It was accepted as a universal truth - the population of North Fork thought Truman North was a bit of a wacko. He lived alone in the North family home out the Old Post Road. As the only remaining child, he had buried his parents at least ten years ago. Since then, the fields had gone to seed, the house and barn had never seen another coat of paint, and his only companion was a scurrilous red dog, named Rabble.
No one had any idea how he made a living. Did his family leave him money? Had he made a fortune in the city before he moved back to the farm? Had he married a wealthy widow, whom he had dispatched for the inheritance?
What they did know was that he hadn’t sold off any of his land. He didn’t hold a job in town. He never spoke to a single soul. And he spent part of each day on the roof of his house, waving a Jolly Roger when cars past by – thus his nickname, the Pirate.
* * *
Pirate Pete growled, “Arrrh. Shiver me timbers.” Six-year-old Tru ran around the living room, plastic sword in hand, patch over one eye. And it was still three days till Halloween. What was a mother to do?
“Truman Jefferson North, you stop that right now - this very minute. You’re driving me crazy,” his mother pleaded. His three-year-old sister Beth jumped off the back of the sofa, having just walked the plank under Pirate Pete’s strict direction. She struck her head on the side table, turned sideways, bounced off the magazine rack, and landed in such a manner that she broke her neck and died instantly.
* * *
The ducks glided like a stealth convoy across the still pond. Cattails stood sentinel along the north edge where the spring fed the pond. The ripples from the Mallard’s passage rocked the leaves newly fallen from the yellow ash. Magnetic lines traced through the memory of the flock as they steered towards southern marshes. The sun was a bloody disc setting through the teeth of trees lining the road from North Fork to Simpson. Tru lay belly down at the pond’s edge at duck eye level, marveling at the consistency of water. The dark was approaching. A dragonfly buzzed by, like a Kamikaze scouting targets - then disappeared - a bullfrog’s dinner. Tru rolled over onto his back, desperate for a sight of the first star light, star bright. His hair touched the moist earth at the margin of the pond. He spread his arms straight out to the side – a crucified pirate.
* * *
His mother’s drawer – a treasure cave. Soft fabrics like bedtime kisses. Silk caressing the skin like a snake slipping into a pond. Fabric packets tied with purple string. A blurry photograph – frozen couple – black, white, and grey - burned onto the face of yellowed paper. On the back – ‘Mom and Dad, Aunt Thelma’s birthday, April 26, 1948.’ A jar of smelling salts with a violet nestled amongst the crystals. A cinnamon crayon. A pair of eyelashes fluttered like a mutant butterfly when Tru buried his face in the drawer’s interior, turning from side to side – mother, mother.
* * *
Tru started in the exact middle of the field. He had measured it precisely – fence to fence. He turned left and stared walking a small square, one foot at a time, expanding outwards like the road map for a square snail. First one side then the other – outlining the square in wider and wider strides, until he covered the whole field. It took him three hours. The crows watched from a fence.
* * *
Oh no, it was coming again - the blood. Tru held his head back, and stuffed the Kleenex up his nostril. What caused it? The dryness? A thin vein in his nose? His mother had the doctor cauterize the nasal passages, but it didn’t help. It could happen at any time. In the bath – a sanguine drizzle turning the bathwater pink. At school assembly, when he would have to scoot by the snickering girls to get to the bathroom. At baseball practice. At breakfast, splashing crimson into the orange juice. In bed at night – his pillow a scarlet Rorschach inkblot. Hacking and spitting up blood clots. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus your blood at the cross, in the cup, pierced by the thorns, a stained shroud. Life draining. The gift.
* * *
The barn was a cathedral. The interior of a ship. Jonah’s journey in the whale. The sun shot though the slats of the barn - dust motes dancing and swimming like a shoal of minnows. Twelve-year-old Tru took a deep breath. He’d seen his father smoking a pipe. It must taste just like this, he thought. The barn harbored the essence of the land. The farm lived in its guts. The barn was a large mother cradling her children. Tru climbed to the loft. The hay was scattered about like a broken field. He fell back into its trusting arms, and pulled the grassy blanket up around him. This must be what it’s like to be buried. He thought of Beth, wrapped in a sheet, and lowered into the hole. The earth piled on top of her, pressing her down. He wondered how she could breathe with all that clay on top of her, pressing her down like a mountain, pressing her closely like the sea.
