Today, I'm adding a new component to the blog. Story Time! That's right. I'm going to invite other authors to publish their short fiction and poetry on the blog from time to time. If you are an author or poet (wait, aren't they the same thing?), and you would like to have your work featured, just shoot me an email, message me on FB, or leave me a comment here. Now, without further adieu, check out this moving little story by my real-life friend, Jerry Rogers a/k/a Dal Hart.
a short story
Jerry T. Rogers
For no good reason, other than we lived in Texas, our December weather was misbehaving like a petulant child: bringing rain we didn’t need and yet none when we needed it the most. Still little hampered us kids from spending afternoons on an acre of land behind our rural house. A patch of land where the tall grass grew unchecked year-round. We made it a place that provided an ideal hideaway for my little sister, best friend Wesley, and me. My uncle Cecil always took delight in describing the nearly 6-foot Johnson grass as, “Higher than an elephant’s eye.”
Inside our grassy haven, our young imaginations kept us busy with games of hide and seek, war, and jungle safari. On the other hand, the tall grass had a menacing side during a full moon. It was there our parents prohibited us from playing in the field after sundown.
Saturdays, Wesley and I spent lazy days lying on the trampled grass. In our white tee shirts, jeans and bare feet, we spent hours talking about school, sports, friends and the latest double feature matinee. One afternoon, it was near lunch when our attention was attracted by a slow-moving cluster of black clouds. When the wind shifted, we began to be pelted with drops of cold rain.
Mama’s voice boomed across the sound of the slapping grass. “JAKE… SEND WESLEY HOME… GET YOUR SISTER IN THE HOUSE… NOW!”
She yanked the damp clothes off the line, scattering wooden clothes pins in all directions. Then she grabbed the laundry basket under one arm and with the other, herded my sister and I inside. There we stuffed towels around the window sills and door frames to keep out the advancing hail and rain. After an hour or so the winds and rains ceased, leaving the air eerily still, except for claps of distant thunder and remnants of pea sized hail.
Through the kitchen window we watched the storm head east, just as Daddy pulled his truck up the gravel drive and parked under our frame carport. Crawling out of the cab, he cupped his hands and hollered, “Everybody safe?”
“We are now." Mama shouted, as she pushed open the back-screen door.
Daddy walked around the house inspecting the windows, trees, and roof for any damage. Pushing back his cap, he said, “There’s nothing major, just a lot of cleaning up ahead.” However, Mama distracted by the storm’s destination, watched as a funnel cloud dropped from the clouds, and head toward the Dallas skyline.
Headed to the house, we were stopped in our tracks by the sound of a yapping puppy. We turned to see a rain-drenched white puppy with large brown spots and muddy paws emerge from the tall grass.
Daddy picked him up. Then we crowded around, giggling and stroking our new arrival.
“Can we keep him…huh?” We pleaded.
He handed the pup to Mama. Lifting him high in the air, she remarked, “He has no collar.”
Daddy smiled and shrugged his approval.
“What’d we call him?” Daddy asked. We called out our favorite names, until Daddy held up his hand. “Since he survived the storm, what say we call him Stormy.” We clapped our hands in total agreement.
Us kids played with Stormy, until Mama bathed him on the back porch. Daddy lit the gas heater in the living room, to knock the chill off inside. Soon, we enjoyed a supper of hot homemade soup and cornbread. Mama poured a bowl of milk for our new puppy, while I made him a bed from a cardboard box. Sis covered him with a thick worn-out bath towel. After bedding him down, sis and I took turns bathing in a galvanized tub, that was heated on the kitchen stove. Squeaky clean, we slipped on our pajamas and raced for our cozy beds.
The next morning, I was awakened by the warm breath and wet nose of our new boarder. Stormy and I wrestled in bed, until we heard Wesley’s whistle. I dressed in a hurry and ran, with Stormy in tow, to meet him at the bar ditch.
