Sunday, April 1, 2012

Revenge, so sweet

An abbreviated version of this story was published in the (Greensboro) News & Record on April 1, 2012. You can find it here:

Revenge, so sweet

Our dairy farm was typical of little farms in Texas in the late 1940s — maybe 100 acres, just a few crops here and there plus maybe a dozen productive dairy cows. That meant we were committed to the twice-a-day ritual of milking, something that could never be escaped but often was enjoyed.

As a toddler I would sit beneath a huge walnut tree with my dad at first light, greedily eating the meat of the nuts that he would crack against each other in his hands. We’d sit quietly outside the barn and wait for the cows to come home, as they invariably sought the release of pressure from their udders every 12 hours.

The farmhouse itself was small, and brothers Steve and Scott, aged 13 and 8 at the time of this tale, shared a small bedroom with two twin beds.

Scott’s last chore of each day was to take the day’s accumulated garbage outdoors to burn barrels. This was an after-dinner task, performed in the dark of night.

Older and bigger brother Steve realized that because the burn barrels were close to an outbuilding, he could sneak out ahead of Scott, climb to the roof of the outbuilding, wait quietly and patiently, and then with a shrieking scream, drop down onto Scott in the dark, scaring him into tears.

That’s what Steve did, and it worked so well for him that he waited two nights and did it again. The following night he waited around the side of the building, knowing that Scott would be scanning the roofline. Worked like a charm. Poor lil’ Scottie.

The following night, Scott went out into the dark with his load of garbage, and he chanted: “I know you’re there. You can’t scare me. You can’t because I know you’re there, so just come on out.”

As Scott finished the last sentence, Steve cackled cruelly from the back screen door, inside the kitchen. He knew that no matter how long it was before the next attack, Scott would always be nervous, fearing the worst. In fact, Scott began to make plans.

About a week later, close to 9 p.m., the whole family was on the front porch, relaxing. Scott said, “I have a little headache. I think I’ll just go to bed,” and he strolled to the bedroom.

As soon as he was there, he got into his pajamas and arranged his bed covers over spare clothing, making it appear that he was in bed. Then he turned off the light, crawled under Steve’s bed … and waited.

At 10 o’clock Mom and Dad told Steve it was his bedtime. He went into the darkened bedroom, saw what he thought was Scott under the covers, changed into his pajamas in the dark and walked barefoot to his own bed.

As Steve turned around and began lowering his butt onto his bed, Scott quietly reached out from beneath the bed and grabbed both of Steve’s bare ankles.

The Clark world exploded.

When Scott’s bare hands wrapped around Steve’s bare feet in the dark, Steve shrieked at the top of his lungs, jumped as high as he could while still restrained by the little hands, pumped his legs like pistons until he broke free and, still screaming more loudly than ever before in his life, jumped through the room’s only window. Literally through it.

He was lucky, in that the window was open — although the screen was not — and their room was on the ground level. He burst through the screen, screaming, fell onto the ground outside, jumped up screaming, ran screaming around the house, screamed up the front porch to where our parents were, and finally screamed out enough words mixed with hysterical tears and spit that Dad understood something about an attack in the bedroom.

Dad jumped up, ran inside through the front door, grabbed the shotgun that was kept there and charged into the bedroom with the gun held out in front and with Mom and Steve on his heels.

Dad threw on the light and saw … nothing but the broken screen and the angelic middle son, Sweet Scott, curled up in his own bed, tucked under the covers with his head just now emerging, rubbing sleep-squinted eyes and frowning as he said: “What is all the darned noise for, and will you please turn off the light so I can get back to sleep?”

From then on, Scott still took out the garbage, but jauntily, with a little smile.