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Family Myths

Family Myths
by Edward M.Turner

It started in the spring thaw. I had looked forward to going down to camp on Toddy Pond and giving it a good spring-cleaning. The wife and kids even volunteered without asking. We all piled into the old pickup truck including our mongrel mutt and drove down to the pond. They were excited and talked of what they could do to make the camp more presentable.

I inherited the camp when my father died. It's been in the family for generations, since the first Howard was stationed in Castine, Maine with the British Navy. One night he jumped ship and fled with a local barmaid. Or so I've been told and passed down to my own kids. Family myths.

My father had loved staying at the camp in summer. The heat wasn't so bad and the noise of traffic non-existent. It's extremely peaceful. In his last year he spent all his time down there except for his daily beer runs to Lenny's Grocery. They kept a case of Budweiser in 12 oz. bottles always cold and set aside just for him. I helped him drink many a bottle. Maine gets hot in mid-summer, even down to the pond sometimes.

Anyway, I let the kids and dog out about a mile from camp so they could race the pickup by running through the woods as I drove the camp road. I slowed as my wife talked of using our old furniture to replace the crap that inhabited the place. I said if we replaced it with our house-stuff, then we'd have to buy new furniture for our home. My wife said, "Exactly, Dear." I agreed of course.

We arrived at camp with the kids and dog already in the pond swimming. My wife stopped to blat at the kids about the dangers of deep water. I unlocked the door and frowned at the smell. The old-fashioned padded couch and chair gave off a musty odor and something, perhaps meat, had apparently been left in the old icebox. I turned to yell at the wife that she was right about the furniture when I saw the ashtray. It sat on the front table filled with cigarette butts, non-filtered Camels like my father smoked. Used book matches were bent in half among the butts, a habit of his.

Damn it! I distinctly remembered dumping that ashtray last fall before we closed the camp for the winter. And then I caught a whiff of stale cigarette smoke mixed with body sweat. I remembered that smell. Memories came flooding back. I turned to see if the family had noticed my silence. They didn't. They were having fun.

My old man had been a dark man. Browned by the sun but dark, mean. His blue eyes smoldered with an inner fire that beer might dim, and might not. His arms were corded muscle from work as an auto-body repairman, welding a ball-peen hammer like a ballpoint pen. I feared more than respected him and did what I was told. He died twenty years after Mother did, a lonely man. The old family doctor said he blew a head gasket from losing his temper once too often.

Prayers do get answered.

My sisters and I buried him this past September. As we said good-bye I felt like laughing but held out till everybody left the gravesite. Then I brayed to the sky. Hysteria or relief, I don't know. That day I became an adult at the age of twenty-nine. No one told me what to do from then on. They asked.

And now this. I searched for signs of forced entry. No windows were broken. However, dust had settled on the sills and there were fingerprints on some as if someone had leaned on them while staring out at the pond. How did the prints get there? I had the only key to the padlock on the door.

My wife said, "A penny for your thoughts, Dear." I jumped and almost did it in my pants.

"You were right, Honey," I croaked. "We should replace this furniture. Soon."


* * *

The kids screamed. The dog tried to bark except dust clogged his throat. I laughed and double-clutched and roared down the camp road trailing dust clouds like a comet. My wife was home playing with the new furniture, arranging, re-arranging, happy as a skylark. I thought I'd haul the camp's couch and easy chair off to the town dump tonight and replace it with the used house-stuff on the weekend.

We got to camp before twilight. The kids jumped in the pond followed by the dog. I walked up the wooden steps to unlock the padlock.

Except the lock wasn't locked. The clasp was pushed in but not clicked. I'd locked it the last time we were here. That meant someone had a key.

Inside another thing caught my eye. At the table on a plate lay an old brown hen, half-plucked and half-eaten. The bloody feathers of the eaten part were stacked neatly to one side. I didn't see any forks or knives, yet there was a saltshaker. I held my mouth to stifle a giggle. Somebody liked salt an awful lot.

