Short story that popped in my head last night. First draft. No spell check. Abandon hope…
I was lost when I left the service. For six years of my life I had only known regimine. Discipline. Direction. I knew when to get up, when to go to bed, and I knew my schedule in between. Even when we were overseas I had a structure that kept me in place and kept me on the path forward.
Before the service was a blur.
A hazy memory of lost moments and stacked regrets.
The service saved me.
The only way to honor that salvation was to commit myself to it fully.
For as long as it’d have me.
Sure, they would find a place for me, somewhere, behind a desk, helping other cripples, but it wasn’t service.
It wasn’t salvation.
A stupid, goddamned mistake.
And here I was.
Home, to a small town that never had felt like home but it was an address.
It was a family that cared and a bed and day one.
That was what they called the rehabilitation process for both drugs and disability.
I was at month 74 and day 62 and counting.
But every day was Day One.
That was the truth.
I had to make routine for myself.
I had to make boundaries because if I didn’t then I would stray and if I strayed…
So every morning I went for a walk.
It was painful and slow but I heeded the words they told me in rehab ‘Make the prosthesis your new limb. Make it part of your body’.
So I did.
I worked with it, not against it.
The more I learned to work within its restrictions the better I was able to move. I spent much of my days at rehab but the walks were different. I didn’t push myself. I didn’t drive myself. No. This was about getting up and getting out. It was about getting to know the neighborhood again, its scents, sights, sounds, and suburban American personality.
I had been overseas for two years when the accident happened and it was strange to be back within these American rhythms.
It felt strange but good.
So I walked.
I would leave the house at 6AM and head down through my cul-de-sac, down the street, past the elementary school, and back into the woods. Each day I pushed myself further and further until I saw the old chair in the woods. That was my signpost.
It was old, and plastic, and blue. It must have been an old chair from the school. Grabbed from the trash and brought out here for reasons I couldn’t figure. The were covered in webbing but the seat was clean. Every day I would go for my walk and every day I would make up a new story about the chair.
It was a hunter’s chair, as they sat silently waiting for prey.
It was a bird watcher’s perch as they looked for a mystery finch.
It was a nature lover’s secret spot to commune with the world of trees and animals.
It was a cool down place for an angry kid, when things got rough.
The more times I saw the chair the darker the ideas got. It went from odd, to strange, to weird, to creepy.
I didn’t like it, that chair.
Harmless as it was.
Slowly I came to hate it.
Why was it there?
Who used it?
What did they do out here, so far from everything?
I started walking in May and by July had noticed that the cobwebs had started to form on the chair. Leaves and bird shit and other debris from the woods were starting to gather on the seat and suddenly I wondered – what changed?
What had changed so that the chair was forgotten?
As July became August I forgot about the chair. It was now just another part of the woods, like the old bed someone had left in the brush, or the sink I had seen once when taking a leak. The woods were full of strange things people would just toss or drag out there. Who knows why they did it, though I am sure most of it was just people doing the work to throw this stuff here rather than the work to throw them out where they should. It was silly and typical and it wasn’t an American thing, it was a human thing.
If there was one thing we were good at it was fucking up a beautiful thing.
I had all but forgotten the chair, having a new goal further into the woods, but then one day I glanced over at it and saw it was clean again. Even the legs, which someone had actually painted black. The whole chair was painted. All of it. I left the trail and walked over to it an7d saw two cans of black spray paint. Flat Black. With the paint was a crumpled beer can. I leaned towards the chair and the smell was strong. I didn’t make it out for a walk the day before, my mom needing me to help her with a project, so it must have been done then.
I got back on the trail and started moving again but couldn’t get the chair out of my mind. What had changed. It was the end of August. The end of a hot, dry summer. Where had this person been and why were they back?
I couldn’t shake the chair from my mind.
That creepy feeling it gave me deepened.
Maybe it was someone else.
Or maybe someone had just gotten a little more interested in that chair.
Three days after I noticed the paint I noticed a pad on the chair’s seat. Two days later there was an old tackle box beneath the chair. I tried to ignore it but curiosity got the better of me. Something I was trained to not let take hold. If you let curiosity take hold of you then you got a bullet in the gut, or a bomb in the face.
