“In the Shade”

What follows is part of an unfinished short story I began writing by hand, then began rewriting by computer (never fully retyping the hand-written portion), but for which I lost the fire in what would roughly be the middle of the story.  I’m not sure what happened, exactly.  It’s a more or less straight-up horror story, and I like the general idea of it, but for some reason I lost interest in it some months ago, and haven’t been able to rekindle it.

I’m posting it here (it will make for a pretty long post, I’m afraid) in hopes of getting your feedback.  Do you like the story so far?  Do you hate it?  Do you think it’s worth trying to revitalize, or should I leave it well enough alone?

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.  “Enquiring minds want to know.”

Without further ado, here is the story, as it is typed in thus far:

 

IN THE SHADE

by

Robert Elessar

 

When Gary Sawyer first heard the screams, he thought they were just the usual noises of boys playing.  His son, Kyle, had been out most of the morning with his friend, Sean Corcoran, from two streets up, and they were rarely the quietest of companions.  Gary assumed, when he first heard the high-pitched, almost girlish noises from one of the boys, overlaid with shouted words from the other, that the two were just involved in some strange adventure game, or even that one of them might be angry at the other.  It happened at times, even with boys that were as good friends as Kyle and Sean were.

Gary thought of the stretch of road on which he lived‒and from the end of which he heard the voices‒as a “block,” but of course it really wasn’t.  It was actually a cul-de-sac, a little protuberance sticking off the main road, with three houses along each side, and four circled around the bulb of blacktop at the end.

Well, actually, there were three completed houses at the end, and one that was still under construction.

Gary was not a big fan of the way streets were laid out in those Florida housing developments.  He had grown up in the northeast and midwest, and one thing you could say about northern suburbia‒at least where he had lived‒blocks there were blocks.  Streets crossed each other generally at right angles, and they split neighborhoods into rectangular agglomerations of dwellings, with backyards abutting other backyards, usually with fences in between.  That was obviously the way God had intended things to be.

In Florida, however, things rarely followed any deity’s design.  The roads along which people lived tended to meander and twist like living things, huge, sightless worms wandering through the soil of a neighborhood, with no clear, geometric path.  Occasionally, they would close into a single, huge loop, but there was almost never anything that could honestly be called a block.  Also, there were all those frequent little protrusions of soon-terminating street, such as the one on which the Sawyers lived‒strange, tumorous polyps of roadway.  They were called “cul-de-sacs,” and the residents often just referred to them as “sacks.”  Gary supposed the French term sounded fancier than “Dead End,” but where he grew up that’s what they would have been called, and that’s what they were:  Dead Ends.  But no one even had the decency t put up street signs notifying motorists of the fact.

Gary had the occasional sardonic thought that the housing developments in Florida were designed as not-too-subtle traps.  They were almost all gated, their single entrances either controlled electronically or tended by uniformed guards, which did more to deter friendly visits than to provide any actual security.  These facts, combined with the Dead End cul-de-sacs, made Florida subdivisions feel‒to Gary at least‒like ideal places into which would could corral an enemy military force, perhaps to keep them in place and call in an air strike.

There were almost never any rear exits from such communities, and when there were, they too were always gated.  Gary often wondered what disaster planners thought about such street layouts.  What would happen if there arose the sudden need for rapid evacuation?  There would surely be horrible bottlenecks at the exits, and there were no emergency escape routes.

The idea of an emergency escape route from his subdivision would occur to Gary again before long, but in a much less idle fashion.

Now, however, he recognized his thoughts‒meandering like the bemoaned Florida residential streets‒as the typical, rather dreary ruminations he tended to have when his wife was away on business.  He didn’t mind staying home on the weekends with Kyle‒he could, in fact, think of nothing he would rather do‒but he always felt that at least a small piece of himself was missing whenever Deborah was away for more than a week.  God help him if anything should ever happen to her, or‒even worse‒if she should ever divorce him.  He was not sure he would survive.

