Authors: Ike Hamill
Lt. Col. Richard Hamill
Charlotte Smith Hamill
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and events have been fabricated only to entertain. If they resemble any facts in any way, I’d be completely shocked. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the consent of Ike Hamill. Unless, of course, you intend to quote a section of the book in order to illustrate how awesome it is. In that case, go ahead. Copyright
2013-14 by Ike Hamill. All rights reserved.
down. He didn’t know how much longer his knees were going to last. They burned against the stretched fabric of his jeans. He put his camera to his eye and checked the focus again. In his viewfinder, the boy kicked rocks into the road.
Alan lost his balance and flailed his arm. He crashed down on his ass, right next to what he suspected was poison ivy. Alan’s father used to call it “poison ivory.” The mispronunciation still made Alan smile. He looked up—the boy turned and looked his direction.
“Shit,” Alan whispered to himself.
The boy had seen him.
Through the late summer leaves, curling to brown at their brittle edges, he locked eyes with the boy.
“Dad! They’re going to see you. You promised,” the boy said.
“Sorry,” Alan yelled. “Sorry.”
As soon as you made one concession to a twelve-year-old boy, everything became a negotiation. This one had ended with Alan being allowed to take pictures of his son boarding the school bus for the first time, if and only if none of the other kids spied him.
Alan heard the school bus rolling down the road. It would be there any second. His son was leaning over the asphalt, looking to spot it. Alan let his instincts kick in. He’d photographed three armed conflicts and a half-dozen riots. He should be able to evade detection by a bunch of middle-school kids.
Alan flopped down on his belly—poison ivory be damned—and flattened himself to the ground. He hid his face behind the camera and watched through the viewfinder. His son turned and shot a worried look his direction, but Alan had disappeared into the foliage. Alan smiled.
He snapped off about fifty shots of his son standing by the road, waiting for the doors, grabbing the handle, and then climbing on to the big yellow bus to begin his middle school career.
The bus turned into the Gates’s driveway and then backed out with a loud beeping noise. Alan stayed perfectly still as the bus turned around and rolled back the way it came. When it was out of sight, Alan stood up and brushed the leaves from his flannel shirt. He hopped over the little ditch and started up the road.
Liz, his wife, was right—Maine was different in the fall. Not that the last week of August should be considered fall, but as soon as Joseph was in school you pretty much had to call it fall. The sun felt warm—in fact, it might almost be hot this afternoon—but the air had a cool undercurrent. It was like the lake if you went swimming the day after a big rain. You’d dip your toe in and the water would feel plenty warm enough for a swim. Then when you jumped in you’d discover that there was a cold current under the surface, just about in the bathing suit region. It was always an unpleasant surprise.
Alan kicked an apple into the ditch. The scraggly apple tree hung over the road. It was an old tree. Its fruit wasn’t bothered by the insects that would eat up the apples that grew closer to the house, but its fruit was misshapen and warty. Even without worm-holes, they didn’t look like the type of apples you’d want to eat.
He was starting to breathe hard by the time he climbed the hill of their driveway. He took off his flannel and slung it over the clothesline. Alan went in through the shed door and walked down the long hall to the kitchen.
Alan poured himself the last of the coffee and leaned back against the counter. The kitchen was the best part of this house. The rest of the place looked like it had been decorated sometime during the sixties, when orange and green were acceptable colors for a guest bathroom. The front hall, staircase, and upper hall had wallpaper depicting scenes from country living, circa 1850. The house had been built in 1852, so Alan wondered if Liz’s grandparents had thought the wallpaper a fitting tribute to the heritage of the house.
At least the kitchen had been remodeled within the last twenty years. It had light maple cabinets and modern appliances. Alan sat down at the little kitchen table. He checked his list: Joe, laundry, vacuum, dump, stream, Joe returns. He sipped his coffee.
X • X • X • X • X
Alan breathed exclusively through his mouth as he loaded the plastic bag into the back of the truck. Alan had laughed at Liz on Sunday.
“We only eat lobster on Friday or Tuesday,” she had said. “It’s one of the Colonel’s rules.”
The Colonel was Liz’s grandfather. He’d been dead for years, but somehow his rules persisted. Now, on Wednesday, Alan understood. The dump was only open on Saturday and Wednesday. The bag of lobster shells smelled like a rotting carcass that had been devoured and then vomited by a dog with syphilis.
Alan backed the truck out through the barn door. He dropped it in first gear and bucked the old truck down the driveway and took a right. Liz had learned to drive on this old green beast. Alan wondered how she’d survived the experience with her wits intact. The clutch had about a foot of travel, but only engaged in the last quarter inch. Alan smiled as he downshifted for the Hazard’s hill.
It was starting to be a beautiful day.
The sun sparkled off the enormous green hood of the truck and the leaves flashed in the breeze. Alan glanced down at the radio, trying to find the time. The truck didn’t even have a clock. Alan laughed. He fished out his phone and stole a glance at the time. It was only 11:15. He had over five hours to kill before Joe’s bus would return.