On the way back I stopped and looked around once, twice, then a third time and sat down in the chair and reached under it and grabbed the tackle box. I expected a lock on it but was surprised to see that it opened easily and I snapped the clasp free and opened it. It was inocuous enough – napkins, hand cream, a small pair of binoculars, and a pocket knife. I pulled the napkins out and found a small roll of black duct tape. Nothing scary. Nothing revelatory. Just stuff. But why?
I sat back in the chair, the tackle box in my lap and I looked out through the forest and saw that branches had been cut away, in my line of sight, clearing a path that lead to a clearing that opened out on the playground of the elementary school. There were still some branches in place and I immediately knew the look of cover, of something done deliberately to cover something, or someone, while leaving an opening to see out.
I looked into the box again and thought about its contents.
I thought about the knife.
I looked out again and saw a child run towards the swings and start swinging.
I thought about that duct tape.
School was slated to start the next day.
I closed the box and put it back underneath the chair and started the long walk back home.
I didn’t go to rehab, begging off due to a sick stomach. They gave me shit but not much. Mom and dad were at work so I was alone. I got home and went to the shower and thought about that chair and the box beneath it as the hot water poured over me. There were a lot of things in my head but I kept coming back to that box, and that knife, and that duct tape. Maybe if I went to the cops something would be done. Maybe not. Maybe life is a winding path that twists and turns and once in a while takes you to a place where you are meant to be, you, and no one else. A place were you, and only you, can do something. By the time I had toweled off my mind was made up.
I didn’t have a choice.
I snuck out well past midnight. Two in the morning. I knew the path well enough not to need a flashlight until the last minute but I was lucky and had a bright moon to guide me. Some things are just meant to be I suppose. The bag I had put together wasn’t heavy and gave me a sort of reassurance as I made my way slowly towards the woods. Once I was into the woods I pulled a small but bright flashlight out and made my way to the chair. It was two-thirty when I made it there and I immediately noticed another box beneath the chair. This one cardboard with one flap sticking up, almost demanding I look inside.
I had seen enough.
I unshouldered the backpack and sat down in the chair as I got out what I needed and got to work.
I removed my left leg to get down onto the ground and that helped drive me. The ground was cold and wet and with the sounds of the woods and the moon above I fell back into my training. First I pulled out a small saw and sawed through both back legs of the chair. Not completely but enough so that any weight would send the chair backwards and the person in it right with it.
Next I dug the hole. Four feet long, four feet wide, four feet deep. I had dug more holes than I could even count anymore so the work went quick and felt good. When it was done I strapped my leg back on and pulled a collapseable bucket from the bag and started moving the dirt far enough away from the chair so that you couldn’t see it easily. When that was done I looked at my watch and saw it was five. I had to work quick. I found some sticks and pulled a knife from a holster on my belt. I refused to use the knife that was here. Once the sticks were sharpened I removed my leg again and dropped down to the edge of the hole and carefully pushed the sticks into the hole. Deep, deeper, deepest and good. Four sticks. All sharp. I crawled over to the bag and pulled out my dad’s camouflage netting he used to cover his hunting hutch and I spread that out over the hole then carefully moved some branches and dirt onto it. It wasn’t great but I had a feeling this guy wasn’t going to be looking for anything. He was too caught up. There were storms coming in three days and if he didn’t come the whole thing would be ruined. I had a hunch though he’d be here. Today. I strapped my leg back on, put everything back where it was meant to be and checked and double checked the area before I started walking back home.
I was home just before six and after I dropped the bag in my room I stripped everything off and got into the shower and let myself smile for the first time. After the shower I got into bed nude, loving the feel of the clean sheets against my body as the cool morning air slipped in through my window. I fell asleep and dreamt of that chair, and the woods, and of screaming, so much screaming.
But he wouldn’t scream.
And when after I found him no one would ever see him again.
Or that goddamned chair.
Today, today was Day One.
(Hey, if you dug this, check my other fiction on here or take a look at one of my books for sale!)