A Wave from a Chimney
by Jeff Brown
Table of Contents|
Part 4 appeared
in issue 138.
Dust flew up into the air, making Jack cough. He pulled the collar of his shirt over his mouth and nose. When the dust began to settle, falling back to the floor as if it were snowflakes of dust, Jack could see the gaping hole in the fireplace. It was dark and black with what looked like pieces of white sticks that could have been kindling wood sitting inside it.
Jack picked up his flashlight and flicked it on. Shining the light into the fireplace he saw the remains of the man. His bones were still mostly attached, one to the other. He was in what looked like a sitting position with his head leaning against the fireplace wall. He still wore the clothes he had been murdered in, though they were tattered and eaten through in several places.
When Jack looked back at the man he could see a sad look on his face. His eyes looked almost glassy as if he were to cry, as if he were able to cry. Jack felt a tug of sadness ride over him. The ghost was standing, looking at what used to be his body. How could Jack not be saddened by the expression on the man’s face? After all, there seemed to be a bond that had formed between the ghost and Jack. Jack thought the bond had formed during that day as he tried to unearth the man’s remains from a chimney that had long been sealed and turned into a crypt. Deep down Jack knew he was wrong. He knew this bond had formed when he was just six and the thought of the ghost terrified him. Even then, he was also wrong.
“Man, I’m sorry,” Jack said in a tone of what he thought was consolation. It was as if the man were a long-time friend or... relative that he was talking to.
Jack stood, suddenly feeling the need to get away from the cool draft coming from the chimney. He moved along the room, the sound of his shoes on the floor crackling on broken wood, twigs or whatever else was there, under them. He looked back at he ghost who was now squatting by the fireplace looking at his own remains.
That must be weird, Jack thought as the man looked at himself. The man reached into the fireplace, his hand suddenly transparent. Through the skeletal remains of his own body he reached. His arm seemed to move as if in an effort to get something. After a few seconds he pulled his hand back and stood. In it was an old black wallet. He turned his wrist, looking at the wallet as if studying it or seeing it for the first time. The ghost turned to face Jack. He let out what Jack thought was a chuckle. With a flick of his wrist the ghost tossed the wallet to Jack. Jack caught the wallet. He looked up at the ghost. The ghost nodded and then pointed at the wallet. Jack opened the wallet. There was a picture in it of a man, woman and a small child.
“I’m sorry, son,” the man said.
Jack barely heard the statement as he stared at the picture; at the familiar looking woman in it; at the little boy that Jack knew; at the man he didn’t know.
When he looked up from the wallet to the man, the ghost was gone. In his place was the room, the house as it had been thirty-something years earlier.
* * *
The light was a bright white shining down from the ceiling, illuminating the room. Hardwood floors were throughout the house. White painted walls had pictures hanging on them, mostly of a young couple with a few pictures of the couple and their child. A tan-colored couch stood along one wall with two oaken end tables on either side of it. A lamp sat on each end table, Venetian in style, looking as if it had come out of some forties movie. There was an oaken coffee table in front of the couch, a couple of white coasters sitting atop the table with drinks on both of them.
Across from the couch was a fireplace, its hearth a charcoal color with a shine to it. It could have been marble for all Jack knew. There was a tube-like can to the right of the fireplace. In it was a pair of tongs and a hot poker (or a coal stoker, to some people). The mantle was white and above it was a mirror, its frame embroidered in roses and vines.
On the couch were a couple, kissing and touching and moaning. The woman was the same one from all of the pictures, her blond hair a mess, her blouse unbuttoned and her skirt raised up a bit past her thighs. The man was not the man from the pictures. It was someone else. Someone with his white shirt untucked and a cocky arrogance about him.
Footsteps came from down the hall, quick and with a purpose. The man appeared in the entrance of the room, a look of shock on his face. He was nice looking in his gray button-up shirt tucked neatly into his blue jeans. His brown hair was combed neatly also. His face held a look of obvious pain. There were tears forming in his green eyes.
“Why?” he asked, his voice cracking.
The other man was up off of the couch. He was quick to his feet as the woman tried to melt into the couch itself.
“Mick, it’s not what it looks like,” the man said.
Mick looked from the man to his wife and back to the man. He had seen his wife’s skirt raised, blouse unbuttoned with her bra exposed. He could see the man’s chest from his almost completely unbuttoned shirt.
“It’s not what it looks like?” Mick asked, almost hysterically.
