There are several versions of the story but most agree on the following. One day in October of 1855, a small boy was either abandoned or alone when he arrived at the Graniteville train station. He was unconscious with a high fever. The townspeople took the child, carried him across the street to the hotel. (This hotel became Leavelle McCampbell High School and then Leavelle McCampbell Middle School and is now closed). Despite their best efforts at the hotel, the child died without ever regaining consciousness. The town pooled their money and buried the unknown child with a tombstone that read “The Little Boy, October 1855″. Because that’s all they knew. No name, no birthdate and I don’t know why the date of his death wasn’t recorded…just the month and year.
The headstone was replaced at some point in the last 30-35 years because the original was crumbling and damaged. Today, people leave all sorts of things on the little boy’s grave. In the pictures above, you can see action figures, angels, flowers, rubber ducks and tiny cars. I’ve seen happy meals and large stuffed animals on the grave. The grave is usually decorated for each major holiday by people who bring things by. Someone has installed a bench and there’s a bird feeder, too. In the wintertime, there are always gloves and scarfs left for him and in the summertime, you’ll find water guns and boat toys.
From time to time, the grave is cleaned off except for a few very special things. Certain things always stay. As for the rest, I don’t know who takes them or what they do with the things. But I do know the next day, there are new things there to begin another collection.
It is said the little boy plays with his toys at night. But since it’s both illegal to be in this particular cemetery after sunset and there is a locking gate, I personally will never know.
“I don’t wanna go, Mama”, June said patiently. “I HAVE to go. If I don’t, he’ll still show up here and he’ll be so pissed I didn’t pick him up”.
June’s mom looked at her worriedly. “I’ll go with you”, she said.
“No, Mama”, she shook her head. “He wouldn’t like that at all”.
June’s mom watched her walk out the door. June’s husband was being paroled today. He’d served six years and two months of a ten year sentence for domestic abuse and attempted murder. Hers. He was being paroled early for good behavior. Good behavior, June thought. That’s hysterical.
June drove towards the prison, thinking about her life with Bobby Joe Wilson. They’d met in high school and he’d swept her off her feet. They had married the week after they graduated. June soon found herself pregnant but a bad miscarriage at five months left her unable to get pregnant again.
That had bothered June at first but now she was glad she’d never had children with the monster. The beatings started soon after the miscarriage and got worse and worse. Up until he went to prison, he was beating June at least six to eight times a month and she averaged an emergency room visit about once every three months.
He’d broken her nose four times, broken her left eye socket, knocked out three teeth total, broken numerous ribs, fractured her right arm twice and given her several concussions.
People always asked her why she didn’t leave him. What in the world was wrong with her for staying with such a horrible person? She tried to explain how she was basically held prisoner but no one understood. “Just walk out the door”, her best friend had once said.
“I did that once, early on”, June replied. “He put me in intensive care for two weeks. Told them I was trying to fix a shingle by myself and fell off a 35 foot ladder. And they bought it.”
June had tried to divorce him after he was sent to prison but it proved to be much more difficult than she thought. Bobby seemed to know exactly how to stall the proceedings. He kept changing Guardian ad Litems, forcing each new one to practically start his case from scratch. June finally gave up, mostly because she ran out of money. She knew he’d still be raw about her wanting a divorce and she pretty much expected he’d beat her on the way home. But that was her life.
Bobby was changing into the jeans and tshirt he’d bought at the prison commissary. He was really looking forward to seeing June. He had a score to settle with that bitch. He was still livid that she had the nerve to try to divorce him while he was incarcerated. He’d show her he was still the boss when he got home.
June arrived at the prison about 45 minutes before his release time. Instead of parking and waiting in the prison visitor parking area, she drove across the street to a park. It sat high on a hill directly opposite the prison and offered a bird’s eye view of the prison entrance where Bobby would exit.
She prepared herself mentally for what would happen once Bobby was released and walked into freedom. She sat quietly for a long time, trying to decide whether to stay or leave. The breeze was light and playful and caused the daffodils to nod their yellow heads at her.
When Bobby walked out the door a few minutes after his appointed dismissal time, he was surprised and very angry that he didn’t see June waiting for him. He made fists with both hands and was cursing June when the rifle bullet went straight into his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground.
June quickly packed her rifle and silencer back into her car and left the park through the back entrance. Driving home, she felt an exhilaration like she’d never felt before.
Ricky Dabney looked at the line of sight between the car and the wall. Perfectly lined up, he thought. “Time for action,” he mumbled to himself. The car took off like a rocket, and seconds later, crashed into the wall. The wall caved in, completely covering the car while Ricky smiled victoriously and pumped his fist in the air. The car was RC and the wall was Lincoln Logs. “And the crowd goes wild!” Ricky said aloud.