After breakfast, we helped Daddy load the pick-up with debris, roofing shingles, broken tree limbs and the like. By mid-afternoon the sun had dried the tall grass enough to hide two high-spirited boys and a frisky pup. Before supper, I made a place for Stormy under our pier and beam house. The floor sat off the ground enough for his bed on the sandy ground. Sis brought him a tin plate filled with table scraps and slid it under the floor. We laughed watching him devour everything on his plate. That pup could and would eat anything.
In the Spring, I slept with my bedroom windows open, to catch a cool cross breeze, cooler than our window swamp cooler and less noisy. One uncomfortable night, I dreamed Stormy had wandered in the tall grass alone and was in danger. I awoke with a strong sense of foreboding. peering through my window. I called to Stormy, pacing near the tall grass, in the light of a full moon. He growled at me. When I called him a second time, he fell silent and trotted to my window. He whimpered gazing at the full moon. Sounding a full-throated howl, he crawled under the house.
When summer arrived, the tall grass had already reached its full height of six feet. Tall enough for us to hide from our parents and giggling neighbor girls. Stormy loved the carefree adventures of the tall grass, where he joined us every day. The only event that could move him was the sound of Daddy’s pick-up pulling into our drive. Stormy would sprint to the carport and dance about until Daddy slid out of the truck and joined us for a while, before supper.
Stormy became Daddy’s shadow, until Labor Day, when Daddy, known for cooking the best steak in this area, was prepared to grill. His process was to slather the meat with his homemade sauce, until the smoke billowing from the grill, turned grey. At that point, a pungent bar-b-que aroma filled the backyard, hanging in the air like a morning fog.
Mama was busy in the kitchen, making potato salad and banana pudding. Sis brewed the sweet tea, that would be poured over ice chips into plastic patriotic cups. Outside I was busy setting up the portable table under the chinaberry tree, while keeping insects at bay.
Our anticipation peaked, when Daddy head to the kitchen for a large serving plate and tongs. Gathering his tools, he glanced out the window and released a painful howl. Outside, we watched in horror as Stormy pulled our last steak from the grill and disappeared under the house. Daddy grabbed, the first weapon in the kitchen, a broom. He bolted outside, yelling like a crazed-man, waving the broom in the air. He even tried to crawl partially under the house, attempting to snatch the beef from the jaws of this hungry mongrel. Fortunately, he failed in his unsanitary attempt. Dejected, he returned to the kitchen, where Mama was busy cooking hot dogs, pork n’ beans, and potato salad. We ate our supper in joyless silence and saved our pudding for later.
Things returned to normal, as Daddy mended his relationship with Stormy. On the other hand, my penitence was to stand watch, whenever we grilled outdoors.
September brought the first day of school. Stormy walked us to the bar ditch, a trench dividing our yard, from the asphalt street and sat with his head cocked to one side. He was watching us leave for the day. Late in the afternoon, we found Stormy sitting close to where we left him that morning. Following us to the house, he waited at the kitchen door, as we grabbed a handful of warm peanut butter cookies, on our way to the tall grass. Today, at our special spot in the bent grass, Wesley and I were busy making plans for junior high, next year. Little did we know, the impact tomorrow morning would make, in shaping our plans.
The next morning about dawn, I was awakened by the sounds of a whimpering, growling Stormy. I crawled out of bed and hurried to the kitchen window that faced the garage. I watched Daddy pull a torn and bleeding Stormy from the tall grass. He tied him to the corner of the carport, and hurried to his pick-up. He reached under the seat and pullout his hunting rifle. I pushed against the window and whimpered, “No, Daddy… please don’t.”
Stormy tried to stand, but collapsed. Daddy knelt beside him and spoke in a calm, low voice as he loaded a round in the rifle chamber. Then Daddy stood, and took two steps back, as he released the safety. Raising the rifle to his shoulder, he aimed and squeezed the trigger. The shot shattered the quiet morning, and a numbness coursed, like electricity through my body. Daddy engaged the safety and slid the rifle back into the truck. He doubled over with his hands on his knees, as if his breath had been knocked out of him. Then he lifted the lifeless body of Stormy and carried him back to where he had entered our lives… the tall grass.