The ashtray filled with Camel cigarette butts nailed my suspicion. Something's the matter, something really bad. I had interrupted the meal because a cigarette was burning in the ashtray, and a half-bottle of Budweiser by the plate was still cold.

I looked out at my kids and dog, and was scared for them and thankful my wife wasn’t here to see this. Over the late spring days and early summer I had kept these little irregularities to myself and hoped, I don't know, maybe things would right themselves. Not telling anyone seemed like a good idea. But hiding the incidents each time now made me feel guilty, as if somehow it was my fault.

And I thought, I know who did these things. Which, after this damn bird dinner, meant I would have to try and right things myself because my family's happiness depended on me. They loved the camp and Toddy Pond. If they found out, or if some Thing found them....

I decided there had to be a showdown between the two of us. The wife didn't have to know. This I could do myself. Right?

* * *

Darkness hung over everything like a low-lying cloud. I carried a small flashlight with one of those red plastic caps on it, thinking a big light might attract something I didn't want to meet in the woods behind Toddy Pond. The stars shone bright and hard, so far away they gave no comfort at all. They made the night seem colder and my little project decidedly unreal. The noise of the pickup might postpone a meeting so I had left it parked in a blueberry field where the road began.

I stopped when I reached the top of a rise that overlooked the camp. A muted noise, then a light appeared like a cigarette being lit. The light flared briefly then winked out leaving a tiny glow. I could just see it through a side window. It resembled a firefly and seemed to wave patterns in the air, as if it beckoned to me, inviting me down for a cozy visit. I shivered in anticipation. This night would end things, or play out a beginning of something better left unthought of.

I walked down to the camp. The door stood open. It let smoke escape and a fresh animal smell along with it. Inside was a shadow rocking gently back and forth. The dancing firefly followed the rhythm of the rocking chair.

It was a lit cigarette held by my father.

Darkness couldn't hide him from me. Another match flared only this time he held the match near his chin so I could see him. Then he lit the kerosene lamp on the table and blew the match out and tipped his face back into darkness. Only his eyes glittered, eyes that reminded me he still lived.

The glimpse of his face sickened me, fishbelly white and smooth. His weathered cheeks had lost the beard. But his eyes, the clearest blue, pierced me to the soul and seemed to know my thoughts. I imagined where he slept and wished this was all a dream and I'd wake up lying in my own bed.

"Hi, Bubby. Took your time. Sit down." He called me by his pet name. I hated that name.

He rocked in the rocker as I sat on the couch upwind from him. There were empty beer bottles on the table near his elbow. I thought he might offer me a beer but he didn't. Maybe low on supplies. He faced the front window toward the pond. It was a nice scene, peaceful, the water calm, the waves small and gently lapping the shore. Lights twinkled across the pond as low talk and laughter in the other camps reached us. His eyes lazily rolled around, lingered on me for a second, and continued their survey of the pond scenery. I kept quiet.

"It's time you joined me. I'm lonely." He kept his eyes on the pond and spoke in a distant way, as if seeing the past, or a future. "Your son can inherit the camp. Keep it in the family, you know?"

His gravelly voice chuckled in a knowing insinuation of things to come. It chilled me to think he was still intent on controlling me, as if anything could be the same. I noticed he sucked in air as he smoked.

"You breathe."

Those glittering eyes turned to me. "Yes, I need oxygen. Oxygen feeds this tissue and maybe guides the force that makes me remember to act human and not an unmentionable. I'd never hope to mingle or even talk to you if I forgot myself. I live, that's enough. By the way, how's the wife?"

"Her name is Amy."

He leaned into the light and lost the smile. "You can't afford to be touchy, Bub. Where you're going, there's no room for love. There are other things, though." His smile crept back. It twitched has if it required an effort on his part.

"It's the town. It won't let me go. All those years I came down here to enjoy the camp, then to live here. Well, I found something. Some Thing as you may have guessed by now. Made a deal for you know what. Just gave up minor things not real important, and good-bye worms!"

