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The Reunion || by Brigitte Emmons

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No bad deed goes unpunished. Ever.


THREE SUNSETS HAD PASSED. That much he knew.  The fever was always worse at night. He doubled over again and clawed at the straw.  Waves of pain and nausea kept him pinned to the dirt floor. His stomach, his veins and his brain were all unified in one mission: punishment.  He clawed at his chest, sure that he would feel a thousand razor blades poking out through the pores of his skin. With each spasm, he contracted back, his face twisted in agony.   

The temperature of the barn was barely above freezing and yet he was soaked with sweat; his face covered in a mixture of tears and dirt.  He was hallucinating now, watching his mother walk toward him, over and over again. She was smiling tenderly and bringing him something to quench the burning that was his thirst. 

“Momma...??” he pleaded, “Heeeeeeelp me!!!” 

As a child, he always cried out for his mother whenever he was sick or in trouble. But there was no mother to rescue him now. She was gone. And besides, his own mother wouldn’t be safe here. 

The private space that he now called his home was nothing more than bales of hay piled high and assembled at right angles.

“Stack ‘em two thick and six high. Make it ten-foot square. Leave a small opening at the bottom and this’ll keep you warm,” his father had told him in a final act of kindness.   

Between convulsions, he would whimper pitifully, so grateful for the momentary reprieve.  And then, all too quickly, the fits would return followed by his tortured screaming. The hay absorbed most of the sound.  

As a young man, he believed that he was invincible. Untouchable.  Over the years he had covered himself in layers of lies. He could justify anything, and so he did.  But now Truth was here, and it hovered just beside him. Watching. Judging. Given its late arrival, what else could it do?  

He recalled the sacrifices of his parents: the pricey summer schools and exclusive prayer camps. Yet nothing had worked.  Compulsive lying, cheating and manipulating were so much more fun.  He couldn’t be trusted for the time of day, but was it really his fault that people were so gullible, so eager to believe the sweet-talking young man from Maine?  And when the veil lifted and their danger finally realized, the rush would come to him.  Seeing the faces of his victims at just that moment... oh, how he lived for it.      

Once, he’d come perilously close to losing it all, but the secret had held. That three teenage boys had kept to the same story all these years was remarkable enough. But even more remarkable was that Abram, Eugene and Robbie had found each other in the first place.  They were three young men from three very different backgrounds and yet, all three had been sent to the same remote Maine bible camp for the same reason. Each had arrived carrying a bag packed to the rim with desperate hope from home.  

Maybe, this time he will change? 

Perhaps prayer can bring a cure where nothing else could?  

Instead, the three formed an unlikely alliance, cemented by their shared inability to fit in and a deadly lack of empathy.  For one evil summer, this brotherhood of three had accelerated their antics, trading prayer for something unspeakable.    

“We’re like mercury!” Abram had bragged to the other two, “And we can never be caught. “ 

But mercury is a slow poison and Abram's father certainly had had his suspicions.  Deep down, Abram had known this and worried that maybe his father would turn him in.  Clyde, however, never said a word.  Instead, he watched and he worried and he lived with dread while Abram’s mother lived with denial. And Abram did as he pleased.   

And then, the brilliant boy from the apple orchard went away to college.  The bad seed was gone. 

“He’s somebody else’s problem now,” Clyde had muttered to himself with relief, finally free to harvest apples without worrying that Abram might just come up behind him and... but what kind of father would think such things about his own son?  

Abram’s career took him all over the world: South America, Asia and the Middle East. God only knows what he’s doing and who he’s hurting out there.  Then Clyde lost his wife and he left the farm – all while Abram, thankfully, kept his distance.  Then, abruptly, Abram returned. He was home again and it seemed that he had brought something back with him.  A disease? An addiction?  Clyde was only sure of two things: Abram was worse than ever and there was only one place to put him.  Despite all of this, fatherly devotion compelled Clyde back to the barn to check on his boy, or what was left of him. 

Abram’s torso flailed and contorted again. “I was chosen!”  Yes, he realized it now.  Somehow, they’d known all about him.  They’d sensed what he was capable of and they’d sought him out. “I was chosen!!he repeated.   

He groaned into the thick hay that surrounded him.  Maybe he could beat it this! If he could make it through this next wave of contractions, maybe... he might be able to stave off the change.  He’d show his father that this time would be different, that he could overcome these urges and finally take control of his life.  As if in response, the intensity of the spasms increased. 

“Pleeeeease!!!!” he howled. 

His body convulsed violently again. More hours passed.  Another sunrise. And sunset.  It was wearing him down and he could feel himself giving in... again.  

