Mystery Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

A prison takes many forms.

Some have bars made of steel so thick you can wrap your hand around it. Others have bars made of pointed wood, painted and stuck all in a row to make a white picket fence.

As Dad’s prized ‘59 Cadillac Coupe de Ville glided into the driveway, I felt I had just gone from one to the other. We paused before getting out.

’Your Ma.’ he started, searching for words. ‘She’s just…it’s been very hard on her.’

I couldn’t stifle a laugh. Hard for her. Dad held up his hands.

’I know, I know. No one’s had it worse than you.’

‘Damn right.’

I left it at that, not wanting to argue with the man who had come every fortnight for 12 years to visit me. My only visitor. He was the reason I was still here.

’We’re back.’ Dad called out as we headed through the door, down the hall and into the kitchen. I looked around the house. It was all the same but also different. When I entered the kitchen I dropped my bag.

Ma turned from the sink and we both started at how different the other looked. I had gone from a stringy 18 year old to a broad, muscular man honed by the prison yard. Her hair had gone from a deep chestnut to white. Straight white. She looked 80 not 60.

’Hi, Ma.’

She hadn’t heard my voice in 12 years.

’Welcome home Jacob.’

It didn’t feel welcome. Dad’s sing-song voice cut through the tension.

’How about you put your bag in your room, Jake. It’s hardly changed, we haven’t touched it.’

He was right, they hadn’t. A layer of dust half an inch thick sat on top of the dresser.

I’d barely unpacked my few belongings when there was a loud knock at the door.

’Bring him out!’ A voice yelled from outside. ‘Get him out here!’

I walked into the hallway but Dad stopped me. He opened the door cautiously. Three men stood on the doorstep. I only recognised one.

‘We don’t want any trouble, Christopher.’ Dad said to the shortest of the three.

I hadn’t seen Chris since he was eight years old. Sandy used to bring him on our dates sometimes because her Mom made her babysit him.

’That son-of-a-bitch killed my sister.’ He pointed at me down the hall. ‘I ain’t leaving ‘til he comes out here and faces me like a man.’

Big talk, I thought. I’d learned to fight behind bars, I’d had to. Little Chris wouldn’t come out of this conscious. But it wasn’t the time. Chris stepped forwards and Dad reached behind the door. I was shocked to see his hand wrap around a shotgun that had been leaning casually against the wall. When the hell did Dad get a gun?

‘Back up boys.’ My ever calm father said, pointing the barrel at them.

The three men obeyed.

’You gonna shoot us Pops? Be a murderer like your son?’ said Chris, his mouth twisted with rage.

’Not if I can help it. You boys get back in your truck over there, before I have to.’

Christopher spat on the doorstep, then turned and hopped in the truck with his friends. Dad replaced the shotgun against the wall and bolted the door shut. I stood, stunned.

’When did you get that?’

I nodded at the shotgun.

‘A few years back. Became…necessary.’

’Jesus.’ I whispered.

Soft crying came from my parent’s bedroom. Ma was sitting on the bed, sobbing into her sweater. Dad walked past me and into their room, shutting the door behind him.

I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I’d quit telling people I was innocent after a few years. There was no point, no one believed me. Except Dad, he always knew. But the police? Never.

Yes, I’d been out with Sandy that night.

Yes, we’d been by the creek in the woods.

Why? To get some goddam privacy in this town.

Yes, we’d had sex.

Yes, we’d had an argument. A stupid argument.

Yes, she was alive when I left.

No, I didn’t kill her.

No, I didn’t KILL HER!

For the hundredth time, she was alive when I left.

No, I hadn’t taken her necklace with the diamond in it.

She’d worn that damn thing every day since her Mama gave it to her on her 16th birthday. I was there when she got it. I’d never touch it. If she wasn’t wearing it when they…found her, someone else took it.

There was a knock at the door. In a moment I was upright, heading down the hall toward the shotgun. Dad came running past me, opening the door first.

’Thank you for coming, Pastor.’ Dad ushered the visitor in.

‘Jacob.’ Pastor Hawley nodded at me as he walked past.

I nodded back in recognition. He’d been my Pastor when I was a kid. Sandy’s too. Man, she hated him though. Hated going to Bible School where he and his wife would lecture us about all the things sending us to hell. We all sat down in the living room and Ma brought tea. After some light chat the tall man leant forward in his chair.

‘Now, I’ve known you since you were a boy, Jacob. You were one of my flock. Still are.’

I had to laugh inwardly. Where were you, Pastor, when one of your flock was locked away for 12 years?

‘But I think it’s best…’ he steepled his fingers, a large gold ring rested on his forefinger. ‘I think it’s best if you left here for a while.’

’I’ve only just got out, Pastor.’

’I know, son. But Fairfield’s a small place with a long memory.’

’He’s done his time, Pastor.’ Dad said from beside me.

’I know that.’ said the preacher. ‘But this town’s never gonna forget Sandy Jones.’

He turned to me.

’You gotta do what’s right for your folks now Jacob. It’s been real hard for them here.’

’He didn’t do it, Pastor...’ Dad started.

’It’s ok Dad.’ I turned to Ma.

She sat, silent, staring at her skirt.

‘What do you think, Ma?’ I raised my voice. ‘You think I should leave too? Would that be better for you?’

She stared at her skirt.

’Forget it.’ I said, heading for my old room.

Dad’s voice rang down the hall after me.

’We’ve only just got him back!’ He pleaded.

I packed my things, Dad gave me some cash and drove me to the bus station. I couldn’t go far because of my parole, but I went far enough.

I never spoke to Ma again.

Not when I got married - Dad came to the ceremony by himself. Not when my son was born - Dad lived long enough to hold him in his arms.

Not even when, seven years later, I got the call. Pastor Hawley had dropped dead mid-sermon. Apparently, when members of his ‘flock’ cleared out his personal desk they found a compartment. A little pocket of wood that lay perfectly hidden until you pushed it in just the right spot. When it had popped open, glinting in the light, was Sandy’s necklace.

September 20, 2022 10:43

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Jennifer Cameron
07:17 Sep 30, 2022

I loved the beginning where you compared a white fence to a prison and the ending was unexpected which made it even better! I think it would be interesting to have read how the drive to the bus stop went with his dad or how they said goodbye but I honestly loved this story.


Mel Dingwall
17:11 Sep 30, 2022

Thanks so much Jennifer, I really appreciate your feedback!


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