Ricky was a slightly chubby nine year old with dark blonde hair and blue eyes. He was outgoing and never met a stranger. He lived with his mom and his little sister. His dad lived with a former babysitter.
“Wichard!” a voice called excitedly. “You made a mess. I don’t like messes.”
It was Ricky’s little sister, Mara. She was five years old and for some reason was the only member of his family who insisted on calling him by his given name, Richard. Only she was still having trouble with her “r’s”. Mara had been adopted by the Dabneys when she was barely one year old. He didn’t think Mara knew because his mother would remind him now and again not to “say anything to Mara, like when you’re picking at her or mad with her”.
“I’m just playing. I’ll clean it up. Don’t worry about it. It’s my room, not yours,” Ricky said.
“Wanna play dolls with me?” she asked with a grin. “Just for a little while. Pleeeease,” she implored.
The last thing Ricky wanted to do was play dolls with Mara but he told her he would. He knew she didn’t have any friends. For one thing, their mom home schooled them. And even though Ricky had a group of friends from their street, Mara didn’t. She’d had play dates before with other little girls in their neighborhood, but after one or two times, the other little girls didn’t want to play with Mara anymore. They gave their parents vague reasons like they “didn’t like Mara’s games” or “she always had to have her way” or “it’s not fun with Mara”. Mara didn’t seem to care. It only bothered Ricky and their mom.
Ricky followed Mara into her room, which was directly across the hall from his own. He could hear his mom banging around in the kitchen while she prepared their dinner. Mara’s room was neat as a pin. All her dolls were lined up perfectly on several shelves around her room. And the books on her bookshelf were arranged by height.
“Hey, how come mom makes your bed? I have to make mine myself,” Ricky asked, looking at her perfectly made little twin bed.
“I made my bed, Wichard,” she replied, almost insulted. “All by myself.”
“Dang,” said Ricky. “Good for you. Wanna make mine, too?” He asked, laughing.
“No,” Mara replied very seriously. She studied her big brother with a frown on her face. “You have to make the bed you sleep in,” she continued. “You have to be wesponsible.”
Ricky thought he saw Mara’s eyes changing. Their regular blue now looked a translucent, icy blue. Her lips were pursed and her frowned deepened.
“Hey, I was just kidding, Mara,” he reached out and touched her arm. “I’ll make my bed. Promise,” Ricky tried to placate her. “Didn’t you want to play dolls? Have you got any new ones?”
Ricky’s diversion seemed to work as Mara’s face brightened. “I don’t have any new ones but I want to show you something I did.” She jumped up and ran to her closet.
Returning a couple minutes later, she laid a little red plastic suitcase on the floor in front of Ricky. It was about the size of a slinkie.
“What’s that?” Ricky asked.
Mara cocked her head to the side and looked at her brother like he was stupid. “It’s a suitcase, Wichard” she said.
“I know that,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I mean what do you want me to do with it? I thought we were gonna play dolls,” Ricky said impatiently.
“I want to show you what’s inside. But it’s a secret (she pronounced it like ‘seek-wet’). You have to pinkie with me.”
“Okay,” shrugged Ricky and they locked little fingers to seal the deal. “It’s our secret,” he told her. “I promise.”
Mara smiled and Ricky noticed her eyes looked regular blue again. It always weirded him out when her eyes seemed to change. Mara opened the tiny suitcase and slowly turned it around to Ricky. He looked down and saw a head from one of Mara’s Barbies in the suitcase. “She talked too much,” Mara whispered and then giggled.
Before Ricky had time to react, his mom yelled that it was time to eat. “Wash hands and haul butts,” his mom hollered from the bottom of the stairs. Mara jumped up and put the suitcase back in her closet.
She ran past Ricky laughing. “Our seek-wet,” she reminded him as she bolted out the door and down the stairs.
Ricky didn’t see how a stupid Barbie head in a toy suitcase was such a big deal secret, but whatever, he thought, shrugging. He followed Mara downstairs to eat.
Later that night, after baths and Mara’s bedtime story, Ricky was still awake. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t fall asleep. He suddenly thought about the coconut cake in the kitchen and decided that’s just what he needed to help him go to sleep. He’d just have to be quiet so his mom didn’t hear him.
Ricky eased his door open and looked out in the hallway. His mom’s bedroom was downstairs so he didn’t know if she was in bed or not. He tiptoed to the top of the stairs and noticed a light on downstairs. Crap, he thought to himself. He crept down a few more steps and heard the television.
His last hope was that his mom was asleep in front of the TV so he slipped down the last few steps and peered around the corner. YES! he thought when he saw his mom’s head back on the couch and her mouth wide open.
