The River: Part Two

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1165 words.

I guessed I had been asleep for some time. The sun was getting low to the West, and my eyes took some time to adjust. It was the sound of splashing that had woken me, getting louder as whoever was splashing got closer.

Tommy was wide-eyed and crazy looking. His legs were scratched and torn by thorns and branches, as were his arms and hands. He had no shoes on, and his swim shorts were still wet around the bottom. It seemed he was going to run right past me without stopping, so I sat up and called out to him. “What’s wrong, Tommy? Where’s everyone else?” He shook his head and sat down heavy in the shallow water. I walked to the edge of the bank, and watched as he dropped his head between his knees.

He was sobbing.

He crawled out of the river on all fours, and collapsed onto his chest. “Gone. They’ve gone. The girls have gone. Mel, Donna, gone”. I couldn’t get any sense out of him. He just kept repeating the same thing over and over, despite me yelling at him to tell me what had happened. So I left him where he was, and headed along the bank to the swimming place, sure I would find the others still there.

Nobody was there, and when I got back, Tommy had gone too. I got a really bad feeling, and started back to town. As the sun got even lower, I broke into a run.

The Sheriff’s Office was at one end of Main Street. It looked much like a shop front, but went back a long way, with a car park behind. I burst through the door panting, out of breath from the long run on a warm evening. Deputy Tyler was sitting in a chair at the front desk, and stared at me as I started to blurt out what I knew. “Trouble at the river, Mr Tyler. Missing girls. Tommy Clinton told me, but I don’t know where he’s gone”. Tyler looked unimpressed. “Now, Clayton, calm yourself down boy. Get your breath, and tell me properly, from the beginning. Missing girls you say? Which girls? What are their names?” He opened a notebook, and sat with his pen poised.

Five minutes later, I had told him all I knew, right from us walking to the river that morning, the girls turning up, and then everyone but me going swimming. He checked his notes, his mouth moving as he silently read them to himself. Then he picked up the phone, and called Sheriff DeWalt. While we waited for the Sheriff, he got me a drink of cold water from the cooler, and I noticed he was eyeing me up, unsure whether to believe what I had said, it seemed to me.

Vince DeWalt was a big man, in every sense. Years of super-size breakfasts and a fondness for Bourbon and Buttermilk had left him with a gut hanging over his gun-belt that looked like a sack of rice, straining the stud fastenings of his uniform shirt. He loomed over me, six feet four in his heeled boots. “I know you told Deputy Tyler, Clay, but tell me again”.

When I had finished the story, he sent Tyler out to go to the houses of both girls. Then he phoned the off-duty deputy, Hoogstraten, and told him to check out the houses of my friends, and bring them in if they were home. Last of all, he phoned Milly, the woman who answered the phones and operated the radio during the day. “Milly, I’m sorry to ask you honey, but I need you to come in. I’m guessing we are going to be busy tonight”.

Almost an hour later, the small office was crammed with people. My parents were there, along with Eddy and his Dad, Duke, Frankie and his Dad, and Mel’s parents. Donna’s family were not at home, and nobody could find any trace of Tommy, or his folks. Once the Sheriff was satisfied he had all the details down, he had to telephone County Police, in White Oaks. They notified the State Police in Renton, and by the time it was dark, the search was well and truly on. My Dad drove me crazy. He just kept saying “Tell the truth, Clay. Don’t you go lying now son”. He must have said that ten times, even though I swore to him that I had.

Big Vince pulled up to his full height, and stuck out his gut like it would intimidate us even more. Despite his bulk, he was as fit as a mule, and could move fast when he had to. Many of the local bad guys had good reason to regret having misjudged him on appearance. “Last chance, boys. They have everyone out looking for those girls, even the helicopter from up in Renton. If there is anything else you want to tell me, now’s the time. Best get it off your chests”. We shook our heads in turn, and Vince turned away, nodding sagely.