The screams and yells were getting steadily closer, and Gary gradually recognized that they were not the sounds of anyone having fun, nor even the vocalizations of a heated argument.  They were noises of pain, fear, and desperation.

As soon as he realized that fact, Gary‒who had been standing in his living room, idly sipping on the day’s second cup of coffee‒all but dropped his mug on the living room end-table, sloshing some of the brown liquid onto the polished surface, and rushed for the door.  It was unlocked, so he was quickly able to swing it wide and head toward the front walk.

He looked down toward the rear of the cul-de-sac and saw Kyle and Sean coming up the street.  There was no actual sidewalk‒another bizarre omission found in many of these Florida developments‒so children and adults were often forced to walk in the road if they didn’t want to walk on the strange, spongy lawns of St. Augustine grass.  That fact wasn’t such a big deal when on the cul-de-sacs, since no one tended to drive very quickly on a bit of street that came to an end after a hundred feet or so.  Still, it always seemed an absurd oversight, Gary had always thought…though it probably wasn’t an oversight at all.  It probably allowed developers to claim larger property areas for each plot, thus raising their asking prices.

That habitual thought was pushed out of Gary’s mind as he realized how Sean and Kyle were walking:  Kyle was supporting Sean, almost pulling him along.  Sean leaned heavily on Kyle, barely seeming to want to support his own weight, or to put one foot in front of the other.  Even from where he had stopped briefly on his front stoop, a good fifty or sixty feet from the boys, Gary could see that Sean’s normally-tanned face looked deathly pale.  Kyle, too, was fairly pallid, but Sean…Sean looked as though he hadn’t seen the sun in years, or perhaps ever.

It was Sean who had been making the shrieking noises, and he continued to do so as he stumbled along.  Though his body appeared feeble, his voice had a horrible, banshee-like power.  Beside him, Kyle could hardly be heard, yelling, “Dad!  Dad!  Something got Sean!”

As if in agreement with Kyle’s statement, Sean’s shriek very briefly took on the words, “It got me!  It got me!” before reverting to unarticulated words.  

Gary saw that Sean’s right hand was tucked into his left armpit, his right shoulder pressed against Kyle.

Then he saw that part of the left side of Sean’s yellow shirt, beneath his arm, was wet and stuck to his side by a dark-colored fluid, which looked almost black on the yellow of the shirt.

Waitaminnit.  Was that…that couldn’t be…blood, could it?

Gary sprang from the front stoop in an instant, rapidly covering the ground between him and the two boys.  He had probably not run so fast since his teenage years, but despite his speed, he felt as though he were trying to swim through molasses…or through thick, partly coagulated blood, like what was staining Sean’s clothes.

He was vaguely aware of several of his neighbors looking out their front doors to see what all the caterwauling was about‒some were probably more indignant than concerned‒but then he reached the boys and all other people left his conscious awareness.

Kyle was repeating, “Dad!  Dad!” but Sean did not again slip into words.

Gary stopped and squatted down in front of the boys, his eyes focused on the one who was not his own flesh and blood.

“Kyle, what happened?” he asked, even as he looked at Sean, who, like Kyle, had come to a halt.  Up close, the boy looked even worse than he had from a distance.  Like most Florida boys, Sean tended to have a nice, deep tan almost the whole year ’round, which even obsessive-compulsive application of SPF-45 lotion by a paranoid mother could not prevent.  Now, however, he looked…faded, pale, and distant, like the cover of a book that had been left on the back seat of a car for a year, bleached by the relentless sunlight until it was barely recognizable.  Gary almost wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been able to see through Sean, so pale had the boy become.  Even his hair looked slightly lighter than its usual shade of brown, though that could have been the consequence of much time spent outdoors in the late spring.

“What happened?” Gary asked again.  “Sean, what’s wrong with your hand?”  He put his hands on Sean’s shoulders, helping to support him.

Sean merely continued to shriek, gaping at Gary as if he did not know what he was, let along who he was.

Kyle, however, said, “It got him, Dad!  The…the dark thing in the house got Sean!  It got his fingers!”