Just as he turned to slip into the kitchen for cake, something on the TV caught his attention. The news was on and the report was about a woman’s head that had been found in the local park. Ricky’s eyes widened in disbelief when the reporter mentioned the head had been found in a small red suitcase. He stood, staring at the TV like he’d seen a ghost.
Completely forgetting about the cake, Ricky ran back upstairs, jumped in his bed and pulled the covers over his head. “Just a coincidence,” he kept whisper chanting, until he fell finally asleep.
When Ricky ran back upstairs, he was so freaked out, he didn’t notice Mara standing in the shadows just inside her room. Now, while he’s under his comforter, repeating his chant, Mara is standing at the foot of his bed, watching him with icy, clear blue eyes.
Two days later, Ricky was on his stomach on his bedroom floor putting a Star Wars puzzle together. It wasn’t going very well. It was the biggest puzzle he’d ever attempted, with 300 pieces. He had about half the border done and piles of the same color puzzles pieces all around him.
He groaned and put his head down on the puzzle. “You can do it, Wichard,” Mara said, from right behind him. Startled, Ricky jumped.
“What do you want?” Ricky asked, annoyed. “You know you could give someone a heart attack sneaking up on them like that?” He clutched his chest and dramatically fell over on his side, then he opened one eye and looked up at Mara.
“Don’t be so silly,” Mara admonished, rolling her eyes and then she burst out laughing. “Mom sent me to get you. It’s time to eat,” Mara said. “So let’s go,” she finished.
As she turned and walked out of his room, he noticed she was dragging one of her Barbies by a long piece of purple yarn. He looked closer. It was her Architect Barbie. Ricky saw the blue dress and the black jacket. And just as Mara pulled it around the corner of his room, Ricky noticed the yarn wasn’t just tied around the doll’s neck, the yarn was actually formed into a small noose. A frown ran across his face. What the heck?, he questioned in his head. But being nine years old, dragons and superheroes and food soon pushed the doll out of his thoughts.
The next afternoon, Ricky and Mara were doing their schoolwork at the big double desk in Mara’s room. Mara was identifying colors and matching them to the images on the page. Ricky was struggling with his math, as usual.
Suddenly, the doorbell echoed through the house, causing Ricky to jump. He and Mara met eyes for a second and Mara went back to her colors. “I gotta go pee,” Ricky announced. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he walked out the door.
Instead of going to the bathroom, Ricky eased to the top of the stairs to eavesdrop. A woman had come in and was sobbing to Ricky’s mom. “I can’t believe it. Why would she do this?” the bereaved woman asked.
Ricky heard his mom say, “Oh, Helen, I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know she was home with you again.”
The crying woman answered, “She’s been hiding from the press. Remember that bridge over the Hancock River that collapsed a few weeks ago? She was the architect who designed it. Everyone was blaming her. Hounding and harrassing her. She got here early this morning to hideout for a little while.”
“Do you think the pressure maybe finally got to her?” Mrs. Dabney quietly asked her best friend.
“She did seem stressed to me but she was talking about the future. About learning from this horrible accident to improve her designs. She talked to me about facing the public to apologize.” She said she just needed a few days to clear her head.” The woman dropped her head in her hands and sobbed. “I just can’t believe it,” she choked the words out.
As he stood there, his pre-adolescent mind tried to put all this information together. He heard the distraught woman tell his mother that her daughter had hung herself in the backyard. “She was still wearing the blue dress and black jacket she had on when she got here about 7am this morning,” the woman said. “We had a little breakfast while we talked and I thought she had gone to take a nap. About 10:00 am, I went into the study to get something and I saw her out the window. She was hanging from the yew tree Chester and I planted the day we bought the house 37 years ago. And she used the belt from my purple bathrobe to do it. I’ve already thrown the robe away. The police didn’t leave until about 20 minutes ago”, the woman continued. “I didn’t want to he alone,” she cried. She then dissolved into body-wracking sobs and Ricky’s mom caught her in her arms.
Ricky stood there a minute longer, just trying to wrap his head around everything. As he turned to go back upstairs, he was surprised to find Mara at the top of the steps, just staring down at him. “I thought you had to pee,” she said sternly.
“I heard a lady crying,” Ricky whispered, hoping Mara couldn’t hear his pounding heart. “I’m nosy,” he said, shrugging, heading back up the steps.
“What’s going on?” Mara asked.
“I don’t know,” Ricky lied. “I couldn’t get close enough to hear anything but crying.”
Mara stared at him gravely for several seconds. Then her expression softened. “Come on,” she said. “We’ve got school to finish and mom’s gonna be busy awhile,” Mara said, turning and walking into her room. Ricky followed, still trying to get his head around everything.