Tru rose from the forgiving hay - releasing him from a lover’s arms with a warm rustle. He stared down from the loft. The vastness of the barn surrounded him, but did not protect him. From the beam to his left he released the rope used to lift bales and swung it to the center of the loft where it was suspended by a pulley. He wrapped the rope around his neck, making sure the other end was securely fastened to the support post. He walked to the edge of the loft. His toes griped the smooth beam. He leaned forward, his body rigid. He passed his center of gravity, and would have tumbled from the loft, except the rope around his neck kept him from falling. He let the rope slip a few inches so he was leaning forward at a sharper angle. His face was turning purple. He could barely breathe. He closed his eyes. He began to lose consciousness and was slipping into a dream of smoke. Suddenly his feet slipped from the edge of the loft. He tumbled forward. Instinct led him to fling his arms out to catch his fall. But by doing so, he released the rope, and it untangled from around his neck, and he fell forward in a spiraling summersault, landing on his left side and breaking his wrist, atop his father’s horse, Ranger. Ranger was started, and reared, nearly striking Tru with a crushing hoof blow to the head.
* * *
There was a halo around the candle flame. Tru walked into the light. It was blue and green with a center blast of yellow. It radiated outwards like an exploding stained glass window. “Tru, Tru,” it spoke to him. “Tru, Tru.” He leaned forward, grasping the candle in his hand, and lifting it towards him. Walking into the flame, he forced himself not to blink. The light seared his brain. He lay back on the bed, tipping the candle towards his naked chest. The hot wax tumbled down, creating a new landscape on his skin. The light and the pain were one. But he would still not close his eyes. The aura borealis danced around his head. The North Star sent a poignant beam into his skull. His head radiated the magnetic pole. Migratory birds followed the lines of his limbs. Forests sighed. Oceans forecast storms upon his coasts.
* * *
At last. At last. Might there now be peace at last? At first the snow sifted down from the steel clouds like gentle powder sugar on a cake. It was silent as a crouching cat. The shortest day of the year. Darkness crept forward like a beast from the Russian wilderness. Then the spotlight from the back porch caught the growing, dazzling blizzard, as it pressed forward against the windows, frantic now to wreck total havoc.
Tru gazed out of the kitchen window. Then the lights for the whole region were ripped out by the storm. Tru lit the candle on the windowsill, flickering, as the storm seeped in through the sash. Tru was mesmerized by the driving snow. Even without light he could sense it biting into the fabric of the house. He picked up a knife from the sink and drew the point down along his arm. Blood budded, then boiled from his arm, creating rosettes in the sink. He turned to the kitchen door. “Stay, Rabble,” he commanded the dog. He opened the door, walked through it into the howling storm, and closed it securely behind him. He had removed all his clothes. The swirling snow etched at his skin. He stepped into the darkness. He was carried aloft by the thunder and the waves. The continental mountain ranges shifted to let him pass. Milky stellar clouds reformed around his magnetic field. Galaxies shifted their gravitational forces to align to the pull of his vast presence.
* * *
It was March the twelfth when old Fred Norris, taking a shortcut across Tru’s northwest field, found the hand sticking out from beneath the snow bank by the Post Road fence. A rivulet of melting snow caressed the palm of the grey hand laying in the spring sunlight. When the Sheriff and Deputy broke into the North family house they found Rabble curled up on Tru’s bed, dead from starvation. A photo portrait of Beth North was lying on Tru’s pillow.
Jon McDonald lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He currently has three published novels - a satire, Divas Never Flinch; a humorous vampire thriller, Bloodlines – the Quest and The Seed – An Ironic Political Thriller. His fourth book Gotta Dance With the One Who Brung Ya – Sex, Scandals and Sweethearts will be published in early 2013. He won first prize and was published in the New Mexican holiday short story contest, 2009. He has also been published in Jonathan, Raphael’s Village, ImageOutWrite, and now Bay Laurel. His website is: www.jonmcdonaldauthor.com
Bay Laurel / Volume 1, Issue 2 / Winter 2012