Pieces Before the Sign

Submitted into Contest #51 in response to: Write a story about someone who's haunted by their past.... view prompt

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General

Trigger warning: depictions of rape

Piece Number One: Three stops before the sign.

 

There were four sheep standing in the road. Of course there were four. 

Allyson had woken up at 4:00 this morning even though she hadn’t planned to leave until 6. When she had gassed up her car, the total had been $44.40. Then of course, there were four containers sitting in her backseat: three shoe boxes and a mason jar. 

She honked her horn. Three of the sheep moved along, but the last one lingered in the road. She stared at it for a moment. The others were white and tidy, but this one was black. It looked like it had never been sheared in its life. She inched around it, using her rear-view mirror to glance back a few times. It didn’t move.

From there the roads were clear, and forty-three minutes later, Allyson arrived at her first destination. It was a Wal-Mart Superstore just off of the highway. She never came here anymore, but she’d been more times than she could count. Being almost exactly half-way between her parents’ houses, it had always been the meeting point where they had exchanged her for visitation. 

The sun was just beginning to rise when she pulled around and parked in the back. She took the first shoebox and popped the trunk so she could grab her shovel. 

There wasn’t much behind the Wal-mart, just an open field sprinkled with trash. She made quick work of the hole, ignoring the discomfort in her shoulder as she dug. 

After a long breath, she picked up the box and tossed it into the hole. She threw it away like it was garbage, the same way her dad had thrown her onto the pavement when she was nine. Then she filled the hole, patted the dirt, and rubbed her collar bone. Damn thing had never healed properly. 

She tossed a final glance back at the field as she returned the shovel to her trunk.

Rest in pieces.

 

Piece Number Two: Two Stops before the sign.

 

43 Lombard Drive. 

Allyson pulled up to the house and stared.The new owners had given it a fresh coat of paint, but it still looked as shabby as ever. There was a crappy looking sedan with a “Baby on Board” window sticker and a tipped tricycle in the driveway. 

It looked like the owners were home, so she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to bury the box before someone noticed. 

The garbage bin? Too easy.

Maybe there was a barbecue grill around back. No. Ridiculous. 

Allyson’s gaze fixed on the curtains covering the front window. That’s where she had been sitting when her father had shared his bad news.

“Stage three. I don’t have long.” 

That had been a confusing moment for Allyson. At first she had felt sadness, a tingling sort of pain that jabbed at her heart. A moment later, relief...and that had confused her. 

Then something else filled her up. It filled her so full that she could have screamed. But she didn’t. She was an expert at keeping things inside. 

Without a word, she ran out of the house, all the way to the end of the driveway. It hadn’t mattered. It would seem like a normal reaction to horrible news.

And it was horrible news...wasn’t it? 

She remembered that particular tangle of emotions most clearly. She had spent hours there that day, sitting at the end of the driveway and dipping her feet in the irrigation ditch. 

The irrigation ditch. That’ll do it.

She drove to the end of the driveway and got out. There was no need to bury the box this time. She opened it and dumped the contents into the running water, watching as everything was swept away.

Just like that. 

If only she could dump the whole damn house into that water and watch it disappear forever. If only she could dump her memories along with it.

Everything that had happened here.

The filthy things he had said.

The filthy things he’d done.

Rest in pieces.

 

Piece Number Three: One stop before the sign.

 

The lake was only three or four minutes from the house, but she drove slowly, taking in the memories that popped up around her. She had walked this path a thousand times, and everything was exactly as she had left it. The only thing she didn’t recognize was the “No Trespassing” notice. That was new.

She parked just outside the fence and got out. A breeze caught her jacket and sent a chill up her back. Hugging her arms to her body, she sucked in a deep breath. The air smelled like wet dirt with a hint of cow manure.

She didn’t go for the box. Not yet. First she needed to think about what had happened here. It would be the first time she would allow herself to. 

Using the car’s front bumper for a stepping stool, she climbed atop the fence and sat. The water was sparkling in the sunshine. Too pretty. She looked at the dirt instead, remembering what had happened that day.

“It’s too hot,” she had said. “I’m going home for my suit.”

“You don’t need it.” 

His reply had confused her. “Yeah I do. I want to swim.”

“Just get in. It’s okay to swim naked like your little brothers. I promise not to look.”

But he had looked. He’d stared at her the whole time.

It was impressive how well she had convinced herself that nothing had happened. Of course he hadn’t looked at her. Who would want to see her scrawny twelve-year-old self anyway? She didn’t have anything he would want to see...right? 

Wrong. Oh, so sickeningly wrong.

Her temperature was rising now, her nostrils flaring. She climbed down from the fence and took the box out of the car. There were three or four large rocks around the edge of the lake, so she opened the box and placed one of them beside the contents inside. 

After a second thought, she removed the rock, set the open box on the ground and dropped the rock on top of everything.