Ricky sat down across the desk from Mara, watching her closely. How could she be responsible for this?, he thought to himself. She was intently working on her coloring skills. His brain flashed a sideshow of images to him. Mara dragging the Barbie behind her. The purple noose on the doll. He even remembered the blue dress and black jacket on the doll. Didn’t that lady say her daughter was wearing a blue dress and black jacket? Didn’t that lady say she used a purple belt to hang herself?
As his mind raced through everything he’d seen and heard, trying to make sense of it all, he looked up and Mara was staring at him. “It’s okay. It’s still the same seek-wet,” she said with the sweetest smile on her face. “You pwomised,” she reminded him, wagging a finger at him.
That evening, while their mom was making hamburgers and fries for their dinner, Ricky and Mara played checkers in the living room. Their cartoon went off and the news came on. Ricky was only half paying attention to what the newscaster was saying, mostly tuning them out like he sometimes did during class with his mom.
When he suddenly realized they were talking about the head from the park, his attention was fully on the TV. The report said the head had been identified as belonging to a woman named Enid Norton and she was a police informant. The report continued, saying she had been cooperating with police into an investigation against her boss, Leon Ortiz, who was being investigated for drug and human trafficking. Mr. Ortiz had provided police with a solid alibi and was not considered a suspect. And they had no further leads at this time.
Suddenly, Ricky’s mom turned off the TV with the remote. “Number one,” she said, “I don’t want you two watching the news. I’ve told you this. It’s just too much. Okay?” she asked sternly. “And number two,” she continued, “dinner’s ready. Wash up and let’s go.”
While he washed his hands, Ricky replayed the news report in his mind and then his eyes widened when he remembered Mara telling him the Barbie head “talked too much”. His mouth made an O shape. Talked too much, like an informant, he screamed in his head. “This isn’t possible,” he whispered.
Suddenly Mara scooted in beside him and stuck her tiny hands in the warm water. Ricky looked down at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. His face was a combination of fear and amazement. She held her up hands to Ricky. “Soap please,” she stated and Ricky squirted a dollop in her hands.
A week later, their mom had left early for a morning of errands, leaving Ricky in charge for the three or so hours she’d be gone. The rules were simple. Don’t let Mara outside alone and even then, no one leaves the fenced back yard. And never open the door to a stranger.
She even gave them the day off from doing any schoolwork so Ricky immediately ran upstairs and laid out all the parts and paint for the 1965 Mustang model car he’d been wanting to put together. He told Mara to play in her room for awhile and he’d work on his model. Then he promised he’d play with her.
Mara walked out of Ricky’s room and immediately turned and walked down the stairs. She unlocked the back door and walked outside. The entire backyard was fenced with six foot tall panels of dark wood. The only way out was back into the house.
She picked up her ball and began to bounce it against the fence. Each time, the fence would bounce it right back to her. She enjoyed playing ball with the fence because the fence always let her win. She twirled the ball in her hands and threw it hard and high. This time the ball sailed over the fence and Mara heard a crash when it landed.
She hurried, as quietly as she could, to get back into her house and lock the door. She was already back up the stairs and in her room, when the front doorbell rang. Breathlessly, she looked across the hall at Ricky.
He was getting up from the floor and looking at Mara. “Stay here,” he told Mara and she immediately followed him down the stairs. The doorbell rang again and Ricky peeped out the window.
“It’s Teresa Nichols from next door ” Ricky whispered to Mara. “So she’s not a stranger.”
This time, there were fist pounds on the door. “I know someone’s in there,” their neighbor yelled. “Open this door.”
Ricky told Mara to stand back so she took 2 steps backward. Ricky unlocked the door and opened it slightly. “Yes, ma’am?” he managed. “What is it?”
“What is it?” she shrieked. “It’s THIS!” she screamed as she threw a piece of broken flower pot up in his face. Your weird ass sister threw her ball, that she’s not getting back, by the way, over the fence and destroyed my favorite orchid. Something’s gonna be done about this!” she barked. “Where’s your mom?”
“She’s running all her errands today. She usually gone for hours. I’m sorry about your orchid and I’m sure Mara is, too,” he said, motioning to Mara.
Mara looked up at Miss Nichol’s and said sincerely, ” I’m sowwy”.
“Sure you are, you freaky little brat. Keep your toys and shit out of my yard. Turning to Ricky, she said, “You tell your mom that Terry will be back to talk to her later today. Someone owes me for my orchid,” she said as she stormed off the porch.
After relocking the door, Ricky turned to his little sister. “What happened?” Ricky asked her. “What did you do? You weren’t even supposed to be outside,” he finished with a deep sigh.