Gary had no idea to what dark thing in what house his son was referring, but for the moment he thought it was unimportant.  Kyle’s words, combined with the way Sean was holding his right hand under his opposite arm, focused Gary’s attention on what must have been the source of all the blood on the boy’s shirt.

“Sean,” he said, his voice calm but firm, “show me your hand.”

Sean, making no sign of understanding, and certainly making no move to obey, just looked at Gary and continued to scream.  His eyes were wider than any Gary had ever seen.  They looked almost perfectly round, like the eyes of a startled cartoon character.  Gary half feared that they were in danger of falling out of the boy’s head.

“Come on now, Sean,” he repeated, reaching for Sean’s right wrist, “I need to see your hand.”  More neighbors had come to watch the scene, but none of them made any inquiries or offers of help.

Sean gave token resistance, probably without any thought, when Gary made to pull his hand out from its fleshy hiding place, but he was only nine years old, and his heart obviously wasn’t in fighting.  He even lifted his left arm a little bit to allow his right hand to come free, still shrieking as he did so, not even looking down at his injured extremity.

Gary, however, was looking right at the poor hand as it came into view.  To his regret, he had no choice but to continue to do so.

“Dear God,” he whispered, just staring for a long moment.  His first thought‒sardonic, annoying, and disgusting to himself, as his thoughts often were‒was that Sean and Kyle were not going to be able to play a good game of catch any time soon, if ever.

The four fingers of Sean’s right hand, to varying degrees, had been severed‒the pinky more or less completely, then the ring finger to just below the proximal knuckle, the middle to just beyond the same knuckle, and the index finger only missing past the last joint.  It looked as though Sean had stuck his fingers at an angle into a paper cutter, or some huge die-press machine, and had them cleanly sliced off.  There was, though, no look of compression or tearing in the remaining stumps.  They looked as plump and round as if the rest of the fingers were still present but just somehow invisible.  The flesh, the tendons, the vessels, the bones‒everything from the skin to the center‒looked like a perfect MRI section through the digits.

Well…not quite perfect.  Nowhere near perfect, really.  For one thing, blood was flowing sluggishly but steadily from each severed member, dripping along Sean’s arm to fall from his elbow to the pavement below.  It was less blood than Gary might have expected, but Maybe Sean had already lost so much that the flow was petering out.  How long ago had the injury happened?  How much blood had Sean lost?

In addition, the ends of the remaining bits of fingers‒the surfaces of the cuts‒looked almost crystallized or frozen.  That had to be some kind of optical illusion.  One did not find things frozen outdoors in late spring in south central Florida.

“Dear God,” Gary repeated, more loudly this time.  He yanked his own shirt over his head and wrapped it around Sean’s injured hand, trying to put some pressure on the finger ends without causing the boy too much pain.  Then, keeping the hand between their bodies, he picked Sean up in his arms and rose to his feet.

Sean was a good-sized boy for a nine year old, but he felt absurdly light to Gary.  Could a person lose so much blood that their weight changed noticeably?  How much blood loss would that require?  Could a person still be alive after losing enough blood to reduce their mass significantly, let alone awake, walking…and screaming, as Sean continued to do?

No.  That couldn’t be possible, Gary was sure of that.  It must just be the effect of adrenaline, boosting his normal strength, that made Sean seem so light.

Well, he was glad of the fact, in any case, because he didn’t want to waste any more time.  Yelling, “Come on, Kyle!” over his shoulder, he hefted his son’s friend further up against his bare chest, the wrapped hand pressed firmly between them, and then practically sprinted toward his front door.  He vaguely heard Kyle’s feet flopping along behind him up the walk, but even if he had not, he probably wouldn’t have stopped.

Gary had left the front door wide open when he went out, and he rushed back through it gladly now.  Kyle, apparently, did not close it when he followed.

Oh, well.  Bugs be damned and wasted A/C be damned, Gary had more important things to worry about.

