”
“What is it, I’ve been cleaning back there; you won’t know where anything is.”
“You know what, Mom, I’ll get it later. Are there any cokes in the icebox?”
“Yeah, honey, help yourself. Since when do you ask for something in the ice box?”
Travis realized this was a mistake, she’d see through him in one more heartbeat if she hadn’t already and he just wasn’t ready to discuss it yet.
“Travis, honey, come here, Mama wants to say something to you.”
“Oh shit.” Travis knew what that meant. She was going to open it up. He’d just have to think of something else, even though he was never able to lie to her.
“Travis, now I don’t want you to get upset about this, but I’ve been thinking of using your old room as my office. I could work from here instead of having to pay office space down at the square any more. Would you mind that too much?”
Travis almost laughed out loud from relief.
“Mama, that’s not my room anymore; this is your house. I have my own house; do what you want. I‘ll go through it this week-end and get some things I want to keep and you can sell the rest. I think an office is a great idea in there.”
“Well, I didn’t want you to think you never had this house to come home to, if you needed it.”
Travis walked over to his mom and kissed her on the top of her head and inhaled her shampoo. He had gotten what he needed, he was back on earth and his feet were once more walking on solid ground. He said a little prayer that it’d be many years before he had to live without her.
“I’ll see you later, Mom I’m going back to work.” He was out the door before she could offer the usual food or drink, and headed to his patrol car.
The little farm house looked empty and lost on the edge of the pecan orchard as he drove up. Could he do this? It was part of his job, part of the investigation. No one knew but him that he couldn’t stay away. He had to find out what this was that killed a woman and almost scared him to death. He’d seen the house, hadn’t he gone through it looking for a suspect? There was nothing in that house that looked like a woman would run out into a field and stab herself to death. He didn’t know that much about suicides, but he suspected a neat, organized living style didn’t go along with one. He got out of the car and walked up the porch steps. The little swing was swaying gently in the night breeze and the door was shut but not locked. Curtis probably couldn’t find a key, which means the locksmith is probably on his way.
The house was pleasant, and there was a slight odor of rosemary left in the kitchen. The screen saver was still waving tulips. The desk was inviting, a little messy but comfortable and Travis decided to start with the computer first. He picked up the mouse and the computer jumped to life. There on the screen was the first page of a story or novel or article, he couldn’t tell what. He sat at the chair that had seen better days and began to read.
The Pecan Orchard
By Morgan A. Wallace
“The lace of the pecan leaves made a shadow resembling a scar across her face as she lay on her back, in the soft weeds under the old pecan tree. Mary Beth remembered summers of long ago, picking up pecans in the fall, filling up the burlap sacks, turning…”
He read further and got to the pecan orchard and Mary Beth cutting her legs and then Morgan waking up having cut hers instead and then he saw himself on the page, pulling up in his patrol car, he was able to read his thoughts and scrolling down he saw his fear with the evil thing, and saw his visit to Morgan and her dying. Then he remembered her saying Mary Beth, but Mary Beth is the woman in the story and Morgan wrote the story. Then Travis read about his mom sitting in her chair watching TV and talking to him… and by the time he was reading how he sat at the computer to find Morgan, it was getting light and his fear had become a dangerous thing of traps and tricks and he couldn’t see any way out.
And then, there was the smell of roses and it was sweet; lovely; enticing and mesmerizing and he followed it to the orchard. The air was the color of red roses and summer. It was safe inside the ball of sweet air. He wanted to be there and the only way to get there was to die He wanted that more than anything he’d ever wanted in his life, so he pulled his gun out of its holster and walked with the thing to the orchard. The pecan leaves were making morning shadows on the grass.
Curtis saw the patrol car parked in front of the old farm house. Had that kid stayed here all night trying to prove something to himself? He pulled into the drive and parked next to the other car. The house was asleep, no sign of anyone around. Curtis walked in and looked at the place, how neat, how orderly. He went over to the desk and looked down at the little laptop sitting there, tulips waving in the Holland landscape. Maybe he would buy this from the estate. The coroner made his decision this morning, suicide, and there seemed to be no relatives as yet. He reached down, took the mouse and opened the story she’d been working on.
“Well, she won’t need this now.” Without reading it he highlighted the pages and hit delete. The screen turned grey and Curtis felt a rush of cold wind pulling back and out of the little farm house.
“Jesus, must be some storm comin up out there.” Curtis closed the computer and put it under his arm as he walked out of the house. He opened the trunk and put the computer on an old blanket he kept for his lucky nights with Myra’s sister. He figured he should look for Travis.
“Damn kid’s probably got himself lost or fell in a well.”
Travis was dying all morning. He never knew it took so long to die. When he woke a few minutes ago he felt fine; he felt his spirit had left and then returned. But he remembered the blood; he’d been choking on blood all morning. He spat out a mouthful and looked at his chest, surely he’d meant to hit his heart and hadn’t. He remembered wanting to die, but didn’t know why. Must’ve been some dream. He looked up and saw Curtis walking towards him.
“Oh, man, not this early in the morning. Curtis. Why you out here so early?”
“Hell, I could ask you that same thing, Jesus, Travis what’s all that blood from, are you hurt? You shot yourself? My, God, Travis; what the hell’s goin’ on?” He reached down to check on the wound, but Travis pushed him away.
Travis didn’t know; he didn’t know anything anymore. All he knew was he was dying… then he wasn’t. He was with his mom… then he wasn’t. He was hating the smell of roses… then loving the smell of roses. He needed his dad, he could tell him all of this and his dad would help him get to the bottom of it.
“I’m going over to see my dad. I’ll be gone today.”
“Travis you better come back here and answer some questions about this blood and that lady dying in this same spot. You hear me, come on back now, you got some talkin’ to do. Travis, you’ve been shot, get back here and wait for the ambulance. Travis, damn it.”
“You have no idea how many answers I need right now, Curtis, back off.”
Travis got in his patrol car and pulled out of the orchard. Curtis was still yelling about ambulances and being told to back off as Travis turned onto the highway and headed toward town. Sometimes a man just needs to talk to his father and get answers.