His face contorted in a wrinkled mask as he barked laughter that sounded lost and bitter but didn't reach his eyes, which were on me. He pushed back from the light and resumed rocking.

"Why do you want me?" I stalled for time to try and think of what to do. Besides, this got my curiosity aroused. Eternal life?

"Like I said, I'm lonely. This state isn't too bad when the alternative is to rot. But being alone is like not really experiencing. Who do I tell? I can't tap on windows and say, Hey! You got a second? How's tricks?

"Some things gotta stay a secret."

"You're dead. I went to your funeral."

"Ayuh. Hope it was a good one. My body was there but not my spirit, too busy talking to Someone. Had to give up non-essentials like my--what I don't need." His hand strayed to his crotch and squeezed. "What I don't need," he whispered.

A silence fell between us after that. He got up and shuffled to the old-fashioned icebox like a tentative spider staying in shadows, and took a Budweiser out. He looked at the beer for a few seconds then lifted the hand-opener from its hook on the wall and carefully opened the bottle. A soft groan spilled out of him as he took a huge pull of the beer. He belched wetly.

"Bubby," he said, "beer still tastes good to me. There are worst things, of course, but not many." He stepped closer.

"I can tell you secrets of the town, all of 'em, all the dirty details and all of it true!" His eyes begin to shine. "Remember Mr. Wilson? He didn't die alone in his cabin you know, someone was with him, watching.

"Remember Callie Johnson? Guess what she used to do after she closed the store, thinking she had privacy? I know it all, Bubby, and more." He stepped even closer.

"I also help. But we need a strong back. You want a beer? Bub?"

I noticed how close he stood, within reaching distance, and he blocked the kerosene lamp so all I could see of him was a dark hulk surrounded by a nimbus of yellow light. I felt a cushion beneath my right hand.

"I know what's good for you," he intoned in a quiet voice. "Join us, Bubby. Now."

"You know, Dad, I never did like that name."

His forward drift stopped. "Well, what does that mean?"

"We had your funeral. Now it's my time." I looked down at the cushion in my hand and saw recent cigarette burns in its fabric. "My wife made this cushion as a Christmas gift." He didn't care, he never did.

"You're my son, Bubby."

I rose to my feet, cushion in hand, and started for him. He crabbed backwards, his toughness a fraud, and his stink got worse.

"I'M YOUR FATHER!" he thundered. "Do you know where I sleep?"

"I know, I know," I cried, and surprised myself by shedding tears. "I could hear you during the day." Then I threw him to the floor and put the cushion over his white face. His arms battered at my head but it didn't seem to hurt. It was like drowning kittens, the mewling noise.

Before my mind blacked out I remembered saying in a whisper, "Daddy, my name is Tom."

* * *

I know it's hard to believe this little tale. Who would've thought an adventure like that would happen in North Lars Hill? You?

As I sit here in the Camp making notes, the wife and kids play in the water. They love it down here on Toddy Pond. They're always telling me to stop drinking my Bud and join them.

I don't like the water, though.

There's something more I've been thinking about. You know those dead animals alongside the tarred roads? The road kills? Some of the meat looks like it could be thrown right into a frying pan. Maybe I ought to write a treatise on the subject--The Spontaneous Postures of Roadkill.

I gotta quit these non-filtered cigarettes, though. The wife's favorite easy chair got enough burn holes already. It's looking kinda ratty.

* * *

Edward M. Turner lives and writes in Biddeford, Maine with his wife, Amy and her black cat Tina. His stories, essays, and articles have appeared in The Orange Willow Review, Maine Sunday Telegram, Fortean Bureau, Sounds Of The Night, and a number of times in The North Shore Sunday, Flying Horse, and Sun Journal to name a few. A novel, Rogues Together, won the Eppie Award for best in Action/Adventure. He has recently published another novel in ebook form: Do Not Disturb Me At My Labors.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?
Getting published. Earning the respect of my peers. And editors!