The Tire Swing

📅 Published on January 29, 2022

“The Tire Swing”

Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Chapter 1

I grew up being a bit of an explorer at heart. It hadn’t exactly come naturally, but instead through my family’s forced moves from army base to army base. I turned ten this year and I was on at least my eighth adventure to a new home. I was used to new places and struggling to get settled in. Making friends was difficult because I always knew that either the other kids or I would more than likely be leaving again after finally gaining a friend I liked. It’s the way it had always worked in the past. My lesson learned from this pattern was that my only true friend, was the one who would stick beside me after the move. It wasn’t a human friend, but more of an activity. The act of exploring. Exploration was what I’d learned to do the minute my feet hit the new grass of wherever my family landed. The great outdoors. Sometimes near a city, sometimes out in the suburbs, but so far, never off the base limits or too far in the boonies. That of course, was until my dad’s assignment here, where this story really begins.

The scenery or surrounding setting in this new home was very different than all the others had ever been. There was no available housing on the surrounding fenced perimeters of his new change of assignment, so my dad was forced to find something off-base. Prague, Arkansas was about fourteen miles from Pine Bluff Arsenal, my dad’s new assignment, and was out in the middle of nowhere. Hell, there wasn’t even a Wal-Mart. This was—the boonies.

But being an army brat, I welcomed a new adventure and the old farmhouse we’d pulled up to was just such a place to start this new experience. While I’d never been a “city boy,” I most definitely wasn’t a “farm boy” either. I reckon I was stuck somewhere in between.

The sprawling pastures and hills looked like an inviting place to explore—but the woods way out past the fields—they intrigued me most. I’d never seen such a large stand of trees. I wonder if there are any dangerous wild animals that live out there.

My dad was gone most days until late in the evenings. Mom sorted through moving boxes and after I set my room up—l left out the back screen door and into this brand-new unexplored world. I reveled in the idea of being alone and walking today. I had my canteen and a backpack with a few snacks and my trusty buck knife I’d gotten my last birthday, in my pocket. Ready for just about anything. The trees appeared to be a distant walk out to them from our back porch. I guessed a couple a mile or so. A huge field of something growing separated our house from the stand of trees in the distance. When I stepped into it, it was thicker and taller than it had looked. Be easy to get lost or turned around I ‘spect. I looked across the smaller field to our neighbor’s house to the north. The only other place nearby. Mom said she’d heard they might have a son close to my age, but it looked pretty quiet over that way, ‘specially since summer had barely just begun. If there was a boy my age, surely, he’d be up and about by now. Oh well, I wasn’t much of a people person anyway.

It had been an hour and the sun began to rise high overhead. Sweat beads trickled down my forehead and the salty mixture dripped into my eyes. I wiped them away with my handkerchief bandana and then glanced to see if I could still see home. I could tell where the house probably was, but it was hidden. It appeared I’d walked over halfway between the forest in front of me and home behind. I looked at the sun and guessed it must be getting close to 11 am by now.

When I’m hiking alone, I sometimes like singing songs. At first just inside my head, but then after I realize there ain’t no one nearby that could possibly hear me no matter how poorly I screeched, I began belting out a Charlie Daniels song. My voice had begun to do it’s changin’ thing, momma said I was becoming a man, “People say I’m no good, and crazy as a lune…” I loved the Charley Daniels Band, probably because my dad listened to him. Mom hated it when I played Charlie’s records loud in my room on the turntable. That was one of the gifts I’d gotten from Mom when the guilt overtook her about telling me we’d be moving again. Yes, I’m spoiled in some ways, I got gifts every time we moved. Guilt gifts is what I called ’em. But I’d sure enough take advantage. Why the hell not? I was moving either way, might as well profit from it! Didn’t matter anyway, when my dad got orders, he had to follow them. So did mom and me.

Thoughts about nothin’ had been rattling inside my head and I realized I hadn’t even looked up and seen how close the forest was now. Quickly spying what looked like a weathered and deserted old pathway into the trees, I adjusted my direction and turned towards it, looking back one last time toward home before entering the canopy-covered path. It didn’t take too long before I couldn’t see much sunlight. I almost wished I’d brought a flashlight, but there was a small clearing not too far ahead that lit an area up. I could see a huge tree with something dangling from it. My curiosity caused me to speed up my pace. Several minutes later I realized it was a tire hanging from a huge limb by a thick rope. It looked like it had been there for years. I looked around and there was no house or building—not anything but smaller trees surrounding this bigger one. It must have been a tractor tire hanging because it was a huge round and super thick tire with big treads.

I dropped my backpack and gave the tire a hearty push, watching the limb that held it and studying the rope. It looked secure and the tree limb seemed strong enough to carry more weight so I grabbed onto the ropes with both hands and ran quickly before jumping and pulling myself up and onto hard rubber tire just before it would have been too high in the air. The wind blew through my hair and the air suddenly seemed fresher as it rushed past his face. Awe, this must be what they mean about country pure air, I thought as I sucked in my breath deeper and threw my head back. I leaned up with the momentum and then enjoyed the ride back downward as the tire and I plummeted toward the ground. On about the third round of ups and downs—My eye saw him from the corner of my sight. He was just leaning his back against the large tree trunk watching me swing. All I really noticed was his long, scraggly, white beard and a huge, brimmed hat. I got instant chills and my arm began to show goosebumps. The light blonde hairs on my arms stood straight up. I didn’t think it was the breeze blowing that caused em to spike and an instant concern garbled in the pit of my stomach. Why the hell would there be some old, fat guy with a white beard, black suit, and huge hat on up here in the middle of nowhere? My skin prickled again as I attempted to weigh my options. Too far from home to scream. I hadn’t seen a soul or passed anyone on the way here. In fact, there’d been no sign of any life the entire way. I was on my own. I blurted out, “This your tree? Am I trespassin’ Mister?”