“Come out...come out...”  The night called to him, “Come and end your suffering.  Come and embrace The Darkness...!”   

“I’m coooooming...!” he screamed. 


A beam of light seeped out from the tiny kitchen window, spilling across the back yard.  It illuminated the bottom corner of a dilapidated swing set and several mangled dog cages before finally settling on the shiny red backhoe that sat, waiting, by a fence. Long shadows formed angry grid lines across the snow. 

It was deep winter and these were the scenes of most backyards in northern Maine, the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life exposed and left for display like Pompeian artifacts. It would be months before the spring weeds could soften the edges once again. In the meantime, everything remained frozen in place, except for the backhoe which was still warm from 54 minutes and 16 seconds of grave digging.      

The shadow had been part of this macabre still life.  For hours, he stood stationary, content just to watch.  His oversized windbreaker caught the wind, billowing and snapping out behind him like a parachute.  In that yard on that night, it was the only sound.   

The shadowy figure glided toward the kitchen window and peered in.  The chaos of the yard was nothing like the meticulous order of the inside.  The kitchen sink, stainless steel and spotless, anchored a horseshoe of shelves and cabinets.  Painstakingly labeled jars and bottles filled the shelves, their dark contents reflecting no light. He wanted so much to be inside.  

Blue lights were on the street again, but he was a shadow and shadows have nothing to fear and so he held his position and watched as the patrol vehicle slowly drove on. He knew what they were looking for. He bit his lip playfully.     

He left the kitchen window and flitted effortlessly along the side of the house toward the front. His fingertips caressed the cheap vinyl siding as he moved. The bottom half of the living room window was heavily curtained, but that was of no consequence.  Softly, the figure moved upward. Shadows can move as they please.   

There, inside, sat a mountain of a man.  Even from behind there could be no mistaking him and the shadow flashed a smile of recognition: Eugene.  He was enormously tall and thick, his neck the size of a pine tree.  Size 16 work boots tapped the floor gently as the large office chair rolled left and right with practiced fluidity.  Multiple CCTV and computer screens filled the space, pasting Eugene’s gigantic head with fluorescent light.  He was constantly scanning monitors, adjusting dials and taking notes. Always, he was taking notes.  It was a curious site, like some sort of heinous command center.     

Here, in the sad and long-forgotten neighborhood of this abandoned mill town, the shadow had found him and it had been so easy.  Amid the endless rows of decrepit apartment buildings burgeoning with drug addicts and felons, this small and featureless little house had just slipped through the cracks.  Eugene’s house. It should be the first stop for anyone seeking out the source of something malevolent and Abram had been drawn to it like a moth to a flame.   

Inside, the big man stood up and briskly clomped back toward the kitchen, his massive bulk eclipsing the light as he walked. Outside, the black form followed.  Moments later he heard the shrill sound of metal scraping against metal as two rusty bulkhead doors heaved open.  Light and music spilled up from below as the big man emerged from the basement.   He was headed toward the backhoe and he was in a hurry.  

And just like that, the shadow and the big man met, face to face, for the first time in over 20 years. 

“Well, heeelllllo there...”  A whisper surged out from the darkness and surrounded the man like a swarm. 

“Who’s there?!”  The big man grunted out, visibly startled.  His eyes scanned the unlit yard.   

“Eugene Dwayne Shaw.  Well, well, well ...aren’t you a wascally wabbit!”   

“It’s Gene...it’s Gene now. And who are you??”  The disembodied voice floated all around him. It was disorienting yet strangely ...familiar?      

 “It’s me, Abram...” 

“Abram? Abram who...?”  There was only one Abram that could rattle someone like Eugene Shaw and now he hoped with all his might that he had misunderstood.  “Abram White?? Is that you?”  The big man swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly tasting like lead.   

 “Abram Glass, Abram Smith, Abram Jones...does it really matter? You are Eugene Dwayne... and I found you! Nooooowwww, isn’t thaaaat exciting?”   

Tangerine, by Herb Alpert drifted up from below the house and the shadow  opened his mouth wide, as if to catch the music with his tongue.  That damned album...still... 

They had been unlikely associates back in the day.  Abram was slim, handsome and charming. Eugene was monstrously big, ugly and poor.  But, in the end, it had been Eugene who had achieved his dreams.  He had always been the one to plan and build and...execute.  He feared nothing. So why was he feeling so nervous?   

Eugene strained his head and neck forward, hoping to see Abram’s face. “Show yourself!” he demanded.  

