Dry Prong was having its usual dry season, where everything and everyone screamed for water. Just this morning I looked at my front lawn and heaved a heavy sigh.
“Shredded wheat.” That’s what my lawn looked like. All I needed was a little milk and my breakfast would be complete.
“Hey, Charlese! Whatcha looking at?”
Billy Beauford had just walked up and caught me starring at what once was a beautiful, green lawn. “Oh, hey yourself, what brings you out this way?”
Now I’ve known Billy since I was knee high to a grasshopper and even then I didn’t like him much, but now that I’ve grown up I don’t kick him in the shines anymore, I’ve resisted those temptations.
“I was on my way to the Five and Dime to get me a Coke. You want to come along?”
“Why sure, just you mind yourself though. I’m hot and cantankerous, a force you do not want to mess with.” I was too. Gran, if she was still around, would stay clear away from me when I was in such a mood.
“Oh, no, no, no . . . “and held the last no out for a few seconds longer before stopping.
I eyed him curiously, “We’ll just see about that.” I was cautious, but decided to go anyway, besides, the thought of a icy, cold drink sounded real good.
The Five and Dime was a mile down the road and by the time we got there sweat was trickling down my back. I looked over at Billy and he looked as though he’d had just finished running a race. His t-shirt was drenched and his face was beat red.
As I came up to the door, Billy ran in front and opened it for me. “After you.” And swept his arm toward the opening, a jester of gentlemanly ways, I wasn’t having any of it. If I had known any better, which I do, he was up to something. I eyed him curiously.
“What?” He questioned.
“You know what; I know what you’re up to, so you can just get them thoughts out of your head.”
“Charlese, I wouldn’t . . .”
Again, I said nothing but gave him my look of death. He shut his mouth real quick like.
Now the Five and Dime store is not one I frequent a lot, but when I do, it’s usually for their sale items that I may need from time to time. Making my way toward the back of the store, I noticed how eerily quiet and still it was. I looked over at the owner who always stood behind the front counter. He seemed to be ok, but as I stared longer I noticed he hadn’t flinched or moved a muscle. Odd, that’s when I turned back around and went to the counter.
“Mr. Zamood? Um, you ok?” I waved my hand in front of his face . . . nothing. He was so still, like a wooden duck floating on a pond.
I went hesitantly went about my business, looking over at Mr. Zamood every once in awhile when I came face to face with a drink.
“Here you go Charlese! I went ahead and got you a drink. Hope you like it, it’s Coke.” He was grinning from ear to ear and so pleased with himself.
Slightly startled I replied politely, “Why thank you Billy, that was real nice of you.” I sparkled and oozed excitement, which made his day.
We went over to the counter where Mr. Zamood stood stock still. Billy, not realizing what was going on was jabbering away, fishing his money out of his pocket while complaining how hot the weather was.
“I think something is wrong with Mr. Zamood, see.” I pointed hoping he’d see what I was talking about and he did. Next thing I knew Billy was waving his hand and making faces at the man. Really?
“Billy, even though Mr. Zamood . . . “
Then the strangest thing happened, Mr. Zamood started to foam at the mouth and his eyes rolled back into his head. He was convulsing!
“Billy get away!” But it was too late. Mr. Zamood grabbed a hold of Billy’s throat and pulled him inward.
Protection mode set in and I grabbed his ankles and held on for dear life. There we were, having ourselves a human tug-of-war and as far as I could see Mr. Zamood was winning.
“You let go of him you hear me?” I placed my feet against the bottom of the front counter, using it as leverage, but for some strange reason, Mr. Zamood was extremely strong, especially for being sixty-nine years old. Nothing I said to him got through he was bound and determined to have Billy for himself and on any given day I’d say go for it, but his was different, Billy was in danger.
I looked around desperately for anything I could use as a weapon and the only thing I spotted was a stand for Zippo Lighters. Now, for a few seconds the thought of zombies came to mind and I remember watching a TV show that had burning zombies in a road. Mr. Zamood didn’t seem like a zombie normally, but today he had all the signs of being just that. I took a deep breath; I realized I had to kill a man. I was not going to make Gran happy, that’s for sure.