“Only three and a half, if I break my word,” he said aloud. Joe’s school day was technically over at 2:45. If he wanted, Alan could take his Toyota down to the Depot and make Joe come home instead of going to extended day, but he’d promised. Alan and Liz had lost so many negotiations with Joe lately. Both parents were sensitive to the trauma involved with changing schools and leaving behind friends. They’d tried to make it as painless as possible—waiting until Joe was switching to middle school, and moving at the beginning of summer. They gave Joe some time to meet some of the locals and hopefully make some new friends. And Joe was a good kid. He did well in school and tried to stay out of trouble. Letting him go to extended day with the rest of the kids was a small price to pay to ease his son’s assimilation.
Alan signaled to nobody—he hadn’t seen a single other car on the three mile trip to the dump—and turned left on the dump’s access road. The gates were closed. He read the sign four times before he comprehended.
“Open Weds and Sats 5/29-8/21. Open Sats 8/24-5/24. Have a nice day!”
“So it’s only open Saturday?” Alan asked the vinyl seats and metal dashboard of the truck. “Until next June? Jesus.”
Alan put the truck in reverse and backed around. The transmission moaned and then thunked as Alan found first gear again. He left old rubber on the dump road as he pulled out.
“We should have composted the damn shells,” he said. “Attracts bears, my ass.”
Alan jerked through the gears on the trip home and pulled into the driveway. He didn’t slow as he approached the barn. He veered to the right and then slid to a stop in the lawn. He shut off the engine and ran inside. Down the long shed, through the door, he found his camera bag on the kitchen table. He grabbed that and his flannel shirt from the line on the way out.
The truck didn’t want to start. The battery was having a hard time turning over the engine by the time it caught. Alan bounced down the grassy lane and out into the back field. The springs groaned as the truck bounced across the field. Alan pulled to a stop at the stone wall. He tied his shirt around his waist, slung his camera bag over his shoulder and grabbed the trash bag from the back.
The back of the field was just the start of the property. They had almost three-hundred acres on this side of the road, purchased at an inflated cost from Liz’s cousins. Most of the back woods were planted pines, put in by previous owners. They had rows and rows of monstrous trees that should have been harvested at least a decade ago according to the forester.
Alan took the little path that he and Joe had cleared. It ended at the nearest row of pine trees. Once you got to the pines, it was an easy walk between the rows. Only at the edges did other trees have the temerity to try to spring up through the thick blanket of pine needles. Here in the center of the planting, there was nothing but pine trees and brittle branches.
Alan walked the length of the pines, holding the bag of smelly shells out to his side. He switched it to his other arm when his shoulder began to stiffen. At the end of the pines, he pushed through low bushes and out to the snowmobile path. This was still their property, but the family had always granted snowmobilers rights to a trail across the land. Alan followed the path down the hill. Now he was about three-quarters of the way across their property. This last quarter was the hardest.
The snowmobile club kept the path clear of trees and brush, but in the summer the grass grew tall. Only the deer and moose kept the grass trampled. They seemed to have a time-share arrangement with the snowmobiles.
Alan walked along the path and wondered if he still needed to worry about ticks this time of year. He stopped to tuck his pants into his socks, just in case.
Near the edge of the property, Alan found a couple of wooden pallets propped up on logs to bridge a little creek. The Colonel would have never approved. Alan crossed carefully. He looked at the creek and down at his bag of shells.
“Nope,” he said. He kept walking.
At the edge of their property—this property assembled and curated by the Colonel until his death—a family of beavers had dammed the little stream and formed a pond. This is where Alan intended to dump the lobster shells. They’d come from the ocean, but perhaps their remains would find peace in the little beaver pond.
Alan smiled as he reached the edge of the pond. He hiked upstream a bit and then picked apart the knot at the top of the bag. He dumped the shells and lobster guts into the water. He shook out the bag and then wadded it up carefully before enclosing it in a second bag from his pocket. He tucked the whole contained mess in a side pouch of his camera bag and washed his hands in the beaver pond. The smell was foul. He wiped his hands with a cleaning wipe from his bag before he touched his camera.
Alan worked his way down towards the pond, looking for a shot. The sun was wrong for what he wanted to capture. He picked a path carefully over the dam and tried to find an angle to get the surface of the pond, the dam, and the beaver lodge in one shot. He was accustomed to taking action shots of protesters about to throw rocks at a line of armored police. He was accustomed to finding a way to frame the mutilated corpse of a forgotten soldier so the viewer could feel the despair of wasted youth. He couldn’t find the edge in this shot of the beaver dam. He couldn’t find the drama.
At the top of the beaver lodge, one branch stuck out. Three wilted leaves hung from the branch. A pretty yellow bird landed near the leaves. It turned its black-striped head and sang. Alan zoomed in.