It was almost midnight when they found Donna. Well, Donna’s body. It was in the river, wedged up against the railroad bridge, almost five miles north. Two policeman from County came in, and whispered the news to the Sheriff. But it was too loud a whisper, and we all heard it. After that, they took our fingerprints, and scrapings from under our fingernails. Our parents were sent home to bring us fresh clothes and shoes because they were keeping the ones we were wearing, and one of the deputies had to go to Duke’s house to collect the same. His Mom hadn’t been able to come in, as she had recently had a new baby by her second husband.

There was no chance for us to speak to each other, so I cast around the room, looking for any trace of guilt on the faces of my friends. They just looked scared, like I probably did. After all, we were now the only suspects in what might turn out to be a murder.

We had to change our clothes in the locker room, watched by both deputies. They placed them into bags as we took them off, writing names and codes on labels at the top of the bags. When that was over, they took us out to get another talking to from Big Vince. “Now, I am letting you boys go home for now. You are not to talk to each other, is that clear? I am expecting your parents to take note of that, and to watch who you speak to on the phone, and to keep you home until you hear from me tomorrow. You will all be coming back in for questioning, make no mistake about that”.

As we drove home, my Dad started again. “Anything you want to tell me now there are no cops around, Clay? The truth now, this is serious”.

I shook my head at his eyes in the rear-view mirror.

“No Dad. I don’t know anything. Honest”.

The River: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 1005 words.

We used to lay on the grass by the bank, the sun in our faces. Most of the time, the river flowed by fast. But on really hot days it seemed reluctant to move, like liquid chocolate, or molasses.

The dragonflies hovered over the water, and every so often, we heard the plopping sound as a fish took a bug off the surface.

Close to our favourite spot, it wasn’t deep enough for swimming. But a short walk along the bank led to a place where there was enough water for a shallow dive, and a welcome swim during the hottest summers. Whenever we got out of school, or during the holidays, you would be sure to find us there as long as the sun was out.

There were always at least three of us, sometimes four or five. At weekends, we would be joined by the girls, Melanie and Donna. They were the only two girls around who didn’t hang out with the older guys, the ones who were in the sports teams, or drove their own cars. In the company of other girls, they stood out as different. But with us they were accepted, and special.

Small town life back then could be oppressive, if you let it. It could also be very dull, if you didn’t make your own amusement. There were only so many times you could go to the cafe for a milk shake, or to the old cinema that showed the same film all week.

And we walked a lot, or rode our bikes. My parents were not about to run me around in the car, and the same went for my friends. We were not poor, not like some. But we certainly were not in the same group who drove out to the country club, or holidayed at the coast. We knew who we were, and where we stood, and didn’t ask for or expect much more.

Those summers seemed to last forever, and the long hot walks to and from the river became a ritual that I welcomed. Nobody bothered us, and in that spot, we felt secure. At home.

I didn’t really notice it much then, but we were getting older. We stopped talking about what car we would like to own, or which job we would do when we we left college, and started to talk about girls. Long discussions about what we liked about girls, and which girls we liked best. Their hair, their legs, their chests, even what they wore. It was all rather pointless of course, as we only knew two girls well enough to ever think about dating, and many of those we really liked wouldn’t have looked in our direction as they walked past.

But we carried on talking about them, never tiring of the same subject, every day.

When it was cold or wet, we walked further along the bank, then up the lane to Old Man Henderson’s barn. It wasn’t really a barn anymore, as the doors had fallen off, and the roof leaked in places. Nothing was stored in there since he had given up farming, and he never came by to check on the place. It gave us some shelter, and somewhere to meet up when it wasn’t hot enough to lounge around on the grass.

The retired farmer could often be seen fishing. He would stand in the water in his big waders, the fly-rod flicking back and forth as he concentrated. It was our tradition to wave to him as we passed. But he never acknowledged us, or waved back. Old Man Henderson was an unknown quantity. If you asked anyone around town about him, they would tell you a different story. He had come back from war a changed man. Or he had never gone to war. He had lost his wife and son in an accident. Or he had never been married.

One time, I asked my parents about him, hoping for the definitive answer. My mother shrugged, and glanced at Dad. He turned away from his newspaper, and looked serious. “Clay, you keep away from Henderson. He’s nothing but trouble”. He wouldn’t say any more than that, so naturally my curiosity was piqued even more.

What I still think of as ‘the last summer’ was hotter than ever. That Sunday is fixed in my memory, yet my memory of it is blurred. It feels like I am looking at it through water. The water in the river perhaps. It wobbles, skips by fast, and then slows down. I don’t search for that memory, believe me. But I will never be able to shake it.

There were five of us that morning, stretched out on the bank, chewing long stems of grass, and drinking cokes that Freddie had brought along in a six-pack. They had got warm too quickly, but we didn’t care. The girls arrived close to midday. They took off their dresses to reveal swimming costumes underneath. Placing towels on the ground, they sat on them, talking about going swimming later.

Eddy had been bitten all over by bugs, and was scratching his arms and legs. Duke was sullen, as he usually was around the girls. Awkward, unsure of himself. Donna was smiling at Tommy. We all knew she liked him, just as we all knew that Mel liked me. But we hadn’t quite got to the stage where we would give up on our friends to go off with a girl.

Though we were very close to it.

The afternoon got to that point where it was too hot. Eddy said he was going home, and Tommy suggested to Donna that it was time for a swim. She wouldn’t go unless Mel went with them, but I wasn’t in the mood to get wet. Duke and Freddie said they were going, and I watched them walk off along the bank, shielding my eyes from the sunlight.

That was the day everything changed. For all of us.

A Small Domestic Positive

Yes, I am still writing about washing machines and household electrics. Unbelievable, I know.

After the fiasco with trying to get the new washing machine installed last week, I managed to get an electrician to come out on Wednesday to fit the required ‘safe socket’. That added £60 to an already big enough bill, but he did a good job.

On Sunday morning, the shop was due to re-deliver and install the new washer, as well as removing and disposing of the old one. Luckily, they work on the Sundays before Christmas, so they fitted us in. Of course, I didn’t expect them to turn up. I was sure that they would forget about it, claim that the truck had broken down, or the men had gone off sick.

Yes, the phrase ‘Oh Ye Of Little Faith’ was written for me.

Then the phone rang, and the shop said they would be here between midday and three in the afternoon. I had to get into gear to take Ollie out early, so that I would be back just before twelve. I didn’t want them to have any excuse to drive off because I wasn’t at home.

To both my surprise and delight, they arrived at twelve-thirty. Ollie was pleased to see them, and enjoyed extra pats and strokes. The electrics were pronounced acceptable, and the old machine removed first. Then the new one was fitted in and tested. After that, one of the men explained the basics of how it worked before they left.

This new model, an update of the one before, has an electronic screen. It also has a great deal more washing options, and a completely different control set-up. The old one had just two dials, and a start button. One dial set the temperature, the other selected the desired wash cycle. As it worked, one dial moved around to show the progress. When it finished, a red light flashed, showing me I could open the door. Then the machine switched off. With little training, even a small child could have operated it.

In the new one, the manufacturer has abandoned such basic tried and tested methods. The large dial visible on the photo above chooses one of many (confusing) programmes, and then the screen illuminates. The load is weighed by a device in the legs of the machine, and the temperature and wash time set automatically. To change any of the ‘recommended’ settings, I have to move small increments on a digital screen by touching it.

I wish I had my dial back.

As soon as they had left, I loaded up some bedding, and fired up the first wash. Fiddling with the screen, I reduced the washing time down to just over one hour, which is recommended for saving on water. (If we could use rainwater, we wouldn’t ever need to save any of course)

I nervously pressed the screen next to the word ‘Start’, and the door locked as the machine filled with water. As soon as it began washing the bedding, the screen began to countdown the time remaining until it had finished. When it had stopped washing, a loud beep sounded three times, informing me I could open the door. I then had to return the dial to the ‘Off’ position, and the screen went black.

It was a case of ‘so far, so good’. It had worked.

This new machine won a ‘Best Buy’ award, and comes with a two-year guarantee. It should save quite a lot of water through our meter, and runs on less electricity too. As I tried to make some sense of the forty-page instruction book, before deciding that I was happy to always use ‘Easy Care. 40 degrees.’, I should have been content.