He raced upstairs, still vaguely amazed at how light Sean seemed.  He tore into his bedroom and through it to the master bath.  Remarkably, the only blood that marred the floor on the way was a tiny smudge on the wall by the stairs; his shoe, which had been dripped upon when he first looked at Sean’s hand, left it there.  His shirt-cum-bandage had caught all further bleeding.

In the bathroom, Gary quickly slammed down the lid of the toilet with a free hand, and seated Sean upon it.  Now that they were inside, the boy’s screams had begun to peter out, and were being replaced by tears and sobs.  Gary was grateful for that.  Tears were good.  Crying was good.  Crying was normal.

Those screams…there had been more than just pain in those screams.  There had been fear.  There had been horror.

Letting Sean go for a moment, Gary tore open the cupboard under the sink.  He knelt and started pawing through the items it contained:  Lysol spray, tub-and-toilet cleanser, a beard trimmer he never used, an unopened package of pads for Deborah…a set of curlers…where the hell was…

Then he saw the large, brown bottle he was seeking.  He pulled it out, knocking the Lysol onto the floor, and turned back to Sean.  He saw Kyle standing in the bathroom doorway, watching his father and his friend in shock and disbelief.

“Kyle,” Gary said, “I need you to go downstairs and get my cell phone.”

Kyle blinked, looking as though he hadn’t understood his father at all.  He looked rather pale himself, though compared to Sean he looked like a Pacific Islander, even with his sandy blond hair.  Still, he was evidently more self-possessed than he looked, because he asked, “Where is it?” his voice surprisingly firm.

“I don’t know,” Gary replied, turning back to Sean already.  “I think maybe in the kitchen.  But wherever it is, find it and bring it here.”

Kyle didn’t say another word, just nodded and headed off like a well trained soldier on a crucial mission.  Gary felt a brief surge of paternal pride, even as he focused his attention on Sean.

Tears and snot were now streaming copiously down the boy’s face, apparently unnoticed by him.  He was clutching his shirt-covered hand against his chest with his other arm.

“Sean,” Gary said, “we need to clean your hand off, okay?”

Sean looked at him blankly; it was hard to tell if he even recognized the English language.

“Here,” Gary said gently, and once again he took Sean’s wrist and pulled it away from his torso.  He got no resistance this time, and the boy seemed to be more focused than before on what he was doing.  Gary pulled the shirt away from the injured hand, throwing it into the nearby tub.  The bleeding was slower now, and when Sean looked down at his hand, he only sobbed more loudly, he did not speak or revert to screaming.

Now that he had a chance to examine the hand more closely and more sedately,  Gary thought that the severed ends of the fingers looked a bit like meat that had been freezer-burned.  There were even a few apparent ice crystals, almost completely melted now, on the edge of the skin.

That had to be an illusion.  Of course it did.  Maybe it was salt that he was seeing along the edge of the wounds.  Or sand…Florida was practically made of sand.  But, no, sand wouldn’t melt, or thaw, or resolve itself into anything other than sand, not even in the heat of the late Florida spring.  It must be salt‒maybe from sweat‒or maybe from some nearby puddle of brackish water.

Whatever.  It was time to focus.  Gary had intended to take Sean calmly to the sink to clean his fingers, but that idea left his mind as soon as he saw the wounds again.  What could have cut them like that?  Even the bones were severed perfectly, cleanly, without splintering or breaking visible to his admittedly non-expert gaze.

Gary spun the white top off the bottle of hydrogen peroxide that he held in his left hand.  It seemed to be almost full, which was not too surprising.  Kyle was past the stage of having very many scrapes and cuts,  and cleaning those was pretty much the only use for the stuff in the Sawyer household.

Gary looked Sean in the eye and said, “Sean, this may sting a little, but it’s very important to clean the…the cuts, so you don’t get an infection, okay?”

Sean said nothing, just continued to sob, now a little less forcefully.  Was his pallor fading a little, or did it just look that way now that he was indoors?

Glad of the boy’s relative calm, and wishing that he felt anywhere near as even-keeled himself, Gary poured peroxide haphazardly all over the ends of Sean’s fingers…the new ends, anyway.  God only knew where the original ends were at the moment.  The clear liquid spilled all over the boy’s shorts and legs and onto the floor, but Gary paid no mind.  Peroxide he could clean up easily enough.

