by Tonya L. Turknett
|part 3 of 4|
Johnny woke to the sound of the phone ringing. He saw a new crowd of faces gathered around the sheriff’s desk where the aroma of coffee and doughnuts and aftershave coalesced. “Sheriff Ridley, here.”
The scene made Johnny uneasy. The sheriff studied Johnny, as if he were sizing him up somehow. “Yes. We don’t know. Two o’clock, yes. Alright.”
Randall came in with clothes for Johnny. “Here ya go, kid.”
“Looks like you’re in some hot water,” the deputy sneered.
“Why? I didn’t do n-nothing.” Johnny found himself wishing for the fog to come.
“Well, your momma’s dead and you were right there. Makes ya look kinda guilty of something.” Randall leaned in, putting his face too close to Johnny’s. “Must be guilty of something.”
“Only thing I’m guilty of is not r-runnin’ away.”
“We arrest runaways too, k-k-kid,” Randall said. “I know you had something to do with it.”
“I believe we’re finished,” Johnny said, dismissing Randall. Johnny’s eyes were cold and hard somehow. Now he could feel the fog coming round in his head. “You’d better leave now unless you’d like to join them.” He’d lost his stutter and it left Randall perplexed.
“Hmphh. Here.” The deputy tossed the clothes onto the cot and walked away.
Johnny was cleaner than he had ever been, but it hadn’t changed how he felt the way he had hoped it would. His thoughts drifted to what might be in the sheriff’s desk. He knew there was food in the kitchen and if he could get his hands on some money, he could run away. Somehow, he knew that if he could just get away from that river that everything would be okay.
Sheriff Ridley’s footsteps echoed through the hall and Johnny straightened up to meet him. “Mornin’, son. Did you get some sleep?”
“You think you might be able to talk to me a little now?”
“D-do you think you’ll be able to listen?”
The sheriff scowled and rubbed yesterday’s stubble. “Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?”
“I guess so.”
“Are you hungry?”
“I c-could eat.”
“Let’s see what we can find for ya.”
Johnny jumped at his offer. It would be his chance to see what was in the kitchen.
“We might have to do some shopping if you’re gonna be with us for a few days.”
“Why? Am I under arrest?”
The old man smiled. “Not yet.”
“You could come home with me, if you like.”
“I d-don’t think so. I’ll be happy to camp here.” Johnny knew better than to present the snake with the opportunity. He was beginning to see that he could not trust himself any more than he could trust the snake. He’d never forgive himself if something happened to Sheriff Ridley.
“Alright. We’ve got some cereal and some leftover pizza. Randall ate all the doughnuts. Your choice.”
“Pizza it is.”
Johnny sat at a little round table, looking out a window. It overlooked the tracks behind the station. It was a good escape route as it was a double-hung window which would slide open easily. He kept his mouth full for as long as he could to delay the sheriff’s questions.
“I need you to tell me what’s happening, Johnny.”
“But I t-told you and you won’t believe it.”
“Try me, boy. I got your friend Phelps, your mom, and one of your classmates all dead in the past two days. I’ll take what I can get.”
Johnny bristled at the insinuation. “You ever had anybody p-pick on you?” Johnny asked.
“Like at school? Yeah, sure. Doesn’t everybody?”
“The kids at school, they like to c-call me Piggy. They say I smell like that. Like a pig.”
The sheriff could easily imagine the other kids saying something like that. From the looks of where he’d found Johnny, he’d bet a week’s salary that it was probably true. “And? Was Skip Carlson one of them?”
“Hog-callin’ me and sneaking soap into my desk at school. They have no right treatin’ me that way. No, sir, they don’t.
“I knew I smelled bad. C-couldn’t help it. We ain’t got running water and the bathroom’s all messed up anyhow. So I started takin’ baths in the river. I’d take my c-clothes and rinse them out when I took a bath. That’s how I seen it the first time. I think Skip might’ve come down there to make fun and well, it got him.”
“What’d you see down there?”
“A huge monster of a snake. And b-black as the ace of spades.”
“I don’t think we got snakes that big around here, son. You sure it wasn’t an otter or a beaver or something?” Johnny was already shaking his head. The sheriff could see that he would have to try harder to believe him. “Go on.”
“It was a snake. It followed me b-back. I seen it c-comin’ down the tracks like a train that night.” Johnny watched the tracks closely.
The sheriff saw that Johnny’s hands were shaking. Maybe he was too demanding of him, he was just a kid for Christ’s sake. His mother was just a drunk who staggered down to the tracks.
“D-do you believe in the devil?” Johnny asked.
“I guess. Do you?”
“Hell yes, I do! I think that old snake come here for me.”
“You think that snake is the devil?”
“I d-don’t know. I just know bad stuff happens when I see him.”
“Like your mother getting hit by that train?”
“Is that what happened, son?”
“But it ain’t like no other train, just like that snake ain’t like no other snake.”
“So, the devil is comin’ to kill us?”
“Sir, there’s somethin’ about that river that lets him come here. All I know is what I seen. You see him, pretty soon somebody’s dead.”
* * *
Sheriff Ridley knew that Johnny was going to try to run away. He knew that Johnny didn’t want to answer questions and he guessed he could understand that. Ridley could hardly believe that Johnny was capable of killing anyone and he spent the better part of that day trying to figure the boy out.
The next morning Johnny sat with the sheriff in his office dodging questions that he had already answered.
“Sheriff! Sheriff Ridley!” Deputy Randall rushed into the office, propping himself against the sheriff’s desk with both hands. “I saw the biggest... ahh.” Randall held his heart.
“What’s the matter with you, Randall? You act like you seen a ghost.”
“Snake! It was huge, Sheriff! That’s the biggest snake I ever seen!”
“And just where did you see this snake?”
“Down at Creal Springs, by the river. I always heard there were some big catfish laid up under the bridge there, but I hadn’t heard of nothin’ like what I just saw.”
“Now, let’s just calm down. I’m sure you saw something but we don’t know what. A man’s mind can play tricks on him when it’s this hot out.”
“Don’t tell me what I saw! I’m tellin’ you it was a snake! What’s something like that doin’ around here?” The deputy turned pale and fell back into a chair.
Johnny remained silent, waiting to hear what Ridley would have to say about the snake now that Randall had seen it too. He probably wouldn’t believe Randall any more than he had Johnny.
“Randall, why don’t you go cool off for a while? Meet me in the parking lot in half an hour. I wanna see this snake.”
“I think it’d be a good idea for you to come too, Johnny.”
“I ain’t c-comin’w, sheriff. No good can come of it.” Johnny felt nauseous, knowing full well that the sheriff might not return. He hated to see it happen, but he felt powerless to stop it.
“Maybe you’ll see that this thing is just a regular old critter like the rest of them.” Sheriff Ridley hoped that maybe this would prove to the boy that all this was just his imagination. Maybe then he’d find out the truth about what happened to Johnny’s mother.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Tonya L. Turknett