The trick now was how to get one of them lighters without losing Billy in the process. I was only inches away, so if I let go for just a second not much would happen, hopefully.
“Sorry Billy, but I have to do this, but you’ll thank me in the end!”
I let go with my left hand and off he went over the counter. I quickly grabbed me a shiny, red lighter, flicked open the lid and clicked the leaver which would ignite gas with spark. All this time, Billy was battling a life and death situation and it wasn’t looking too good either.
“Alright you, I warned you and now you’re toast!” I reached over the counter and lit the corner of Mr. Zamoods shirt. It caught fire real fast and the flames spread up and outward as his whole shirt was now on fire. He started to scream and bat at the flames, while I yelled at Billy to run.
“Come on Billy let’s get out of here quick!”
I waited as he climbed over the counter and out we went. We ran until our legs couldn’t run no more and then sank to the ground with exhaustion. I had never in my life been so afraid.
“You ok?” I said panting like a dog in summer. My throat was even more parched than when we first started out.
We sat there for awhile, sirens coming from a distance got louder and louder as black smoke streamed up into the sky. Billy just pointed as he gasped for a breath. I didn’t even want to imagine what was going on now, but I had a pretty good idea. Not only was Mr. Zamood on fire, but the store too. Oh, boy.
“What do you suppose Mr. Zamood was?” Sounding breathy.
I hadn’t a clue. Mr. Zamood wasn’t from these parts, he was from India, and if their culture had a tendency for zombies then I guess that’s what he was, but I couldn’t be sure. I knew though that we’d never know the real answer, dead people don’t talk or so I’ve been told.
“Know what Billy?” You owe me a Coke, but seeing how I’m feeling generous, how about you coming over and I’ll give you one?”
Billy smiled like I’ve never seen him smile before. “You sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure, but mind you, this ain’t no invitation for catching some bases. You just mind your p’s and q’s or else!”
“Oh, sure, sure, I’ll behave, besides you saved my life, I ain’t gonna ruin that for nothing. So, um, thank you.”
We were only minutes away from my house and by the time we had reached my front porch I told him to have a seat and I’d be right back. I went in to the kitchen and opened the cabinet. I decided to use my bright, orange tumblers that Gran had gotten from Woolworths a long time ago. They always made me feel special and today I was feeling special. I had just saved a person’s life and to me, that was a big deal.
Just as I was pouring two hands wrapped themselves around my waist. I hadn’t heard Billy come in.
“Charlese, I just want you to know, just how appreciative I am by the way you saved my life today. That was a brave thing you did today.” He snuggled in closer and I got the rare feeling that he was overly grateful in more ways than one.
“Billy, if you don’t let go of me this instant, I’ll show you the meaning of the word appreciate real fast.” But my words went on deaf ears as lips nuzzled my neck.
Two can play this game.
I brought my arms up, in a jester that gave the impression that I was allowing him to take pleasure in me and then, without a flinch from me, grabbed a handful of hair in both hands and pulled.
“Oh, Charlese let go, let go! You’re hurting me!” His hands reached up to grab mine, but I let him have it below and kicked him in the shins. He was owing and ooing as legs were going up and down, trying to diverge my feet.
“Why should I? You weasel you! How dare you take liberties on me after what I did! Are you insane?” I held on fast, I wasn’t letting this one go, not yet at least.
“I’m sorry, just let go!” Sorry my ass.
“If I let go, you promise to walk out that door and never, and I mean never come back to my house again?” He squirmed and thought on that for a second.
“I promise, just let go!”
I held on for a little bit longer. I was enjoying seeing him squirm like a worm on a hook, but I knew I had to let him go, so I did and backed away.
“Out!” And pointed to the direction of my door.
He rubbed his head all the while looking like a bad puppy with his tail between his legs . . . come to think of it; you could probably take that literally. He moseyed past me and out the door, the whole time rubbing his damn head. I watched him go down the steps off my porch, across the yard to the street and back to his house. Good.
Just before I went in to clean up, I looked at my lawn and sighed.