Both Gary and Sean watched with grim fascination as the liquid on the ends of Sean’s severed fingers bloomed into a pinkish foam so thick that it looked almost solid.  It too dribbled slowly onto Sean’s legs and then slid slowly onto the toilet seat and then to the floor.

“Wow,” Gary said, “you’re being so brave, Sean.  I’m very proud of you.”  Sean hadn’t flinched or jerked or cried harder when the peroxide had landed on its targets.  Gary knew that peroxide didn’t sting like rubbing alcohol, but still, he thought that on wounds like these…

But Sean was actually looking less distressed than before.  He now looked vague, dim…he must have been going into some kind of shock.  That was probably why he looked so pale, so transparent.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Sean muttered listlessly, hoarsely, barely articulating the words.  He was all but done crying.  Coming inside seemed to have made a difference for him.

Surprised, Gary asked, “The peroxide doesn’t hurt?”

“My hand doesn’t hurt,” Sean corrected him, looking at his savaged hand with dull, disconnected, barely conscious attention.  “My fingers don’t hurt.  They’re just…gone.”  Now he shuddered and looked slightly distressed again, adding, “It got them.”  His tears had almost stopped flowing.

Gary would have liked to have inquired about just what had gotten Sean’s fingers, but first he wanted to get some kind of bandage on the boy’s injuries.  He didn’t want to use his shirt again‒it was already a mess, and anyway, he hadn’t put peroxide on the wounds just to wrap them in a dirty, makeshift covering again afterwards.

He stood up and stepped to the medicine cabinet, keeping an eye on Sean, who sat, still and stable, on the toilet seat, idly and vaguely watching the blood that now only oozed slowly out of his fingertips.  Gary could hardly believe the change in the boy’s affect after only a few moments.  Since coming inside, he had rapidly calmed down, though he looked practically as pale as before.  Gary hoped his placidity was a good sign and not an indication of some terrible crisis.

Dear God, what had done that to his fingers?  No animal could have bitten them off so cleanly, could it?

Gary opened the medicine cabinet just as Kyle trotted back into the room.  “Dad, I’ve got your cell phone,” he said.  Now Kyle sounded appropriate, which meant that he sounded anxious, terrified, urgent…desperate for his father, the grownup, to make everything all right.  Gary saw him look at his friend’s injured hand, and then look away quickly.  He held out the phone he had been sent to fetch.

“Thank you, Kyle,” Gary said, and he pulled briefly away from the open medicine cabinet to take his cell phone from his son.  He turned it on, set it for speaker function, dialed 911, and pressed send.  Then he placed the phone beside the sink and went back to the medicine cabinet.

He quickly found what he sought:  a box of mix-sized Band-Aids.  He wished that he had gauze pads and medicinal tape, but…well, whatever he put on was no doubt going to be removed and replaced soon, anyway.  For that reason, he also decided to forego the Neosporin tube which had sat near the Band-Aids on the shelf of the medicine cabinet for over a year.  Oddly, he found that difficult to do.  It was practically a religious point with him to put triple-antibiotic ointment on any cut.  First peroxide, then Neosporin, then Band-Aids, the Holy Trinity of home injury treatment.

But this was not going to be simple home injury treatment; his ministrations were to be utterly transitory, just stopgaps for whatever dressing was to be professionally applied by EMT’s…and then by ER doctors and nurses.

As if cued by that thought, the cell phone stopped ringing and a voice came from it saying, “911 Operator, what’s your emergency?”

“Yes,” Gary replied, rather incongruously, he knew.  He turned toward Sean, the Band-Aid box in his hands, his own son standing silently by the bathroom doorway.  “My name is Gary Sawyer, and I’m at 59 Pondcrest Drive, in the Laguna Lakes development in Torquemada.  I need an ambulance sent out right away.”

“Are you injured, sir?” the voice asked.