So why am I sitting here expecting it to break down soon?

Lists

One of my earliest memories of writing is of compiling lists. Ever since I wrote my first present list for Santa, and watched as it came out of the chimney after being burned on the fire, I have been a person who makes lists.

When I was old enough to realise that there was no Santa, I would still make a list, for the attention of my parents. I would turn down the corners of pages in my Mum’s catalogue, then leave a list in the front with my toys of preference listed in order.

Then when I was at senior school, and started to get home-work, I would write myself a list of what needed to be done by Sunday night, and tick off each subject as it was completed.

Becoming a shopper resulted in the making of numerous lists too. I would research things like cars, and make a list of my chosen models, intending to test drive each one before deciding which to buy. For everyday grocery shopping, I wrote out a paper list, and stuck to it as I wandered around the shop. That is something I still do to this day. In fact, I wrote out a shopping list for the supermarket shop tomorrow, earlier today.

Buying presents for others meant making lists. I would add the name, and write next to that what I intended to get them, or had already bought. Once the things had been purchased, I would strike through the name, to remind myself it had been done. The same applied to Christmas cards, with incredibly long lists of names in the days when I used to send out well over one hundred cards.

The advance of technology means that not so many people write lists anymore. But there are millions of them online. Lists of Top Tens, lists of things people hate, and just as many about what they love. I have an Amazon Wish list, something to remind me of films or books I might want to purchase someday, although I have not yet succumbed to having lists on my mobile phone, or on memo pages on the computer..

Sixty years of making lists, and sticking to them, may make me sound very organised, and rather obsessive. The truth is, the opposite is true. If I don’t have lists, I forget things, it’s as easy as that. I found myself in a shop last week with a tiny list, jotted down on a small post-it-note. All that was on it were the words ‘Milk’, Bread’, and ‘Wine’. Surely, anyone could remember just three things?

I promise you, without that list, I would have forgotten something.

Let me know if you make lists. You can even list your lists, if you want to. 🙂

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Times change.

We are all aware how fast things change. I am using a computer to type this, yet when I left school, I never imagined that such a thing would exist. And I am posting this online, over the Internet. Who could ever have thought of that?

Whenever I complain about how things are, people wisely remind me that ‘times change’, or ‘it’s just progress’. Staring at mobile phones all day is progress then, I assume. I do try, I really do. Look how much I use technology to blog, and to spread the word about everything from how much it rains, to the stories I have written. But I confess that it is never less than a daily struggle, trying to keep up with those changing times.

As I get older, I complain a great deal. Regular readers will no doubt have noticed the increase in that, I’m sure.

Much of what I lament is caused by the addition of rose-tinted spectacles, and they make me firmly believe that everything was better ‘before’. Before times changed, and before so much progress. Does anyone under forty realise that their beloved smartphones and Internet televisions will be laughed at in thirty year’s time? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.

But they will be.

Is life really so much better because you can switch on your house lights from the bus, by using an app on your phone? Well that is certainly progress, but is it either a good thing, or necessary? I struggle to believe it is.

When you are young, moany old codgers get on your nerves, always going on about how things were so much better ‘before’. They did it when I was young, and now I am upholding the tradition. And for you younger readers, a word of warning.

You will do it too.

You will hear yourself saying that your old X-Box was better than whatever is around when you are seventy years old. You will drone on about films and TV shows being so much better in your youth, and how the celebrities and stars of your day were much better-looking, and nicer people too. You will bore the pants off the future younger generation by going on about the food you used to eat, and how you used to cook it. The fast-food places that no longer exist, and the shops that closed down when you were in your sixties.

You will tell them about High Street Shops, and how you could buy just one cake in a baker’s. Regale them with how good it was to go to a doctor or the hospital, and not have to pay. You will become misty-eyed with memories of how people got state pensions, winter fuel allowance, and free bus travel when they were old. Of course, you will not have any of that for yourself, but you will remember when other people did.

You will find it hard to cope with progress, and increasingly difficult to change with the times.

I know, because I can see into your future.

And it is the same as mine.