Well, I finally got a short story finished by the deadline. The challenge was to write a 1,000 word short story combining the 4th of July with Horror. This was really weird because I love the 4th, and summer in general, and taking all the mainstays of those and making them dark was kind of painful…in a fun way.
Anyway, here it is:
a short story by
It wasn’t his fault his legs were so skinny. That was why he wore jeans. Black jeans today.
But boy was it hot.
The little pebble covered backyard, maybe thirty feet by thirty, was all enclosed with hedges. There were rows of houses like this up and down the streets of the little beach town.
He shouldn’t have stopped. He knew he didn’t belong but he wanted to see the people on the beach, and he knew he shouldn’t have taken his shoes off on account of it would let people see his ankles.
She had laughed at him and she had whispered to her husband and then they both had laughed. He didn’t even know them. They shouldn’t have done that.
The American flag hung, limp, from the flagpole planted in the back of the yard. Round flagstones made a short path from the back porch to the pole.
He was seated on the stone steps off the rear porch.
The flagstone path went past the chairs around the table. One chair was pulled out. It was standing, wobbling, next to the grill.
But boy it was hot. He closed his eyes, the right side of his face tingling in the heat radiating from the lit, but empty, grill.
Some fireworks went off. Not the colorful kind. The loud kind. It was still light out, just some kids making noise while everyone in town was at the parade.
He thought about the empty houses up and down the street, the happy families at the parade. This made him feel alone and there was that hollowness inside and he reached for a beer out of the ice-filled cooler.
He held the cold bottle and felt the beer sweat. His legs were sweating in his black jeans. He felt a bead run down his shin, discomforting. He knew she would be laughing if she could see. They both had laughed. It wasn’t fair. He had been born with skinny legs. It didn’t mean anything.
He tried to open the beer but his head was numb with the hollow feeling and he fumbled with the cap, slick with water, and he knew she had seen this and was laughing.
He looked at her, at her eyes. She might have been laughing. It was hard to tell through the blood.
He had hit her first with the lamp and there was a gash over her head. The blood and the duct tape made it hard to tell if she was laughing, but he knew she was. She was laughing at how he had fumbled with the beer and at his skinny legs.
The blood on her forehead was congealed and sweat was running down her face. For the first time he realized that she was older than he had thought. She didn’t look very pretty right now.
She was looking at her husband. Of course.
He got nervous. Were they talking? Could they communicate like that through their eyes?
He looked at her husband, then back at her, studying them, getting angrier. They were communicating and they were telling jokes about him.
He got angry and threw his beer bottle in a tantrum and the bottle smashed against the wood chair that was turned, facing the grill.
He stood up, flustered, and walked over to her husband in the chair. The pretty boy.
Pretty Boy’s face wasn’t bloody. He had hit Pretty Boy in the back of the head, no blood on his face.
He checked the ropes. Four knots, all different, perfectly tied. Could Pretty Boy do that? It wasn’t easy tying ropes.
Did she know that?
He turned to her. “It’s not easy tying knots like that!” he shouted. She reacted with confusion and fear.
He turned and double-checked the ropes, especially the ones around Pretty Boy’s calves. Muscular calves. But they wouldn’t help. Even with his big legs Pretty Boy couldn’t hold out, and if he struggled the knot around his neck would tighten. Pretty Boy had already learned that and he was perfectly still now.
But his big muscles were trembling, trying to hold up the weight that was tied around him, pulling his face down. Pretty Boy would give out eventually. Then she’d cry.
He put a hand over the grill and had to pull it back in pain after a few seconds. The cast iron grates were edged with white heat.
And propping up the grill? Had she noticed that? That had been brilliant. Nobody else would have thought of that. He didn’t want the grill tipping over when Pretty Boy fell so he had braced it.
But boy was it hot by the grill.
He walked to the steps, feeling sweat rake down his back.
He looked at her. She was red and sweaty. She had looked prettier on the beach. Now she looked ugly.
And the houses all around were empty and he was sad.
Suddenly he suddenly knew it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if she cried; she would never appreciate the knots, the propping of the grill, none of it. He had felt so happy when he had followed them home to set this up, but it didn’t matter. Even if she cried it wouldn’t help and the houses all around would still be empty and cold and dead.
He stood, shoulders sagged, and walked up the steps. He didn’t want to see the ending anymore, not even if she cried.
It wouldn’t help.
The porch door closed behind him as he left.
She tried screaming after he was gone and tried wriggling loose as she stared across the backyard at her husband, trussed up on the chair, a weight hanging from his neck, dangling, pulling his muffled screaming face down towards the grill.
Somewhere, distant fireworks exploded and the sound of the parade, barely audible, wafted through the air.
Inside the backyard the flag hung limp, muffled screams and struggles sounded, and the chair by the grill wobbled in the heat.