“No,” Gary replied, a bit impatiently.  Surely she could tell by the way his voice sounded that he wasn’t injured?  “It’s my son’s friend‒his name is Sean Corcoran‒he…I don’t know how it happened, but something…something bit, or…or cut off the fingers of his right hand.”  He almost hated to have to say the words, as if to do so would make the fact, previously unbelievable, now irrevocable.

While speaking, Gary had squatted again in front of Sean and pulled out a fistfull of Band-Aids.  Sean continued to look at his own hand vaguely.

God, he was pale!

Gary tore open the plastic bandage, peeled off its backing, then gently applied it to Sean’s index finger.  He expected the boy to flinch, or perhaps to scream again, but Sean simply watched the process as if it were happening to someone else.  Interestingly, Gary heard Kyle suck in a breath when the little pad in the bandage touched the oozing wound, as though he were feeling his friend’s pain for him to take the burden of the discomfort away.

The voice on the other end of the cell phone asked, “How old is the child?”

“He’s nine years old,” Gary told her, smoothing the adhesive onto Sean’s hand, then opening another Band-Aid to wrap around the first to hold it in place.

“Does he have any other injuries?”

Gary, surprised a bit by the question, looked Sean over intently.  There was plenty of blood on the boy’s side, but that seemed to have come only from his hand.  “I don’t think so,” he said.  “I don’t see anything.  But…but he seems to be in shock or something.  He’s very pale.”  He opened another bandage and went about applying it to Sean’s now-much-shorter middle finger before adding, “I’ve cleaned the…the wounds, and I’m putting some Band-Aids on them…just to stop the bleeding.”

He half expected the woman on the other end to berate him, to tell him he was a fool, that his ridiculous actions had doomed the poor boy, that now he was surely going to die.  But of course the woman said no such thing.  Instead, she asked, “Do you have the fingers in your possession, sir?”

That question seemed so bizarre to Gary that he froze in the middle of opening the next Band-Aid.  Why would he have Sean’s fingers?  Did she think the he had cut them off, perhaps to arrange them into some macabre homemade objet d’art?  What kind of monster did she think he was?

A split second later, of course, his mind caught up with events, and he realized why she was asking:  In the modern era, with all the amazing surgical techniques that existed, it might be possible to reattach Sean’s fingers, if it was done quickly enough.  The wounds were certainly neat, there was no denying that.  Some surgeon would probably have wet himself with joy to be able to work on such beautiful injuries…though perhaps such young, small fingers would be more difficult to work on than a large man’s would be.

Putting the next Band-Aid on Sean’s hand, Gary said to the 911 operator, “I…no, I don’t have them.  I don’t…Kyle, Sean..do you know where the…where Sean’s fingers are…now?”

Behind him, Kyle said, “I don’t know,” his voice quiet and almost guilty-sounding, as if he had been entrusted with collecting his friend’s severed phalanges and had failed at the job.

Sean, his voice somewhat stronger than Kyles, but horribly dead and empty, said, “They’re gone.  They’re gone.”

Apparently the operator heard the boys, because she didn’t ask anything else about the lost fingers.  Instead, she asked, “How’s the bleeding, sir?”

Gary felt the bizarre, perverse desire to reply, “It’s just fine.  It wanted to know how you’re doing.”  He struck that urge violently from his mind and instead answered, “It’s…very slow, now, though I think was worse at first.”  He had double-wrapped the second finger while speaking, and now he moved on the the third.

“All right,” the woman on the other end of the phone commented.  “An emergency vehicle is on its way to you.  It should arrive in just a few minutes.”

“You got the address down?” Gary asked, applying the next Band-Aid, Sean still not making any movement in response, and Kyle no longer making sympathetic noises because Gary had shifted a little, blocking his son’s view of the process.

“Yes, sir,” the operator replied.  “We have your cell phone’s GPS signal.”

That was pretty useful, Gary thought, opening the next Band-Aid to wrap around the very short base of Sean’s ring finger.  He hadn’t realized that the local 911 system was set up for that.  He sometimes felt that all of Florida’s official government services were about a hundred years behind the times, but of course that couldn’t be true, could it?