“No, it’s not,” the woman spoke up as she stood, straightening her skirt as she did so.
“This isn’t the first time you’ve done this,” he said angrily. The hurt was obvious in his voice. Mick turned to walk away. He was pulling the wedding band off of his finger as he moved to the fireplace. “I want a divorce,” he said as he placed the ring on the mantle.
The woman ran to him, her eyes pleading as was her voice. “No, Mick! No!”
“No! Mick, I’ll change,” she had his arm, tugging on it. “I promise I’ll change.”
“And I want our son,” Mick said in an almost defiant tone. “I’m going to take Jackson with me.”
Mick turned, starting away from his wife. There was a loud scream from behind him. When Mick turned around he saw his wife lunge for him. She had grabbed the poker in both of her hands.
He had almost caught the poker in his hands. He was a little too slow. There was a dull pain in his stomach as she rammed the poker into him. There was a slight pop as the poker’s tip broke through the skin of his back. Mick grabbed the poker with both of his hands holding it firmly, trying to keep it from moving. He coughed painfully and blood sprayed from his mouth and down his chin. Blood began to soak into his shirt and jeans.
With his lips moving but nothing coming out, Mick took a couple of steps toward his wife. His hands were outstretched. The look on his face was more than pain and disappointment. It was betrayal. He took a couple of more steps that were more like stumbles.
“You’re not taking my son,” she yelled as she pushed him backward by grabbing the poker and pushing it as hard as she could. Mick stumbled backward, falling as he lost his balance. When he landed on the floor his head hit the hearth of the fireplace. His right hand went into the glass enclosure that closed in the fireplace. The glass shattered, slicing his little finger, severing it from his hand. With blood pooling on the floor Mick died.
* * *
I’m sorry, son, were the words the ghost — Mick — had said to Jack just before his death show played itself out for him. Jack stumbled backward until his back had reached the wall. It was probably a good thing. Jack’s knees felt as if they would unhinge, and without the wall, he would have crumpled to the floor in another painful heap. One time, Jack thought, was enough.
When the room reverted to its damp, musty and mildewed reality Jack could see Mick standing in front of the fireplace.
“Dad?” he asked in a whisper. He felt the lump in his throat as he asked the question. He wasn’t even sure he had asked the question.
Mick nodded. Yes son.
The words rang in Jack’s ears. His mind raced, threatening to run itself right off the track. His thoughts jumbled together, none of them coherent in their running. There were questions that Jack all-of-a-sudden needed answers to. They were questions he was sure he would not get the answers to. Questions like: How did they get away with this? Didn’t anyone notice him missing? What’s my real last name? Am I a Kenzie? Or what?
One question was answered loud and clear. His mother treated him the way she did out of guilt. Guilt for what she had done to his father. Jack resented her more now and his father —his stepfather — also.
Thank you, Mick said as he began to fade.
“Wait!” Jack yelled. “You can’t just leave me like this. I’ve gone through too much to get here. I’ve got questions. I need answers.”
I’ve got to leave, Jackson, Mick said, his voice soft and apologetic. “But, what about what happened?”
It’s over now, Mick answered.
Jack searched his mind, thinking, trying to find something to say. The only thing he could figure to say was something that all together sounded selfish in his own ears. “Why me?” he pleaded. He could see through Mick now. He could see the fireplace, the skeletal remains in it. “Why didn’t you get someone else to free you?
Mick smiled. It was a sweet smile. One that Jack knew if he were a child it would have brought him a large amount of comfort. But here, now, he was neither comforted nor happy about the smile that was fading as Mick faded with it.
Because, Mick said, you’re my son.
Jack held the wallet in his hand, his eyes full of tears. A few of the tears ran down his cheeks. He looked down at the wallet, at the picture in it of his mother, his real father and what Jack now knew to be him before he was even two years of age.
“I’ll be okay,” he told himself. “It’s all over with, now. Rest in peace, Dad.”
* * *
It was a long walk to the police department. He had found the door to the attic and then went up, found the tree and climbed up out of the attic. He made his way to the ground and then to the police department. He did all of this in a daze, as if he weren’t in his own body but instead watching himself from afar.
Jack pocketed the wallet his father had given him. His thoughts were endless streams of almost nothing except the picture in the wallet. His mother and father had looked so happy, like married couples are supposed to look. If only his father had known, or maybe he had known. And the little boy in the picture with the bright smile and big eyes that were between the two parents. It was a picture he had never seen but he was sure he would never forget it.
