Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chapter II: The Bloody Orange Grove

The future was usually never clear, yet it was contained in all things. If he concentrated, Bill could feel it, but the future was never as coherent as the past. The edges of his mental images of what was to come arrived as a fuzzy and distorted mental assault. The future was almost always a touch out of focus.

But not always, at least not with those things whose feel he had known the best. The future taunted him in his former life, so he left it behind, leaving it as far behind and as quickly as possible. That was why he was where he was today. The past, set in stone, had been left behind in favor of an uncertain present. Bill fled the future and all those fears which came along with a foreknowledge of days to come. The future was anything but bright. The darkness ahead tainted even his most pleasant memories.

He refused to ever touch Shelby again, not after last time. He saw the legs of his wife wrapped around the legs of another man. He heard her moaning and breathing heavily. She screamed out an ecstatic burst of sound. She bit her smiling lip, and he tried to remember if she had ever done that with him? He could not remember her doing so, but then again, his eyes were often closed. He knew she made sounds, but these sounds were different. They were not the same sounds she made for him. She was not with him. Bill knew the body she entangled herself with was not his own. There were lines around Shelby's eyes, and he knew she was older. This transgression on their marital vows had not happened yet, but it would. He could feel it in her skin. He felt it in her lips when she kissed him, and knew it to be true.

Touch can be trusted more than the other senses. The eyes deceive. Audible hallucinations are common, and echoes confuse. Phantom perfumes haunt us in moments of melancholy. Sometimes we can taste the lips of those we love long after our last kiss. But the fingers never lie. Through touch you decipher what is tangible and can separate that from dreams. How do you know you aren't dreaming? What's the old stereotypical gesture? You pinch yourself. Pain is touch, too.

With this new understanding in mind, Bill trusted his touch and pulled away from Shelby. What choice did he have? Her future infidelity was all he could see. There were no other thoughts in his head when around her.

While silent tears streaked down his face, he walked down the hallway and into his kids’ room. Bill stood between his two children while they slept, softly snoring and unknowing in their beds.

From the doorway, watching Bill as he stood over their children, Shelby asked what was wrong. He ignored her. He sat down between the twin beds and reached his hands out. He wanted to feel the comforting touch of his children. He wanted to feel their love and perhaps a hint of loyalty. This seemed especially important at the time after what he had felt with his wife.

He felt the softness and warmth of their young skin, and then he felt them. He really felt his children. Through his touch, he felt who they were and what they would become. He saw bruises and tears and heard screaming voices and blood – so much blood – and his son now a man behind bars with blood-stained hands and his daughter in tears yelling and slapping children that looked a little bit like him with their tawny blonde hair and green eyes. It was too much to feel all at once, and he knew in that moment he would never enjoy the touch of his children again. Their futures were unclear, but he had seen enough to know that they would hurt and hurt others as well. That was enough, that was too much, and Bill turned away.

"Where are you going? Bill? What’s going on?” Shelby asked.

Bill could hear her fighting back frightened tears. He understood her confusion.

Bill looked at Shelby, reached out his hand, nearly touched her, and said, “I’m leaving.” He wondered how he could ever explain why he must leave. He reached for her hand. Just before they touched, the image he had seen earlier flared up in his mind. He jerked his hand away. Bill tried to hide his anger and control his voice. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll find someone else.”

He wrapped himself in his clothes – as many as he could put on his body, to cover his skin as completely as possible – and left the comfortable suburb he had called home for so long behind and never looked back. He looked forward, always wary of what the future would bring, always ready to dodge the future if needed, and avoided all things and people as much as possible. The less he touched, the less he knew. He didn't want to know anymore, didn't want to feel anymore. His touch hurt too badly.
While travelling, Bill learned it was usually easiest to sleep in natural areas far away from the impressions of people and all their unnatural pains and sins and self-inflicted damages. He had taken some money with him when he left the house, of course, but found it hurt to use that money. There was so much pain hidden inside those seemingly harmless linen bills. It was written all over the dollar, just as clear as Washington’s face. So much pain was stirred by the touch of those dollars, and the feelings and impressions of crimes and betrayals crept through his flesh and pained his very soul.

So, refusing to handle money – even just to get a hotel room, not to mention his fear of the pains he might find in hotel rooms – he chose to live off the land. It stayed relatively warm in central Florida. He knew that it would only be during a month or two, just during the peak of winter, that he would need to seek out real shelter and warmth. As long as he found a wooded place offering plenty of shelter from the sudden storms that tend roll across the panhandle, most nights were cool and mild and comfortable. The sound of crickets and distant automobiles as they thrummed down highways lulled him to sleep and sometimes his dreams were good.

Most of the time, he slept in the woods that bordered the highways. Woods were comforting. When he touched things, the stories they told were cyclical and generally happy in their own way. He saw life cycles and trees growing. He felt the warmth of green leaves unfurling and soaking up the heat of a warm summer sun. He saw death as a recycler as everything broke down to feed the trees, and these things seemed sane and safe. It made sense. At least it did most of the time.

He could sometimes see mice snatched up and screaming in the clenched claws of owls or hawks. He could smell the blood of deer as they lay dying while cougars ate away the life once contained in soft brown fur. Yet these tragedies were tempered by their functionality. Death was a byproduct of life in the forest. The natural world was orderly. When blood was shed, it became food and became life and created beauty out of chaos. To Bill, the natural world and its feelings made sense. It was comfortable and sane.

Except when it wasn't.
A simple orange grove changed everything. Bill lay down expecting to maybe feel worms working the soil or to feel oranges growing and expanding from sweet-scented blossoms. But as soon as he lay back against the earth, the long hairs on the back of his neck stiffened. He froze.
There was a girl. She was tied up with course nylon ropes. Her wrists and ankles bled. Tears fell down her face and she tried to cry out but the weak sound was muffled by duct tape. Her hair was dirty and drenched with what appeared to be clotted blood. She could not have been more than five years old, about the age of his little Chastity, but her eyes were much older. She had seen too much, far too much for a little girl her age. Bruises dotted her bare white skin. Some were fresh – red and puffy and swollen – while others were older – purple, black, and yellow indentations. Bill felt her pain and felt her fear and wet his pants. He saw her lose control of her bowels as something dragged her along by a fistful of dirty blond hair.

There was something else there in this mental impression stirred by touch, someone else. He – Bill could only assume it was a he – breathed heavily. Booted feet trudged through mud. A gloved hand clenched a fistful of hair. A monster walked forward, ignoring the sad and frantic pleas of the child. As he walked, the monster panted like a hungry dog awaiting a bowl of kibble.

There was a shine of silver. A blade glinted moonlight.

Then there was blood. Then there was more blood. The child stopped fighting. The weak cries faded altogether. The child gave up. The child became another victim, and Bill grew sick.
Bill sat up and vomited as the horrible vision began to recede from his mind. He was grateful for the gloves on his hands as he attempted to lift himself up from the tainted ground. Then under the moonlight he saw that there was something pale and white near his gloved hand. He was afraid to look but did so anyway.

The foot of a child sat on the ground. It was still and unmoving and, worst of all, unattached. Flies buzzed in the air over the bloody nub of the severed foot and another wave of sickness passed through Bill. The sky wavered overhead and Bill shook and shivered and felt suddenly cold.


  1. Got some interesting hooks there, brother. Now I will have to keep reading so I can have some of my questions answered.

  2. Thanks for swinging by, Pete! I hope I have the answers to your questions. Or perhaps I should say I know I have the answers -- I just hope they meet your expectations! :)