“Okay,” Gary said.  “It’s…we’re in a gated community, but there’s a guard.  He’ll let the ambulance in…or she will.  I don’t know who’s on today.”  He realized that the 911 operator probably had no interest in his attempt to be gender-neutral, or equal opportunity, or whatever it was, in his description of the rent-a-cop at the entrance to Laguna Lakes, but white male guilt was a powerful reflex…even in situations like this one, apparently.

“That’s fine, sir,” the woman at the other end of the line said, and Gary wondered if she had even noticed his ridiculous comment.  He kind of hoped she hadn’t.

Gary now opened a moderate sized plastic bandage to put on Sean’s poor, barely-there and barely-oozing pinky finger, saying to the 911 operator, “If there’s nothing else you need, I really want to call the boy’s parents.  They don’t know anything that’s happened yet.”  He placed the bandage on Sean’s last stub of a finger, now almost as calm as Sean seemed to be.  It was better now that he could no longer see the impossibly neat, new ends of Sean’s digits.  Now the whole thing seemed more distant, more unreal…more manageable.

“That’s fine, sir,” the operator said.  “Just be on the lookout for the ambulance.”

“I will,” he told her.  “I think the front door’s still open, they can come right in.  Thank you very much…Goodbye.”  He reached out to disconnect the call with his left hand while getting a last Band-Aid to secure the one he had just placed on the end of Sean’s last finger.  He wasn’t sure it would hold very well; there wasn’t much of that finger left to which to secure it.  He considered applying the end of the bandage to Sean’s palm, but he didn’t think it would hold there very well.

Of course, it was all an exercise in futility.  The EMT’s would be there any minute, and they would rip all the Band-Aids off and put better coverings on instead.  Yet Gary could not choose to leave the injuries uncovered, or to leave the sole Band-Aid on Sean’s pinky unsecured.  It seemed just too callous, too heartless, to do such a thing.

Shrugging to himself, he wrapped the last Band-Aid loosely around the base of the truncated finger and then asked, “How’s that?”

Sean shrugged, still looking vague.  He didn’t speak.  His tears had tapered off with his bleeding, and even the mucus flow from his nose was slowing and drying.  Gary grabbed a quick few sheets of toilet paper and wiped the boy’s face.

Gary got to his feet.  He did need to call Sean’s parents‒their number was in his Contact’s list‒but he wasn’t quite ready to do so yet.  He said, “Excuse me, Kyle,” and edged past his son, who was still standing near the door of the bathroom.  He walked into his bedroom and directly over to his dresser, which was in direct line of sight to Sean, sitting listlessly but stably on the toilet seat.  Pulling open the second drawer down, Gary took out whatever shirt was on top‒a blue polo shirt‒and pulled it on, not bothering to straighten the collar.  Then he went back into the bathroom.  He sat on the edge of the tub, from which perch he could see both Kyle and Sean easily.

Trying to be calm‒trying to sound parental‒he asked, “Now, before the ambulance gets here, and before I call Sean’s dad and mom, I want to know what…what happened, boys?”  He focused his question mainly toward Kyle, since Sean seemed pretty much out of it.  Gary, in fact, was ready to reach out and grab the boy at any instant if he looked like he was fainting, but he appeared to be steady for the moment.  

Dear Lord, how pale Sean was!  But it was an odd kind of pallor.  He didn’t look bloodless.  He looked…he looked partially absent…like a figure in an old-fashioned, double-exposed or overexposed photograph.

He looked almost like a ghost.

Sean said nothing in response to Gary’s question.  Kyle, on the other hand, having completed his cell-phone retrieval duties after getting his friend to an adult who could help him, now seemed to become a young boy again, and he started to cry.

“I’m…sorry, Dad,” he said, his face drawn in anguish.  “I know we weren’t supposed to do it, but we were out playing and we…we went into that house.”

Gary was at a loss.  “What house is that, what do you mean?” he asked.

 

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