There was a satisfying splat. 

She put the lid back on the box and tossed it into the water, watching as it sank.

Rest in Pieces.

 

Piece Number Four: The sign.

 

Allyson pulled up to the truck stop and parked at a gas pump. Tapping the steering wheel with her fingers, she studied her surroundings. She was almost certain that this was the right place, but she wouldn’t be sure until nightfall. If it was, the night would allow her to finally see what she had been trying to get out of her head for the last three years. 

That sign. That damn sign. It was stupid how much she had thought about something she could hardly remember. She had only seen it for a split second before she’d been shoved into the back seat, but that quick blur of an image was the only thing she had been able to think about the whole time she lay there. It was like the glow of the neon had put some kind of spell on her. Instead of fighting back, she just stared out the window.

It wasn’t until later that night that she was able to think straight, come up with a plan.

From the moment she had found out about the cancer, she knew she couldn’t let him die that way. It wasn’t fair that he would go naturally, all clean and tidy. He didn’t deserve that; didn’t deserve to be pumped full of pain medications and cozy in a hospital bed surrounded by flowers. He deserved to experience real pain; to know what it felt like to be betrayed by someone he trusted. 

So on the morning after, right after she had purchased her very first “Morning After,” she sat down and planned it all out. 

First: the gun. 

There were several in her father’s house, and she knew exactly where he kept the keys.

Second: the note. 

She had seen his handwriting countless times, and thanks to her natural knack for art, she knew she’d be able to pull it off.         

Third: the timing. 

She’d waited until the week of a particularly aggressive round of chemotherapy that just happened to coincide with the week of a particularly nasty fight with her father’s ex-wife. To top it all off, he’d received a speeding ticket that morning. It made her smile. It was almost too perfect. Nobody would bat an eye.

But when she stood above his body, staring at the blood-soaked sheets, she realized something. It really was too perfect. Sure, it was bloody, but it was still tidy. He looked far too peaceful, and that wouldn’t do. 

That’s when she came up with the idea for the boxes.    

The first one would be for his hands. Those hands that had hurt her, hit her, shoved her again and again. 

The second for his tongue. That repulsive piece of flesh from a dirty mouth. 

The third box was for his eyes. She had never imagined how satisfying it would be to finally gouge out those perverted things, seal them in a zip-lock, and stomp them flat.

They’d popped like grapes.

Lastly, she took his manhood. She did it not only because he’d used it on her that night under the sign, but also because he did not deserve to die a man.

There hadn’t been any more boxes, so she’d put the horrid thing inside of a mason jar and painted the outside black.                 

Now she had come back to this horrible place and it was almost done. She watched the sun go down, cringing as the neon signs flickered to life. She didn’t look. Not yet. 

Getting out of the car, she kept her eyes down. 

Not yet. 

She opened the trunk and grabbed the shovel. 

Not yet. 

The back door let out its usual metallic screech as she opened it. 

Not yet. 

Shovel in her left hand, mason jar in her right, it was time to turn around. She sucked in a breath. 

Hanging high, blazing with life, looking down on her like the eyes of a predator, was the sign. 

“Why?” she asked, her voice shaking. “Why did you do it?” 

The sign buzzed.

“I was just a kid, you sick bastard. I was innocent.”

She stepped closer, squinting at the ghastly light of the thing. She hated everything about it, but couldn’t tear her eyes away. It wasn’t long before the image was burned into her retinas.

She wasn’t sure how long she stood there fuming at it, shooting darts with her eyes. It was so pompous, so gaudy up there above the building. She squeezed the mason jar. It didn’t matter. She was the winner in the end. 

         Allyson marched around back and buried the jar in the middle of a field.

         It was done.

         Finally, all done.

         As she headed back to her car, her steps felt lighter. Every inch that separated her from that filthy jar made her stomach ache a little less. She rounded the building and could hear the sign’s low buzzing again.

         It didn’t sound the same.

         The light cast a faint glow across the gravel parking lot.

         It didn’t look the same either.

         She couldn’t help but take one final glance at it.

         Just one last look.

         The sign was definitely different now.

         Hollow, ordinary.

         Clean.

         The boxes were no more, the jar was buried, and he was gone. Standing here now, she felt free from it all. She gazed up at the sign, finding that it didn’t look so terrible anymore. It flickered, almost like a subtle wink just for her.

She nodded up at it, returned to her car, and drove away. 

 

Hours later, Allyson saw the herd of sheep again. Their backs were turned, heading away from the road. This time, the black one was nowhere to be found. Maybe if she had taken a closer look, or perhaps if she’d used her mirrors, she could have seen it nearby. But she overcame the urge to look back. She was never looking back again.

Taking the wheel between her knees, she pulled a box of cigarettes from the glove box. She leaned back, lit up, and tilted the rearview mirror all the way up.

Rest in Pieces.

 

 

July 17, 2020 20:05

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