Walking into the police station Jack could see the alarm on the dispatchers face. He saw his reflection in the glass window that separated the dispatcher from any visitors that came in. He was dirty from the work he had done tearing down the fireplace. There was blood on the side of his face and on his shirt. He could see a bulge in his shoulder that looked like it came from his back.
“Sir, are you okay?” the dispatcher asked as he stood from behind his desk.
Jack stopped, looked at the dispatcher with a look of almost disbelief. What type of question was that to ask a guy who looked like he had been to hell and back? A logical one, Mr. Rationale spoke up.
“Sir?” the dispatcher asked again. “Are you okay, sir?” His look of concern was growing larger with each passing second that they stood there. “Sir?”
Jack blinked several times and then spoke. His eyes began to clear from the vacant look that had been there when he walked in.
“My father’s dead,” he said solemnly. The realization of the words that came out of his mouth hit him hard. He held himself together by holding onto the counter. He continued. “And my mother killed him.”
“Excuse me?” the dispatcher said. He picked up a phone and spoke into it. When the dispatcher hung the phone up he turned to Jack. “If you would hold on one second, detective Galloway from homicide will be right here.”
“Thank you,” Jack said. He sat down in a white chair that sat against the wall. After a few minutes a tall black man walked through a door to the right of the dispatcher’s window. He was dressed in dark slacks and a dark shirt with a tie that was just as dark. The tie held a crescent moon in the center of it. His head was bald and his eyes a piercing gray in color. The man was massive.
Jack stood slowly, his legs barely supporting him. He was over six feet tall and the detective towered over him.
“I’m detective Evan Galloway,” he said in a deep voice. He extended his hand to Jack.
“I’m Jack Kenzie,” Jack responded, extending his hand and shaking the detective’s hand slowly.
“Are you the man that’s here to see me?”
“My father’s dead, “Jack said in response to his question. “And my mother killed him.”
“Yep, you’re here to see me,” Galloway said. “Follow me.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said. He followed detective Galloway through a door that clicked loudly as it closed.
* * *
It wasn’t hard to explain to Galloway what had happened to him. Jack just told it for what it was, starting from the very beginning, when Jack was a child. It sounded absurd to him, in Jack’s own ears, as he told his story to detective Galloway. But, Galloway nodded his head in what looked like understanding.
He believes me, Jack thought.
When they went — Galloway and Jack — to the house it was just as he said it would be.
“How did you find all of this out?” Galloway asked, his eyebrow raised in a curious expression. He knew Jack had already told him, but he wanted to see if Jack’s story changed at all now that they were in the house and the bones of a dead man were before them.
Jack smiled and then pointed to the fireplace where his father’s remains were. “He told me.”
Remains Of Man Missing For 38 Years Found
That’s what the headlines read on the morning after Mick Price’s body was found. It had been over three weeks since the paper had run. Jack held it in his hand as he stood across the street from the old house on Winchester Street. They had delayed tearing it down while the police did their investigations. His wife, Tabitha was with him, holding his hand. Their daughter was at Tab’s mother’s house.
Across the street a bulldozer was busy at work. One wall was gone, the roof on that side completely collapsed to the ground. The bulldozer was moving in on another wall, its steel bucket poised and read to destroy that wall also.
As the bulldozer rammed into the side of the house, there was a sound that Jack heard over the rumbling engine and crumbling walls. It was the sound of a sigh. A release of relief from a body so long trapped inside of its tomblike structure. Jack smiled and looked down at the once folded over newspaper in his hand.
“Come on,” he whispered into Tab’s ear as he turned to leave. “It’s over.”
* * *
In a cemetery at the bottom of a hill appropriately called the Dead Overlook stands a new headstone. It is made of black and white swirled marble. The ground it overlooks is still barren of any real grass, though sod has been planted to hide the dirt-covered hole. A black wrought iron gate surrounds the new grave, giving it a length of over ten feet and a width of over five.
Chiseled neatly in the headstone’s four-foot high structure was the name “PRICE” in foot-tall letters. Below the name was an inscription in letters maybe an inch in height. It read:
Finally at Rest
Finally in Peace
Finally Set Free
In Memory of Mike Price
It wasn’t much in Jack’s eyes, but the words said it all. Finally at rest, finally in peace, finally set free.
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown