Monthly Archives: August 2013

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 7.

Hello, and welcome back! This week I need to mention that a new YA horror short story of mine, Just One Date, is rolling out into e-bookstores right now. It’s up for sale now at the Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo stores, and will be going up in other stores shortly. Just One Date will also be part of the short story collection of mine that will be coming out this fall.

Now on to this week’s story excerpt. We’ve reached Part One. 7. of Soul Cages. In today’s entry, Marian’s family prepares to move into their new home in Albuquerque. (This story is around PG-13 in intensity.)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

7

When my family drove up to our house Saturday morning, the Andervenders stood lined up on the sidewalk waiting. They reminded me of people out of a 1950s TV show—Pastor Andervender in a gray business suit, Gena in an orchid-print dress, and all four sons dressed up in oxford shirts, ties, and khakis.

My family was dressed for dealing with boxes out of moving vans—jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Even Mom.

Dad parked our car on the street so that the driveway would be clear for the moving vans.

Mark and Luke, the youngest Andervender sons, turned out to be seven and five respectively, and on their best manners. But they wriggled while standing in place.

Mom looked at Gena’s dress, then down at her own jeans. “I didn’t realize—”

“No, no,” Gena interrupted. “We always dress up on a special occasion like this. I’ve packed other clothes for them to switch into after the healing prayers, if it’s okay with you.”

“Certainly,” Mom said.

Gena lifted up a picnic basket that was at her feet, and handed it to Mom. “From our home to yours. May we break bread together in the name of Christ.”

“Amen,” all the boys and Andervender said.

Mom lifted the basket lid, to expose a loaf of brown bread and eight blueberry muffins. “Oh, Gena, this smells wonderful.”

“I love the smell of baking bread,” Gena said. “If you put a slice in the microwave for ten seconds, it’ll make your kitchen smell nice and homey.”

Mom put her hand into the basket and smiled at Dad. “The bread is still warm.”

Henry ignored the bread smell to gaze at the backyard walls. I could tell he wanted this all to end so he could get away from the strangers and go hide in the backyard.

But Pastor Andervender launched into prayers that seemed to go on and on and on. I got bored and began watching everyone while my head stayed tilted down. The Andervenders posed in solemn prayer with bowed heads and folded hands; they obviously had to do this a lot.

Dad and Mom had their eyes screwed shut like they were afraid they’d be busted for peeking. And Henry stood there, head unbowed, shifting from foot to foot. Dad had a tight grip on Henry’s T-shirt, which explained why my brother hadn’t snuck off.

At last there was a chorus of Amens, and both Henry and I made for the barred front door.

“Ahem,” Pastor Andervender said. “Henry, Marian, please come back. We’re not quite done.”

Henry scraped his sneakers in long drags as he came back with me.

Andervender said, “Stand before me, children.”

All the boys and Gena looked blasé. This must be something Andervender always did.

Andervender raised his hands over my head and Henry’s. I made myself stay put as he lay a sweaty palm on my head. His thumb dug deep into my scalp.

Henry ducked Andervender’s other hand.

I would have laughed except for the look in Andervender’s eyes.

Andervender scowled. “Son, hold still.”

“Son?” Henry asked. He pointed at Dad. “He’s my Dad, not you.”

Dad said to Henry, “Pastor Andervender calls all the boys in his church ‘son.’ It’s a special word for pastors to use.”

“Oh,” Henry said. To Andervender: “Don’t touch me.”

“Henry,” Mom said. “Let the Pastor bless you. Just like what he’s doing with Marian. Hold still.”

“No!” Henry ran for the door and rattled the bars.

Mom said, “It’s hard for him to let others touch him.” Dad went after Henry, while Mark and Luke gawked at the unexpected change in routine.

Andervender’s hand on my scalp was getting on my nerves.

More loud No‘s from Henry as he yanked on the bars while Dad whispered in his ear. I winced inside. My brother was being pushed to his limits, and any moment now he was going snap.

“Matthew,” Andervender said, “please help the Hawthorns get their son back.”

John put a hand on Matthew’s arm, but Matthew shrugged it off and strode up toward Henry.

My mouth went dry. I couldn’t get any words out. Come back, Henry. They don’t understand.

When Matthew had almost reached him, Henry made a run for it. My brother was such a clumsy runner, with his flailing arms, that Matthew caught him easily. Matthew wrapped his arms around Henry from behind and lifted him like he was a huge box, hauling him back to Andervender.

Only Andervender’s hand on my head inhibited me from going after Matthew when Henry started bellowing.

Dad walked next to Henry, saying over and over, “Stop it, Henry, stop yelling.” Mom wrung her hands and went to stand next to Gena.

Henry wriggled as hard as he could. Matthew’s hands, linked together, turned pink with the effort to hold Henry in place.

Andervender let go of me to use both hands to hold Henry’s head between his thick fingers. “In the name of Christ Almighty,” Andervender said, “I command the affliction of Asperger’s to be lifted out of this child. Let your light shine in this world, O Lord.”

While Andervender continued to pray, Henry yelled. His feet dangled and kicked out helplessly.

Mom and Dad watched, gripping onto each other’s hands.

Henry tried to whip his head back to escape Andervender’s grip. Matthew’s arms tightened, the sinews showing, and my brother gave a hoarse moan.

The cry welled out of me. “Stop! You’re freaking him out!”

Andervender kept praying, focused on Henry.

“Stop!” I twisted Andervender’s nearest pinky out at a sharp angle. Andervender yelped at the pain, and had to remove that hand from Henry’s head to get his pinky away from me.

John ran up. “Matt, put him down.”

Matthew let go, and Henry fell in a heap.

I squatted at Henry’s side as he rolled onto to his stomach to pummel the concrete with hands and feet.

Andervender watched Henry fall apart. He calmly told me, “You ruined this. I could feel the spirits leaving the boy.”

My voice shook. “Stay away from my brother.”

“That’s for your parents to decide.” Andervender looked at my parents, and I followed his gaze.

They wouldn’t look at Henry or me. The younger Andervenders were hiding behind Gena—who wagged a finger at me.

Dad said, still not looking at me, “I’m surprised we didn’t bother the neighbors with all this fuss.” He sighed, and walked over. “Marian, Henry is having a tantrum, and he’ll keep it up if you pay attention. You know better than to do that.” He clasped my wrists and tried to pull me up. “Come away. He’ll stop once he doesn’t have an audience.”

I sat down on the concrete, close enough that Henry could sense I was there, but far enough that I wouldn’t get hit by his fists or feet.

“Get up,” Dad said. “Let Henry be by himself for a bit.”

“No,” I said.

Andervender sucked in his breath in disapproval. I was sorely tempted to give him the finger.

Matthew offered his hand to me to help me up. Jerk. Go away. I wrapped my arms around my legs and shook my head.

He took a step back, hesitated, and then followed Gena and Mom as they disappeared through the front door with Mark and Luke.

“Go on in,” I said to Dad.

“Very well,” Dad said. “But lock up the car after you get the backpacks out.”

Dad and Andervender went into the house, but John stayed. He said, “What can I do?” as he watched Henry thrash around.

“Not much.” I leaned over to say in Henry’s ear, “They’re gone.” But my brother was lost in overstimulation. I worried he’d start banging his forehead against the concrete.

So I walked to the car on shaky legs and rummaged through Henry’s backpack until I found his spinning light toy. Then I dug through mine for Henry’s surprise gift—a field guide for New Mexico.

When I returned with toy and field guide, John had moved so that he was between Henry and the street; Henry would be unable to accidentally roll into it.

I stood next to Henry and pretended to study the light toy up close. “Gee, this is fascinating.” I pushed the toy button halfway in, then all the way, then halfway again. “I can control the spin of the lights by how far I push the button in, and the spin speed changes the light patterns.”

Henry stopped pounding the concrete, raised his head, and held out a scuffed palm.

I handed the toy over. Henry lay on his stomach with his nose up against its plastic shell, studying how the light patterns changed. His arms had faint pink marks where Matthew had held him.

How I hated Matthew and Andervender for this.

John said, “I’ve never seen Dad get carried away like that. Matt tends to act first, think later.”

Some healing.”

“Dad is certain he can cure Henry—he said he had a vision about it.” John kicked a stone away while mumbling, “I don’t think…”

His voice was so soft I moved closer to try to hear him. “Think what?”

As he rubbed a hand against his forehead, a rough wooden cross hidden by his tie came into view. He said, “You didn’t tell your parents about knowing about Sydney.”

“Would you have gotten in trouble if I had?”

“Yes.”

“You confided in me,” I said. “Breaking that would be a betrayal of trust.”

John’s shoulders relaxed. He took off his glasses to polish them with his tie. “Dad went about this prayer session the wrong way.” He put his glasses back on. “He was too fast and too harsh … he’s used to parishioners being eager for the laying on of hands, not running away.”

“He knows nothing about Asperger’s, nothing about how they experience the world.”

“Would you teach me? Then I’ll know how to explain it to him.”

I thought about it. So far John’s interest in Henry had been genuine. “Yes.”

“People from church will be arriving soon. Should we take him for a walk to Piñon Park?”

Henry lifted his head at the word “park” and looked around. That’s when he caught sight of the field guide under my arm.

“He’d like that. Here,” I said, giving the field guide to Henry as he stood up. “You can take it with you to look up any plants or animals we see.”

Henry flipped it open to a picture of ravens.

Now was not the time to remind Henry he was supposed to say “Thank you.”

Henry kept his nose in his book as he said, “Let’s go.”

John tugged at his tie. “I need to change. I’m not dressed for a hike.” He paused, staring at the living room windows. “Then again, maybe we should just grab supplies and go.”

Mom and Gena were looking out, heads tilted toward each other, mouths moving, watching us. I made a weak smile and waved. John waved as well.

I turned my face away from the window. “In the car there’s sunscreen, and a small cooler with water bottles.”

Henry ran for the car. He grabbed his backpack—shaking DVDs out of it onto the seat—to shove in his field guide and light toy.

“Henry, do me a favor and get my backpack for me.” I popped the trunk to pull out four water bottles. John took my backpack from Henry and put the bottles in for me while I dug around for sunscreen.

After I locked up the car, John led the way to the house. Mom and Gena were gone from the window. John said, “Let me persuade them.”

My brother’s pace slowed. I doubted Henry wanted go inside while Matthew and Andervender were there. “Henry, why don’t you sit out here? We’ll come get you.”

Henry flopped down and rocked his upper body back and forth while looking through his field guide. We left the backpacks near him.

John and I entered the dank hall to find Luke and Mark playing hide-and-seek in the living room. Female voices could be heard from the kitchen, muffled male ones from behind the home office door.

John made an exasperated noise. “Still stinks in here.”

No wonder people call them “swamp” coolers. I pointed at the brown carpet. “Maybe the carpeting soaked up the puddle smell.”

“Could be. Mr. Bauer should have cleaned the swamp coolers more often.”

John reached the kitchen archway and stood there, while I lurked in the hall to listen.

Gena said, “Oh, there you are. Laura’s parents called. They’ll be here in fifteen minutes with folding tables for the food and drinks.”

“Fine.” John sounded hostile about Laura. “I heard people with Asperger’s don’t deal well with crowds. I’m taking Henry and Marian for a walk to Piñon Park so he can relax.”

Mom said, “That’s … very nice of you.”

“We need a better understanding of Asperger’s if Dad is going to help Henry,” John added.

Gena said, “Let’s not go into that now. Tonight will be soon enough.”

So, there would be a discussion at the Andervender household about the botched prayer.

John studied his watch. “We’ll be back before noon.”

“Oh, all right.” Gena sighed. “How about Matthew goes with you?”

“After what happened?” John said. “No way.” He backed out of the archway into the hall.

I overheard Gena say, “He’s so irritable whenever I mention Laura. I don’t know what to do at times. He refuses to go out with her anymore, but she’s perfect for him.”

I couldn’t be sure due to the hall’s dimness, but I thought John blushed.

Mom said, “I know exactly what you mean. Marian and Trent started out so well, and then she fought with him nonstop. Since Henry’s diagnosis she’s become so argumentative and pushy. She needs someone she can’t bully, like Matthew.”

It was my turn to blush.

By silent mutual consent, John and I rushed for the door, gathered up Henry, and went down the street in an almost-run.

************** End of Part One. 7. *****************

If you are reading this after September 3, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 8.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages if any of the e-bookstore links don’t work.

See you in September, LM

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 6.

We’ve reached Part One. 6. of Soul Cages. When we last left off, Marian and her family had gone back to the hotel for their last night before moving into their new home. ( PG-13 )

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

6

I dreamed of the cluster of oaks next to the assisted living apartments where Grannie lived. The thick moisture of a summer dusk hung under the trees, teetering on the brink of becoming mist. I walked down the cracked stone path that led to the benches under the oak trees, following the scent of clove cigarettes to where Grannie sat.

It was not quite dark enough for the lightning bugs to come out.

“Come here, Marian,” Grannie’s voice called out to me, and I sat on the splintery wooden bench with Grannie—the plaque I knew by memory saying, “Given in Loving Memory of Sammy Washington.” I’d traced out the letters with my finger during long chats with Grannie while Henry tried to climb the trees.

Grannie’s sharp voice came to me; the shadows made it so I couldn’t quite make out her features. “Letty is thousands of miles away in Germany until August, and far away are your friends, and Henry’s teachers, therapists, and doctors. You’re on your own, honey, God help you.”

“I know.”

The wind began to blow, smelling of rainwater from the sea, and the leaves rustled overhead. My hair began to get in my eyes.

“The storm is coming,” she said. “You need what the Spirit can give you.”

The winds were blowing, leaves tumbling up and around me.

I awoke to the sound of the hotel elevator, and lay there for a moment, disoriented, wondering how I’d been blown from Raleigh to here, until I realized, Wait, I’m in Albuquerque, in a hotel. I could hear Henry doing wheeze-mumbles in his sleep in the other bed.

The clock read 3:07. Go back to sleep, I told myself. You just miss Grannie, so of course now you’re dreaming about her. Wish fulfillment.

But Grannie’s voice replayed itself in my mind, saying, The storm is coming. And I listened to Henry’s breathing, and found myself murmuring, “Please God, let it be all right. Please.”

************** End of Part One. 6. *****************

If you are reading this after August 26, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 7.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages.

Good luck to everyone this week, LM

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 4 & 5.

We’ve reached Part One. 4. of Soul Cages. It’s rather short, so I am going to add 5 in as well. When we last left off, Marian had found out about Sydney and was searching in the back yard for other marks by her. ( PG-13 )

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

4

Henry and I lingered outside long after everyone else went in. I’d had no luck finding any other Sydney carvings. I took pictures with my cell phone of the house and sent them to Nicole.

Mom came outside to get us. “Rather rude to stay out here, Marian; you know Henry copies you.”

But I could tell Mom’s heart wasn’t in it. Mom’d been able to have a long talk with Gena and Andervender without Henry interrupting every five minutes.

Inside, the Andervenders stood in the front hall. Waiting to say good-bye. Thank God.

I covertly studied John. Whatever he felt at being in Sydney’s house had been shut down tight.

After the good-byes were finished, we had to gather in a prayer circle and hold hands (except for Henry, who couldn’t be coaxed into doing it) while Pastor Andervender said a quick prayer.

Matthew cleared his throat after the prayer was finished.

Now what?

“The Youth Group meeting is Sunday at five,” Matthew said to me. “We order pizza, so you don’t have to worry about dinner. I’ll give you a ride since you can’t drive.”

My temper flared at the words can’t drive. “I have my license, I just need insurance.”

My parents shifted in discomfort, but nodded at Matthew.

Matthew said, “I’ll pick you up at four-thirty.”

How dare he just assume I’ll go.

I watched John try to subtly step on Matthew’s toes to let him know he’d screwed up—and then stop in mid-squeeze as he realized I’d caught him doing it.

As I opened my mouth to say No, Mom interjected with “That should be fine. I’m sure she’ll have a great time.”

No, no, no.

But if I go a few times, and then quit, Mom and Dad can’t accuse me of not giving Youth Group a fair shot.

Andervender filled the silence by saying, “The Youth Group is for ages thirteen and up. That is why your brother cannot go.”

If I refuse outright, I’ll never hear the end of it.

I said, “I’ll be ready.” My stomach sank as Matthew smirked at his brother.

5

I peered behind the living room curtains, and watched all the Andervenders, except John, climb into a SUV. John got into a battered blue truck.

Dad noticed me staring at the truck. “I don’t want to hear anything about insurance. It costs too much to insure you right now. John needs a truck to help his dad with the congregation.”

Mom gave Henry his backpack. She said to him, “Why don’t you watch a Scooby-Doo episode? We’re going to talk to Marian.”

My parents motioned for me to go toward the home office. I dragged my feet, trying to postpone the inevitable talk. The home office had two barred windows. There was no place to sit, so I leaned my back against a wall.

Mom and Dad waited for the other to start.

Finally Mom said to Dad, “Gena’s my friend, so I’ll explain the healings.” She said to me, “Things are going to be different out here. A fresh start, for all of us.”

Dad looked at Mom, who nodded encouragement. “Mom won’t be looking for a job.”

My mouth dropped open. “But Mom loves selling furniture. She’s great at it.” My mind raced for a good argument to change her mind. “And she’s always loved the Santa Fe style. Here she could travel all over New Mexico to find pieces to sell.”

I watched in shock as Mom clasped her hands together and bowed her head forward, in what looked to be contrition. Mom said, “Gena has shown me how critical it is for a mother to be with her children, to protect them and show them the right path, to teach them about God.”

Dad wrapped an arm around Mom. “That’s why we’re not going to be able to afford to put you on the insurance for the car.” He cleared his throat. “I was unable to get an increase in salary to join Nusystech, but we wanted to move now, not later, so I took the job anyway. I’ve sold my sports car. Money is going to be very tight for awhile.”

“Without access to a car,” I said, “it’ll be harder for me to find a job to save up tuition.”

Dad said, “We were thinking you could … postpone looking for part-time work, to help Mom out until Henry is older.”

No, I can’t be hearing this.

Mom said, “God willing, Henry will be cured, but he’ll still need guidance and supervision until he catches up with his peers. And you’ve always said working with Henry was good training for being an OT.”

My parents hadn’t dared to say it—yet—but they wanted me postpone college to take care of Henry. NO. “How am I supposed to pay for college if I don’t work?”

“Henry needs you,” Mom said. “You’re his sister.”

I felt guilt twist inside.

“Let me tell you the rest of it,” Mom said. She picked up my left hand and patted it. “I have to tell you a story. I didn’t tell you before, because I knew you’d think that Gena and Pastor Andervender were mistaken. But they aren’t.”

You held off because you both knew I’d ask Aunt Letty for advice. Now the move is a done deal, and Letty’s overseas teaching for summer break.

I tried to wriggle my hand out of Mom’s, but Mom held on tight. I couldn’t get my hand free without a scene. Mom kept patting it like I was an upset child.

Mom said, “About a year-and-a-half ago, Gena’s youngest son Luke got pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. No matter what the doctors tried, Luke kept getting sicker and sicker.”

I stepped sideways to try to get away from the patting hand. No such luck. Both Mom and Dad had a look of hope that made me cringe inside. What would they do if disappointed (again) in curing Henry? The last failure had been awful.

“Anyways,” Mom said, “Luke slipped into unconsciousness. So Pastor Andervender decided to do one last laying on of hands for healing. He gathered up the family at Luke’s bedside—himself, Gena, Matthew, and John. Mark was too young, so he was with Barbara. Pastor Andervender laid his hands on Luke that evening, and prayed. Luke was healed by morning!”

Mom waited for me to exclaim in amazement. When I didn’t, she frowned. Mom said, “It was Gena’s turn to stay overnight with Luke—John stayed with her to help—and around five a.m., while Gena was sleeping, Luke became conscious and asked for water. A miracle healing.”

I was less than impressed.

Mom dropped my hand. “Since then,” Mom added, “there have been two other unexplainable healings at First Beginnings. A remarkable recovery from a stroke by Mrs. Girady, and Mr. Rickmand’s lung cancer went into remission. Pastor Andervender has the spiritual gift of healing. We’ve asked him to heal Henry of his Asperger’s.”

I thought of how Henry loathed to be touched, even by those he was closest to. And Andervender had shown no patience with my brother’s quirks. If I argue, they’ll dig their heels in and do this for sure. Crap.

Dad said, “This is our chance to give Henry a normal life.”

Henry opened the office door to the front hall. “Want to go to the hotel to swim.”

Dad blinked. “You want to go already?”

“The air stinks.” Henry waved a hand before his nose.

The vent air did smell of soapy swamp.

“All right,” Mom said. She closed the office windows with a squeal of metal on metal. “We ought to rest anyways, tomorrow is going to be a very big day with all the movers and people from First Beginnings.” She nudged me in the ribs with her elbow. “Matthew is kinda cute.”

Blech. I said, “I don’t think we’re right for each other.”

“Don’t be so negative,” Mom said as we left the office and began to go through the house closing windows. “Once you two get to know each other better, you’ll be able to relax and be yourselves.”

************** End of Part One. 4 & 5. *****************

If you are reading this after August 19, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 6.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages.

Have a joyful week, LM

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 3.

Here’s Part One. 3. of Soul Cages. When we last left off, Marian had been introduced to the Andervender family, John was getting ready to clean the swamp coolers, and Henry had just found a dead roach in the kitchen. ( PG-13 rating .)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

3

Henry pointed out the roach, which lay on its back in the deepest recess of the cabinet. It was as long as my thumb; no wonder Henry wanted it.

I said, “Did you touch it?”

“No.”

Don’t. Just leave it there.” There was no garbage can yet, and no paper towels I could clean it up with.

The rattle of tools could be heard from down the hall. Dad rushed into the kitchen and struggled to unlock the back door’s double-cylinder deadbolt, then the barred door, and held each open so John could lug his toolbox through.

Henry followed after John and Dad.

I took the opportunity to pull out a tissue, wrap it around the roach, and carry it outside to shake the roach onto a patch of scraggly grass next to the concrete wall.

Dad went back into the house.

There was no back porch, just a cracked rectangular slab surrounded by dirt.

The house had a swamp cooler in each side yard. I was able to figure out which one John had started with, even though both coolers were out of sight, because I could hear Henry bellowing questions about tools. I hurried around to the side of the house where Henry’s windows were.

The swamp cooler rumbled and gurgled. When he caught sight of me, John called out, “Can you do me a favor and turn both coolers off?”

I ran back inside and searched around in the halls, until I’d flipped off of both sets of switches.

“Thanks,” John said when I made it back. Henry stood next to him, watching him poke at fibers through the side slits of the cooler. “These are too old,” John said, “see how brittle the filter fibers are? Someone needs to drive over to a hardware store and get new filters.”

He grabbed hold of a cooler side cover and yanked upward and out, taking it off, then doing the same to the other three sides.

The reek made Henry back up, holding his nose—the swamp cooler stank. Henry pointed in fascination at the gunk on the filter fibers and the bottom interior of the cooler.

John said, “Let me get the hose and bucket from the truck. I’ll let your parents know about the filters.” He disappeared back into the house.

We spent the time looking for spider webs in the cracks of the walls.

Then John returned, hose slung over his shoulder, with Dad carrying a bucket filled with gloves and scrubbers. He and Dad were in the middle of a conversation about the size and type of filters to get. John showed Dad the gunky swamp cooler parts, and then Dad left for the hardware store.

As John drained the stagnant water from the swamp cooler, he said to Henry, “So, what was it you helped the school janitor to find?”

I checked to make sure he wasn’t mocking Henry, but he seemed genuinely curious.

Henry puffed out his chest a bit. “A dead mouse was hidden underneath a bookshelf in the library. Helped him find out where.” He tapped his nose. “I can smell things that others can’t.”

“Huh.” John’s mouth twitched.

We watched John hook up the hose to the outside wall faucet near the cooler, fill up a bucket, and proceed to wash out and scrub down the swamp cooler interior.

I said, “How about I do that?” but he waved me back while saying “I’m already dirty from cutting up a dead pine this morning.”

I wanted to argue. I didn’t mind dirt, but he seemed determined to do the entire job. A helping-the-neighbor-as-a-welcome kind of thing.

Henry said, “Won’t be staying here tonight, but tomorrow I will search for the roaches.”

John leaned out of the swamp cooler interior. He raised his eyebrows at me while he said, “I’m sure your sister will enjoy that.”

“I’ll catch a few for you as a thank you,” I snapped back, and then wanted to bite my tongue, for Henry hummed in excitement and John began to smile. “Er, Henry, I was joking. We’re not actually going to catch roaches.”

“Jinkies!” Henry said, and stomped off.

John’s smile threw into sharp contrast just how melancholy he’d been when he entered the kitchen.

My brother was soon distracted from his disappointment by the anthills scattered all over. I watched as he squatted down, scuffing up a puff of dust, and pulled out his notepad; he’d be making a map of all the anthill locations.

John said to me while he scrubbed, “Used to do work for Habitat for Humanity. Miss it. I help some of our parishioners with their yard work a couple times a week.” He reached out a gloved hand. “Can you hand me the hose?”

I did so. “What happened with Habitat?”

“Stand back.” He frowned as he hosed down the interior of the swamp cooler. “A year back, Dad came to believe Habitat was too focused on material things, and not enough on saving souls.”

“And what you do think?”

John tensed, wary. He said in a neutral tone, “I support my Dad.”

“Of course.”

Pastor Andervender struck me as the kind of man who would be hostile to differences in belief by his family. Or by his flock. I’m NOT going to like it there. I’ve got to convince Mom and Dad to let me go elsewhere by finding a church like Grannie’s.

John finished up with the swamp cooler. I helped him haul the stuff around to the other side yard. His wariness made me feel awkward, so I kept my mouth shut.

I got two of the swamp cooler sides off before he could stop me. It was easy, once you knew how to do it. Then I wandered off to look at the apple tree in this side yard; the tree was wedged between the yard walls (front and side) and the garage wall. A long thin drainage tube ran from the swamp cooler to the roots of the tree.

The apples growing were small and green, but the tree was twice my height. The cool shade of the leaves felt wonderful.

In the shade and quiet I longed to call Nicole and find out how her mom was dealing with that morning’s chemo, but chemo days were “don’t call me” days for Nicole.

And Dad had sworn if another texting charge showed up on our bill, he’d cancel my phone outright. Hmm, but pictures aren’t forbidden—yet. I could take a few pictures with my phone and send them to Nicole. Faster in describing this house than text anyway.

Instead of reaching for my cell phone, I fingered the tree bark. How I wished this move were just a bad dream, and that I’d wake up back in Alexandria any moment now.

I moved around the trunk and found a small carving underneath a low branch. I traced the letters with my fingers:

Sydney + Donovan

I called over to John, “Did somebody named Sydney or Donovan live here?”

John spun around from the swamp cooler. “How did…” He flung down the scrubber and ran over, dripping suds from his gloves.

He squeezed around the other side of the tree. When he saw the carving, I thought he’d be sick. He leaned against the tree for support. “I wish I’d been here, I might have been ab—” and clammed up.

“What happened?” I whispered. I glanced around and listened. Henry was mapping anthills too far away to hear if we spoke low. There was no sound of the car coming back—we were right next to the garage, so I’d know when Dad arrived back with the filters. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“We’re not supposed to talk about it.”

“Why keep a secret from my parents?”

“Your parents.” John grimaced. “They already know the full story. They and my folks decided it was too ‘morbid’ for you and Henry to know about.”

A red haze settled over my mind. “Do they think I’m stupid or clueless or something? No wonder Mom and Dad were so jittery this morning. And I could tell from the moment Matthew and you walked in that something was seriously wrong.” I looked him straight in the eyes (blue behind the glasses). “Will you tell me the truth, or do I go up and down this street pounding on neighbors’ doors until I find out what’s going on?”

He bowed his head in contemplation. Then checked to make sure Henry was out of earshot. “Better you hear the story from me.”

I nodded.

John tapped a gloved finger on first Sydney’s name, then Donovan’s. “Sydney and her dad started going to First Beginnings when she was in 7th grade. Your parents bought the house from her dad, Mr. Bauer—he’s living in Utah now.”

He scowled to himself as he stripped his gloves off and flung them to the ground. “Sydney would have been a junior this fall.”

I swallowed. Would have.

He ran a finger along the carving. “She must have carved this last fall. She started dating Donovan in October … he was a Unitarian who went to Juan Tabo High School. Our church, and Sydney’s dad, didn’t approve.”

Anguished, he added, “She said I was someone she could talk to. Perhaps if I’d been here, she wouldn’t have…” He drew a deep breath and looked down at the ground. “In December Sydney’s dad cracked down on her to get her to break up with Donovan. While I was in Texas at Uncle Fritz’s, I’m told she ran away from home for a couple of hours, then came back on her own.

“Mr. Bauer said—and Donovan confirmed it when the police talked to him—that she called Donovan before New Year’s to break up with him.”

Both of us jumped at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Dad was back.

John yanked his gloves on and went back to the swamp cooler.

“Wait,” I said, “is Sydney all right?”

John paused in messing with the bucket. “No.” He stared down, unseeing. “On January 4th she killed herself. Her dad found her body in her closet. Suffocated.”

I reached out to touch his arm, but he flinched away. He wants to be alone, you idiot. Give him some privacy to pull himself together. So I went to stand near Henry.

The memory of Henry’s rose-scented closet made my skin crawl. I struggled to compose myself. I don’t want John to get in trouble for telling me the truth.

The back door squeaked open, and Dad and Matthew appeared, carrying filters.

John must have gotten his feelings under control, for neither Dad nor Matthew seemed to realize anything was wrong.

While the last of the swamp cooler work was done (Matthew and Dad helping John as best they could), I wandered around the backyard searching for more marks made by Sydney.

************** End of Part One. 3. *****************

If you are reading this after August 12, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 4.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages.

See you next week!

Cheers, LM