“I accidentally tossed my ball too high. I didn’t know the plant was in the way,” Mara replied nonchalantly. “It can be weplaced,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Mom’s still gonna be pissed,” Ricky said. “And she’ll blame me cause I was supposed to be watching you. So I’ll be on restriction. Thanks Mara,” he said sarcastically.
“Mom won’t know if you don’t tell, ” Mara said seriously.
“I don’t have to tell. Mrs. Nichols said she’s coming back when mom gets home”, Ricky nearly screamed. “Man,” he said, shaking his head. “My ass is grass.”
Mara turned to face her brother. She was staring at Ricky but her mind was somewhere else. Ricky got creeped out because it looked like she was looking through him.
“Stop staring at me Mara,” Ricky finally said. “You’re acting weird.”
“It’s all okay,” Mara said. “It’s all okay.” She hugged her brother’s neck and ran back upstairs.
Maybe okay for you, Ricky thought. I’m dead when Mrs. Nichols rings that doorbell. He walked slowly up the stairs, dreading his mom’s return.
A few hours later, Mrs. Dabney returned home and both kids helped her bring in groceries, laundry and a big pizza box from Pizza House. They didn’t usually eat fast food but his mom had decided she was too tired to cook, so take out pizza it was. Both Ricky and Mara were thrilled.
While they ate, Mara babbled on with their mother about dolls and dresses and this necklace she wanted, just as if nothing had happened earlier. Ricky ate quietly, his pizza tasting like cardboard, and with every bite, he expected fists on the door to rain hell down on him and his pizza. But they finished dinner uninterrupted and while he and Mara cleaned the paper plates, his mom stretched out on the sofa.
Ricky hung around, trying to decide if he’d go to his room to wait or just sit in the living room. He jumped slightly when Mara slid her tiny arm around his waist and gave him a hard side hug. “What’s that for?” Ricky asked, smiling at Mara.
“Just to let you know it’s all okay,” she smiled back. “She’s not coming to tell mom.” Mara held her hand up like she was about to take an oath. “I pwomise,” she added.
“I know it’s a little early”, their mom suddenly called out, “but you kids go take your baths. Mara first. Then you can play a little while, but we’re all going to bed early tonight cause I’m tired,” his mom finished.
Ricky woke up about 3am and had to pee. The very first thought in his head was to marvel that Mrs. Nichols hadn’t come back over. We were so lucky, he nodded to himself. He stumbled to the bathroom and lifted the toilet seat. As he peed, he glanced over at the sink and realized something was in there. After re-adjusting his pajama bottoms, he walked over to the sink and peered in. Sleepily flipping on the light over the counter, he recoiled momentarily until he realized it was another of Mara’s dolls. This one had the legs torn off, the arms torn off and the head torn off. In the dim light, it looked like parts of the doll were burned. And one of his toys cars was upside down next to the head and left leg. Now what?, he thought to himself. He almost reached in to retrieve his car, but something he didn’t understand stopped him. He heard, “go back to bed and sleep” whispered in his ear. He stumbled back to bed and immediately fell back to sleep.
At 7:30am the next morning, Ricky’s jangly alarm woke him and he sat straight up in bed before he remembered it was Saturday. He must have forgotten to turn his alarm off from day before. No school on Saturdays and his mom let them sleep in, but here he is, wide awake at 7:30. He got up and headed for the bathroom, still yawning. As he stood at the toilet, he remembered the doll parts and car in the sink. He peeped onto the sink and found it empty. No trace of doll pieces or his toy car. He had a feeling he’d never see that car again. “It’s been weird around here,” he mumbled to himself.
It was getting close to lunchtime and Ricky asked his mom if they could have the leftover pizza. Mara wholeheartedly agreed. Their mom laughed and said, “Why not? I’ll heat it up and we’ll eat. No sense in wasting it, right?”
As they waited on the pizza to heat up, the phone rang. Mara was setting out paper plates and napkins while Ricky poured everyone sodas. Mrs. Dabney ran to get the phone.
“Hello,” his mom said cheerfully. After only a second, her face went dark and concerned. “What in the world happened?”
Ricky stopped what he was doing and listened intently. Mara continued setting the table as she watched Ricky walk quietly closer to where his mom was talking.
“Oh my God,” he heard his mom whisper, as she put her hand over her mouth. His mother had a habit of repeating bits of conversation as people were talking to her, so he waited to see if she’d give anything away.
“I saw Terry a couple days ago……this happened this morning?…….just driving down Waycross Road……her car just exploded?……..you say she was completely torn apart?…..how horrible….” his mother’s conversation continued, but Ricky turned away and nearly ran into Mara.
