Inspired by Writing Prompt One Hundred and Seven: The elastic on his waistband was frayed, adding one more pleasantry to this awful business.
I love my job but sometimes… let’s just say… some days are harder than others.
A few years ago, in late October I had a major remodel to a house out in the middle of the desert located in the middle of nowhere. It was a 3 ½ hour drive one way from the shop that called for us to spend the next 2 weeks, day and night on the job site. This project was so far out we no longer got radio waves let alone cell service. Why anyone would build a house forty minutes off the paved road in the foothills of the Mojave is beyond me.
For this project I took Barry… a large, 53-year-old man of questionable upbringing. After 12 years in prison he had… let’s say the residual effects of a pharmaceutical enhancement that called into question his ability to be alone. More interesting than this was his prevalent fear of the dark. He had, on more than one occasion, refused to go under a house to work unless I went with him. He lived in real fear of zombies, werewolves and vampires.
I know how that sounds… that a man who spent time in prison and appeared to have no problem being accepted as an equal among a Hell’s Angles’ reunion party would have trouble with the dark or being alone, but it was something he battled with every day.
At the end of the day we made our way to the new job that would start in the morning. On the drive he was buoyant, talkative, and enjoying the ride. Then, just outside of Victorville in the growing dark, civilization began to drop away one or two houses at a time. Within the next twenty minutes the landscape had changed into one of open, undulating, vast waste land.
“Where are all the houses?” he asked with a little panic in his voice.
“We’re in the desert… there are no houses,” I returned with little interest.
He turned in the seat and stared out the window.
“What do we do for lights?” he asked, turning to me again.
“Sorry pal, none of them out here either.”
He sat silent for the remainder of the ride.
At long last we bumped our way through the dark over a less than maintained dirt road coming
to a group of large weathered trees. The branches swayed heavily with the wind that blew wildly carrying with it giant clouds of dust thrown in the air by our arrival.
“Get the gate Barry.”
He sat there looking at me with wide eyes, glancing first to me and then outside.
“Yeah, get out and open the gate.”
“Come with me,” he insisted.
“Stop dicking around and open the gate,” I admonished, pushing him lightly.
“Hell no. I ain’t going out there by myself. No telling what’s waiting to eat ya,” he returned locking the door.
“God,” I huffed undoing my seat belt, opening the door.
“What are ya doing?”
“I’m opening the gate.”
“You can’t leave me here by myself… what if one of them comes for me?”
“One of them?”
He popped the door open on his side and ran to throw mine open as well.
“Open the gate,” I was tired, hungry, dirty and frustrated. I didn’t need this shit.
He stood upright, staring out into the dark. His head swiveled around franticly as if someone lay in wait.
“Come with me,” he pressed.
“Christ,” I sighed and did as he asked.
He pressed close to me as we made our way to the gate doing everything he could to stay within the glow of the headlights.
I did the combo and it popped open on the spot. I pushed it open and rolled a rock in front of it with my foot to prop it open. At the instant I released it the sound of the truck door closing filled the air… followed closely by the lock engaging.
Barry was safely ensconced in the truck once more.
He rolled the window down a crack and shouted. “Get in before they come,” and then cranked the window close quickly.
I had to laugh to myself a little… a guy as big as Barry afraid of the dark was way too much fun. I had always assumed he was joking about his ‘condition’. He could be a scary looking guy in his own right… it never occurred to me he was on the level.
The house, still a five minute drive from the gate, was built sometime in the mid-fifties. The paint was chipped and blistered by sun and wind. Its board and batten exterior had seen better days. The truck’s headlights swept across its face and for the briefest of moments there appeared to be an animal or a person, something on the porch. Whatever it was, it disappeared before the truck came to rest.
I turned the truck off and the lights died quickly as the darkness washed over us.
Suddenly the truck filled with a high pitch squeal that sent chills down my spine.
“What are you doing? Turn them on… what are you waiting for? Turn them on,” Barry shouted and then punched me had in the shoulder.
“What the hell?”
“Turn them on or so help me…”
I did as he asked but now I was mad.
“Happy?” I asked.
“Go turn the lights on in the house,” he ordered.
“And here I was thinking I was the boss,” I sniped, pushing the truck door open wide, stepping out.
I walked through the beams of lights and opened the door.
“Come on you lazy bastard,” I called waving him to the house.
He scampered wildly toward the house, darting between billows of dust, almost knocking me over in his attempt to get inside.
“You left the lights on in the truck,” I groused, pointing.
“What are you, crazy? I’m not going back out there,” He said brushing himself off.
Now it was getting under my skin. I was the one who had to go back out into the wind and shut off the lights.
The rest of the evening went by without incident. The wind howled relentlessly beating against the house, thumping loudly. Then around eleven the unthinkable…
“I gotta go to the bathroom,” Barry said softly.
“Beg your pardon?”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” He repeated louder this time.
“Well pal, none of the plumbing is hooked up you’ll have to go outside.”
“You’ll have to… its outside or hold it until the morning.”
He looked to the door and back to me.
“Come with me.”
“I’m not going with you. If you have to go… go, you don’t need me.”
“You have to… I can’t go out there by myself.”
“Go outside or crap yourself… all the same to me.”
“Go with me.”
He began to dance about… his eyes pleading with me.
“Okay… I’ll go this far with you,” I said opening the front door. “I’ll leave the door open for you.”
“Come with me.”
“Nope, if you’re afraid of the dark it’s on you. It has nothing to do with me.”
I sat down on the couch tickled pink to be in control again.
“I’m not afraid of the dark I just don’t like it,” He corrected.
“Well, prove it… come or go. Do what you want but leave me out of it.”
At last, reluctantly, he dove through the door and into the darkness outside.
I was filled with self-satisfaction.
Time seemed to slow as I waited. He was taking far too long… even for Barry.
After a moment or so I went to the door… I could see nothing, hear nothing beyond the wind.
I was about to call out for him when I thought I heard him call.
At first I wasn’t certain that I heard it and I stepped out onto the porch.
“Help!” Barry’s voice cut through the howl of wind, sending goosebumps rippling over every square inch of me.
“Barry,” I called.
“Help me! They’ve got me,” He screamed.
My mind instantly swam with confusion as I searched the darkness for some sign as to direction I should go.
“Help!” He cried out again, his voice clearly filled with panic.
I ran in the direction I thought it came from… again I heard him call and I ran to his aid. Then much to my shock I found him… there standing in the dark was Barry. His clothing was tangled in the bramble he was now totally naked save for his under ware.
“I was stuck… I fell and I couldn’t get free,” he moaned. His backside was covered in cactus needles.
A part of me wanted to laugh… a part of me felt sorry for him. To make things worse the elastic on his waist band was frayed, adding one more pleasantry to this awful business. It was going to be a long night.
Married forty-three years to a woman he calls Dearheart, Tegon Maus lives a contented life in a small town of 8,200 in Southern California. By day, Tegon is a successful home remodeling contractor, but his passion is storytelling.
Tegon’s progatonists are frequently wedged between a rock and a hard place, but manage to work things out through the story. Like most when pushed into a corner, it only brings out the best in his characters and become the unstoppable force of a reluctant hero. Tegon’s signature style is creating characters who are driven and believable, and who strive to find happiness.
Tegon is the author of The Chronicles Of Tucker Littlefield series.
Check out Tegon’s other work on Amazon, including her latest novel, Service Before Self!