The shadow bit his bottom lip again, “Oh yessss...” 

Abram emerged from the void, his skin shiny and gray.  Two black eyes stared at Eugene with frightening intensity.  To Eugene, Abram’s appearance was a shock. He looked terrible. And why was he here, standing in his yard?  Nothing was adding up.  Eugene stepped back toward the direction of the bulkhead door, toward his dark dungeon.  “I haven't seen you since, um, since graduation, right?”  He asked, trying to sound casual.      

“Not so fast, Eugene Dwayne. Not so fast.” Then, like the flap of a black wing, Abram had moved to block the basement entrance.  It spooked Eugene and he tripped backwards. 

Eugene looked past Abram, down into the basement and then at his wrist watch. He had allotted himself only 2 minutes and 44 seconds, the length of Tangerine, to put the tarp over the backhoe. He measured his day in minutes.  But now chaos had broken out and alarms were going off in his head. His schedule. His Task List. His secret. His safety. Everything boiled down to Eugene getting back to the basement.  Now. 

“You always were a strange one, Eugene Dwayne.  Always so, so strange. And so surprisingly violent, as I recall.” The shadow taunted, “And now look at YOU! You’ve come a long way since that night in the woods.” 

“It’s Gene! Stop calling me Eugene. Nobody calls me that anymore!! And you should talk. You were there too, don’t forget!”  

Eugene’s cheeks flushed red hot. Indeed, he remembered that night very well.  It had been the most exciting night of his life.  They were young men- Abram, Eugene, and Robbie- speeding down the tote road in a stolen truck. And then they saw her. She had been walking alone, her sketch pad and water-color box tucked under a long, tan arm.  There was no one around for miles. 

Eugene. Big, awkward Eugene Dwayne.  He let the others lead until it was his turn.  He had wanted her too, but in a different way. And then he finished it.  The three of them buried her, quickly, and then raced back to The Healing Waters Bible Camp, rolling in just in time for evening prayer.  “Thank you, Oh Lord, for this amazing day...”       

Forever bound by a most gruesome deed, they had gone on with their lives. Sort of.  

Robbie’s madness had progressed until he became too dangerous to stay with his foster family.  His most recent and final escape from psychiatric confinement was, at last, successful and he disappeared into the forest.  For months he survived eating live birds, vermin and whatever else he could steal from the empty camps and summer homes around the area.  Eugene had learned of Robbie’s death last fall.  Somehow, he’d been electrocuted.  Robbie has always been impulsive, ...that’s what did him in, Eugene remembered thinking, and that will never happen to me.  

As expected, Abram went away to college and Eugene stayed in town and he took over the house.   His job as a security guard had taught him so much, as did that late summer day in the woods all those years ago.  If he wasn’t disciplined, he could lose control. And losing control is bad. That’s what Robbie did.  No, he would stay on task.  His compulsions would keep things precise.  Measure twice, cut once, he’d thought...while cutting. He liked it and he wrote it down as soon as he could. 

Eugene’s visitor inhaled deeply.  The song Lemon Tree wafted up from below.  He watched Eugene’s panicked face. “What’s the matter, Eugene? Am I keeping you from something?” 

Eugene’s eyes darted back to the bulkhead door.   

“Poor Eugene, somethings never change,” Abram teased, and his whisper touched Eugene on the back of the neck. Eugene’s hand moved up as if to swat it away, but then his eyes met with Abram’s.       

The big man outweighed Abram by nearly 100 pounds.  His mass was the weapon he employed to overpower others. This should be no different; one quick snap and it would be over.  But he wasn’t thinking clearly.  Time seemed to have stopped as he struggled to manage the terror that had him locked in place. His face blanched and his hands went numb.  Abram wasn’t here to make small talk. In fact, Abram wasn’t here at all. Eugene’s bison sized heart was pounding like a drum.    

Then, with explosive power, the big man bolted.  Adrenaline was calling the shots now: The fence!  Get to the fence!  Snow kicked up from behind his boots and his arms flailed wildly in the air, pulling his t-shirt up and over his large, pendulous belly.  All the while, Abram remained still. Transfixed. His black eyes sparkled.       

This running excited the shadow. He no longer thought of going inside the house. He just could not tear his eyes away from the man. The desire to chase was inescapable, intoxicating.  Running had transformed Eugene into prey and killing him was all that mattered now.


Image Credit: © Shazam


MEET THE AUTHOR

BRIGITTE EMMONS is a writer and storyteller living in the mountains of Western Maine. Her stories are rich with imagery and action; her characters hauntingly real.

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