She stared up at him but didn’t speak. The torn up doll and overturned car in the sink flashed through Ricky’s mind and now Mrs. Nichols gets “blown to pieces” when her car “just exploded”? His brain frantically searched for what to say or do. Was his sister some kind of witch? Demon? He was petrified but couldn’t dare show it. He couldn’t upset her and he couldn’t act like all this upset him.
“Is the pizza ready?” He asked casually. “Mom better get off the phone if she wants some cause you’ll eat it all,” he said to Mara, grabbing her and tickling her.
Mara smiled up at him. “You’re a good big brother, Richard,” she said with perfect diction. “And I’m so glad you’re smart, too.” She smiled broadly at Ricky and he saw a micro-flash of clear, icy blue skip through her eyes.
Nadine was awakened from a sound sleep by water splashing on her face. She sat up, disoriented, then realized her boat was sinking. Her bedroom was half filled with seawater. Panic set in as she jumped up and slogged through the water to the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, she ran through the kitchen and out on the deck. The full moon offered welcome light as she grabbed the life raft. She pulled the inflate tab and tossed it down to the ocean surface, making sure it was tied to the boat.
She dashed back into the kitchen to grab a few things and tossed them down into the raft. Next she headed back to her bedroom to change and grab her phone but realized her entire bedroom was completely submerged and the water was already spilling into the kitchen. Her boat was sinking fast.
She ran back out on deck, grabbed a tarp and untied the raft. Holding the rope in her hand, she jumped. Her adrenaline was raging. It was a miracle she wasn’t sucked under when the boat sank below the surface. She sat in the raft in shock. Her life’s savings and everything she owned just sank in the ocean. Her dream of sailing around the world shattered. Her life now in danger.
Panic began to subside as fear rose. Surely I’ll be found in a day or two, she thought. I’m pretty sure I’m near the shipping lanes. She lay back in the raft, feeling shaky and weak. She was sweating bullets. You’re just coming down off that adrenaline rush, she told herself. You’re okay. Staring up at the stars, she finally fell back asleep.
DAY ONE – The hot August sun woke Nadine early. Hoping it was all a bad dream, she opened her eyes. Nothing but sky and water as far as you could see. Trying to stay logical and calm, she took inventory of what made it into the raft with her. Well, that’s not good, she thought. You managed to grab two apples, three bananas and a quart of water. And a blue tarp. “Great color choice, Nadine”, she said aloud. “Blue tarp, blue water, blue sky. Go for contrast next time. Maybe a white one that someone can actually see”. She was practically screaming by the time she finished.
DAY FOUR – She was wondering why a ship hadn’t come along. But then she thought about the currents the night her boat sank. Who knows where I am right now?, she thought. I have no idea how far or which direction I’ve drifted. A couple days ago, she had spread the tarp out, letting the edges hang over the raft. The sides were about 22 inches high so she had room under the tarp to get out of the sun. It was like a sauna but still better than sitting in the blazing sun. And she could lick the condensation off the tarp.
DAY EIGHT – She was down to one apple and about four fingers of water in her container. Better slow down, especially on the water, she thought. She was still optimistic about being found but was also starting to get that worried feeling in the pit of her stomach.
DAY TEN – Nadine was once again awakened by water in her face. She sat up and realized it was raining. The tarp, she thought, where’s the damn tarp? It was gone, likely blown off by the wind. “Stupid”, she yelled at herself. “Why didn’t you tie it down or something? Dumbass”, she said as she banged her fist into her forehead. Now you’re gonna fry, she thought. But she did have fresh water from the rain. It started to pool in little pockets on the floor of the raft. She eagerly slurped it up and drank more water that day than she had the whole time she’d been adrift. Then she threw up into the ocean.
DAY 14 – She had just enough water left to cover the bottom of her water jug. Her food had been gone days ago and it felt like her stomach was gnawing her spine. Her optimism was gone. Her hope was fading. Glancing at the horizon, she did a double-take. “It’s a plane!” she screamed. Her parched throat felt raw. Struggling to her knees, she waved her arms frantically. They’ll see me, she thought. I’m saved. She squinted to get a better look and realized it was a seagull, not a plane. Slumping back into the raft, she flipped the bird off when it flew directly over her. “Send help”, she yelled hoarsely.
DAY 16 – Nadine was so weak, she could barely raise her head off the raft. The sun was merciless. She had blisters across her shoulders and chest and her lips were dry and cracked. She was very thankful for another rain that gave her fresh drinking water. She was also careful not to drink too much this time. She used her nightgown to soak up the water and squeeze it into her jug. It gave her about 2 inches of precious fresh water. The rain also felt wonderful on her skin. She just sprawled in the raft, spread eagle, and soaked up as much as she could.