My ears were still ringing when I struggled to my room and sat on the edge of the bed. My little sister eased beside me and whispered, “I heard a rifle-shot.”
"Daddy fired at a noise in the tall grass, that’s all," I mumbled. "Now get back to bed."
I joined Mama in the kitchen and watched as she fixed our lunches for school. My mind kept replaying the horror of what I had just seen as I sat at the chrome kitchen table trying to work up the nerve to ask Mama, “Why?”
Mama closed the door to the fridge and sat next to me, where she held my hands.
Tell me, it was all just a nightmare.” I pleaded.
“About dawn, Stormy heard or smelled something or someone in the tall grass. We believe he charged in the grass to protect us.”
“But, what made Daddy shoot him?”
“In the attack, Stormy had his flesh ripped to the bone, exposing him to heavy blood loss and possible exposure to rabies. Stormy, was near death and in horrible pain from his wounds, when your Dad put him down.”
“Couldn’t he call a vet or somebody first?”
“Your Dad did the only thing, the humane thing. Jake you’re young and can’t possibly understand such a terrible thing. But, with God’s help, someday you will.”
“I don’t want to understand, someday or any day!”
“Jake, let me fix you some breakfast.”
“No thank-you,” I growled, slamming the backscreen.
I left for school early, hoping to avoid anyone that would ask about Stormy. Without answers to what happened, school made less sense. Lunch and recess became a random activity. Even the final bell reminded me that I would return to a home without Stormy.
I crossed the bar ditch and walked to the backyard, passing the blood-speckled carport. I entered the tall grass, totally exhausted. I rolled up my jacket and made a pillow to rest my head, while I napped restlessly, near the grave Daddy had dug for Stormy.
When Daddy pulled into the drive, I listened as he and Mama talked on the grass line. I heard Mama say, “Jake’s in the back corner of the tall grass, near the grave.”
Finding me at the far corner of the tall grass. Daddy said, “Son, I wish things could have been different.”
“Yes, sir” I muttered, without looking up. “And Daddy, thanks for burying him.”
He knelt next to me and said, “Jake, when you’re a man, you’ll encounter other heart-breaking moments. But, it’s circumstances such as this, that make us stronger, if we exercise our faith and strength of character.”
“How can I be sure, I have what it takes?”
Detecting the resolve in his eyes, I watched him pick up a clump of dirt, “Tonight, I’ll call Mr. Kilgore to bring his tractor to plow under these bitter weeds.”
Gripping his hand filled with dirt, he tossed it down. “Here we can plant a garden full of life-giving vegetables.”
“JAKE...DINNER’S READY… TELL YOUR DAD!”
“That’s sounds like your Mama.” Daddy joked, “you coming?”
“In a little bit.”
He smiled and then nodded. Shoving his hands into his khakis pockets, he headed to the house.
A swirling breeze shook the tall grass, creating a sound of approaching footsteps. I began walking in the grass, until I lost my bearings. I began to zig-zag across the field and stopped at the sound of a distant whistle. When the sky crackled with lightning, I hit the ground in a rain filled shoe print. When I stood, a hand reached in and grabbed my arm and yanked me to the clearing. The hand belonged to none other than my mud-covered friend, Wesley. Laughing, we began to wrestle on the damp grass, stopping only to catch our breaths.
“Tomorrow, Mr. Kilgore’s plowing under the tall grass.” I said.
Wesley beamed, “Hey, that means we’ll have enough dirt clods, to throw for weeks.”
“You bet. I’ll tell the boys at school. Our battle begins after school…tomorrow.”
The plans of young boys are as random as the spring weather and today was no exception. Sitting cross legged in the clearing, our attention was drawn to the stars overhead, which was soon overcome by a vivid source of light, a full moon. A brilliance created to cast one final long shadow…over the tall grass.