DAY 21 – Nadine had been drifting in and out of consciousness for the past few days. Her head was pounding but she realized she hadn’t sat up in days. Pulling herself into a sitting position, she slowly looked around. It was a very foggy morning but out in front of her, in the distance, she thought she saw a ship. She managed to get one arm in the air and wave weakly. They have to see me, she thought. Bright yellow raft in the blue sea and they’re headed straight for me. She fell over the side of the raft, staring down in the water. She let her arms dangle, fingers barely touching the water. She closed her eyes to wait for the ship to save her. That’s when her subconscious reared its ugly head. “That’s not a ship. Just like it wasn’t a plane. You’re delirious and you’re gonna die out here. You’re gonna die out here”, it repeated. Nadine slowly raised her head and said, “Well, if I’m gonna die out here, it’s gonna be on my terms. I’m not dying in this stupid, damn raft so the birds can pick at my flesh”. She summoned every ounce of strength she had left and pulled herself up and over the side of the raft, sinking headfirst into the ocean. Once in the water, her nightgown fanned out like a mermaids tail. She rolled to her back as she sank. She felt free. She felt like she was flying. Looking up at the sky, she saw it get darker and darker as she sank deeper and deeper. She closed her eyes and drowned in the cold saltwater.
Back on the surface, spotlights from a Coast Guard cutter sliced through the fog, illuminating the raft and water around it. “What have we got?” yelled the Captain.
“It’s a raft, sir”, the seaman answered. He turned and looked at the captain, shrugging. “It’s just an empty raft”.
Blanche Wooley slipped a ten dollar bill to the food store employee who took her groceries to her car. They tried to refuse it but she insisted they take it for helping her. Blanche had to use a cane to walk due to advanced osteoarthritis in both of her knees. She knew she’d be in a wheelchair soon enough, but she wasn’t going down without a hell of a fight, dammit. 83 was still young as far as she was concerned.
Harry and Sonny were walking through the parking lot trying to make up their mind who their next mark would be. They liked to look for just one person who was driving an expensive-looking car. Their M.O. was to follow the person home, rush the victim as they unlocked their door and then rob them.
Presently, Sonny motioned to Harry and pointed at Blanche. She was thanking the employee, standing shakily with her cane. They both noted her vehicle was a new Mercedes sedan. Her clothes looked well-tailored, not like they came off the rack at Walmart. She was carrying a designer purse and even her cane looked expensive. It looked hand-carved with a leather hand sewn grip. It looked custom. That meant money.
Harry took off in that direction and walked down the passenger side of Blanche’s car while she slowly made her way to the driver’s door.
“Hello”, Blanche said when she noticed Harry.
“Hi,” he answered. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Why, yes, I am”, she replied. “Why do you ask?”
“You can never be too safe these days. You have to be careful”, Harry said, grinning.
“Well, I’ve got my cane. It keeps me safe”, she said confidently, as she opened her car door.
Harry looped back around and met Sonny at his pickup truck, sliding into the seat as Sonny started the ignition. “This is gonna be a piece of cake”, he told Sonny while rubbing his hands together. “She’s got ice cream in the back seat so she must live close. And she’s SO slow,” he said, rolling his eyes.
They pulled behind Blanche at the traffic light and turned left when she took that direction. They didn’t even make an attempt to appear like they weren’t following Blanche. She was going to be the easiest robbery yet. They joked and laughed as they followed her home.
They watched her pull up a long driveway. Harry quickly decided they should park by the curb and go up on foot. He figured it’d be easier to just run back down to the car, rather than try to back it down her long ass, curved drive.
They were halfway up the hill when she pulled into her garage. Harry looked at Sonny, breathing heavily from running, “We’re not gonna make it before she closes the garage door.”
Sonny was short of breath, too, but managed to laugh, “As slow as she is, we’ve got this.”
As the two thieves stepped into the garage, it took a few seconds for their eyes to adjust to the darkness. The first thing that came into view was Blanche, standing by her open car door, with her cane pointed at the boys.
“I knew you assholes were up to something,” she said. Then there was a loud bang and Harry fell to the floor like a sack of rocks. Blood began to pool around his body.
“What the hell, old woman?” Sonny screamed. “You killed my friend!”
“Oh, you’re about to see him again. This is a two shooter”, she said flatly, as she pulled the trigger on her cane gun for the second time.
Sonny slammed back against the wall and crumpled to the floor. He fell near Harry’s feet and their blood flowed together.
“And now I’ll go call the police about you two thieves,” she said to the dead boys. As she unlocked her house door, she turned back and added, “Just because I’m old doesn’t mean you can fuck with me”.
Laila walked slowly down the aisle of the thrift shop. She loved other people’s discarded treasures. The wooden floor creaked and groaned beneath her feet and the place smelled like a combination of moth balls, leather and old books.
She was about to leave when something caught her eye. She’d had one once, when she was 13 or 14 years old. But her family had moved and she never saw it again. It was a Magic 8 Ball. She grabbed it up and looked at the price. $1.00.
Laila headed for the cash register as if she’d just found the hidden treasure. She paid for the ball with quarters, grabbed the bag and receipt and headed for her car.
Driving home, the 8 ball called up wonderful memories of her childhood. She and her sister, Bridget, played with theirs constantly. Until her sister was killed. She had been hit by a drunk driver when she was 17 and had not survived. Laila had been 14 at the time and was in the car with her. And while Laila survived, she had been in the hospital five months. At age 33, she still had issues with headaches, hallucinations and chronic pain.
About the time Laila was released from the hospital is when the family moved into a new home. That’s when she lost the 8 ball. And now she had another one, she smiled to herself.
Pulling into her garage, she noticed her husband’s car was parked on the street. Odd for him to be home this time on a weekday, she thought to herself. “Oh, I hope he’s not sick. God forbid,” she said outloud, crossing herself.
Her husband met her at the door, nearly knocking her down, as he raced towards his car. “What’s going on?” Laila cried out.
“I forgot my presentation,” he yelled as he jumped in his car. “I might make it back in time to actually present it. If I’m late, I’m screwed,” he yelled as he zoomed away, leaving black tire streaks in the road.
Laila sat down to wait for a pot of coffee to brew and pulled her treasure out of the bag. She rubbed her hand around the top of it, the edges of the 8 was beginning to fray. “I’ll have to be very careful with you,” she said to the 8 ball as she turned it over in her hand. Staring into the inky window, she waited for the little triangular shape to appear. The one with the answer to all the universe’s questions.
As Laila stared at the window, the message started to appear. She looked down and read “Hello Laila. Ask me any yes or no question”. Laila read it twice and then dropped the ball on her sofa. She rubbed her hands like she’d just picked up something hot. “What the hell?” she yelled at the ball.
She backed away from the sofa and went into the kitchen to get a glass of wine. Coffee wasn’t going to cut it. Maybe I’m just tired, she reasoned.
About an hour later, she had worked up the courage to pick up the Magic 8 Ball. She re-read the message, oddly still in the window. “Okay,” she said. “Yes or no questions, huh?”
She held the ball upright. “Did my husband really forget his presentation this morning?” she asked.
Flipping the ball over, the answer slowly revealed itself. “Yes, because his mind was on last night with his secretary, Stacie.”
Laila nearly dropped the ball. She’d long suspected her husband was having an affair. No one worked as much as he claimed he did. The nights he’d come and get directly in the shower. The smudges on his clothes. And his utter lack of interest in her. Now it all made sense.
“Is my husband sleeping with his secretary?” Laila asked the 8 ball.
The inky liquid ebbed and flowed until the answer was revealed. “Yes. Sorry Laila.”
This is stupid, Laila thought. I’m talking to a damn toy ball. How could the 8 ball know anything? She tossed the ball back on the sofa and finished her wine.
It was nearly 7:30pm and Laila’s husband still wasn’t home from work. He also hadn’t called. Laila realized she was pacing in the living room and forced herself to sit down. She sat on the 8 ball. Reaching back, she picked the ball up and rolled it from hand to hand.
After a few minutes, she asked the ball, “Is my husband still at work?”
Within seconds, she had her answer. “No, Laila“.
“When did he leave work?” she asked angrily.
“Yes or no questions only please, Laila.”
Laila took a deep breath. Yes, yes, she thought. I have to stick to the rules. “Did he leave work before 4:00 pm?” she asked.
“Yes Laila“, the triangle read.
“Damn him!” she said aloud. “He cannot do this to me.”
Laila went upstairs and showered. She had brought the 8 ball upstairs and put it on the bedside table. She climbed into bed about 9:30pm with still no word from her husband. She dialed his cell number. When his phone went straight to voicemail, she tried to keep her voice even and slow when she left a message. “Hi hon. I was just worried about you. Hope you don’t have to work much longer. I love you”.
Love him? she thought. Ha! I loathe him. Lying two-timing bastard. Her mind took over and suddenly she was imagining him with his secretary. She imagined them touching each other, kissing each other. Her anger grew, fed by her vivid imagination, until she was nearly blind with rage.
Laila grabbed the 8 ball and shook it fiercely. “Will my husband be home tonight?” she asked.
“Yes, Laila, but not for several hours“.
Laila sat on the floor beside the mudroom door. It was nearly 2:00 am and she was waiting for her husband. She was about to doze off when she heard the garage door opening. Standing up, she prepared to greet her husband when he entered the house. She stood in the middle of the mudroom with her husband’s handgun pointed at the door.