The old man remained silent, and just stood leaning against the huge tree that held the swing I was riding. My ride now began its sluggish circular wobble to a slow stop. I never noticed where the man had come from. The moment I realized my predicament, it not only stole my breath, but also any ability to repeat my questions when he didn’t answer them. I knew I was at his mercy as he stepped away from the tree and leisurely walked toward the tire now dying to an almost still ride. If I’d been at a park on base, I’d be unwinding, gigglin’ and dizzy from the thrill of the ride—but I wasn’t. I was in the middle of nowhere and no one could hear my screams for help if things suddenly turned bad.

The old man attempted to look into my eyes and suddenly an odd feeling of warmth came over me. Not something I’d expect to feel from a stranger wanting to cause fear or harm to me.

“My name is Winston.” The man reached up to the brim of his black hat. He touched it with his pointing and middle fingers of his right hand and then nodded. “Winston Miles,” he continued. He dropped his fingers down in front of his dark-tinted glasses. So dark, in fact, his eyes couldn’t be seen at all. “I’m not here to do no harm, young man. I’m just here—cause that’s where God’s put me for the moment.”

I nervously fidgeted with my hands on the ropes as the swing now barely gyrated at all. Occasionally my back would be turned away from the man as the tire would force me to move in a slow circle, which made me nervous, but I still held that odd feeling of warmth. “You sayin’ you’re some kind of an angel, then Mister?” I questioned with a touch of sarcasm. It really wasn’t meant to be sarcasm; it was just my awkward response from lack of really socializing enough, being a loner and all.

The man chuckled a second or two before attempting to respond. “No son, I’m no angel.” The old man’s beard kind of moved oddly on his face as he snickered at the thought. “You know what penance is, Chance? That is your name, isn’t it?”

I thought for a moment, first wondering how he knew my name and then if I’d heard the word in school or church. “I suppose I’ve heard the word; I just can’t bring to thought what it means. How’d you know my name, Mister?”

“Well, I don’t generally get into this kind of conversation as fast as we’re headedbut you do seem advanced for your age, what, 10 maybe 12 years old? And I told you I was sent by God; you believe in matters of the faith?”

“I’m 10, and I go to church regularly. Hey, I’m getting down off this swing, mister, that okay?”.

“I got no control over you, Chance. You do what you must! You asked questions, and I’m trying to answer them best I can.” Winston walked back to the trunk where he was leaning when Chance first noticed him. There was a big part of the tree root that stuck up from the ground and Winston squatted down, using it as a seat. “I’m kind of tired son, watched you headed this way and was ‘bout to give up on you ever getting here,” he smiled a jolly grin.

“Well, you’re right, my name is Chance, last name is Baker. It’s nice to meet you, Winston, can I call you that?” I suddenly felt comfortable enough to walk up and sit down in front of Winston. “You live around here?”

“Yes, you can call me Winston, and I don’t really have anywhere I call home, Chance.”

“Yep, kinda like me,” I answered back. “I move a lot because my dad is in the military. We never stay put very long.”

“You don’t like moving around a lot, do you?”

“How’d you know I don’t like it? You really are an angel, ain’t you?”

“No son, I’m just a man who made many mistakes in my past life and—well, I’ve been trying to right some of the wrongs that I did back in the day.”

“Penance.” Chance squinted. “Just came to me. You’re kind of in the business of punishing yourself for your past, ain’t you?”

Winston smiled. “Your momma is gonna miss your kindness and smarts, Chance.”

“What do you mean? What about my momma? Ain’t nothing wrong with her—you thinking you’re gonna hurt her or me or something? My dad is in special forces and a crack shot.”

“No, no, son.” Winston looked nervous to Chance as he struggled to make sense of his words. “Chance—my penance, or self-punishment, is being the bearer of news that no one ever wants to hear. News that needs to be nursed slowly to the recipient. My job, or mission so to speak, is to be the one telling it and then being here for the person receiving it…” Winston watched Chance’s face and his movements, his reactions to the words he was speaking. “I try my best to bring it in slow. This is moving way faster than I usually go, but you seem so smart and, and—I don’t know, kind of self-reliant. I can’t back up once I start though. It doesn’t work that way. You see, I’m kind of a messenger of a tiny part to a much bigger plan that I have no concept of. I just do my part to make it as easy as I can to the recipient.” Winston looked like he studied me very carefully. “You understand any of this, son?”

I looked at Winston with skeptical eyes. “What I understand is that you’re an older, kind of scary-looking man to somebody young as me—especially when you came out of nowhere in the middle of nowhere. You tell me you aren’t an angel, but you tell me you’re punishing yourself by giving me news that I won’t wanna hear?” I was getting confused and nervous at the same time. My heart pounded with the dreaded anticipation. “…That sounds crazy to me and my parents ain’t gonna buy a word of it.” I started to get up. “I think I better start heading home, mister, thanks—I guess.”

“I’ll be here tomorrow if you’d like to talk some more, Chance. I don’t want to scare you, but there isn’t too much time before something’s going to happen in your life. Something that will change your way of life in ways you don’t expect. Ways you won’t understand. That’s why I’ll be here—to help you understand it, and to be here for you, so you’re not totally alone in the circumstances.”

I turned and headed back to the path leading out of the woods and towards home.  I gotta admit, I looked over my shoulder several times to make sure he wasn’t followin’ me. My trip back home and pace was far more focused than when I’d made my way here this morning. That was for dang sure.

Chapter 2

I made it home and quietly went in and sat on the couch in front of the television. It was my way of having a background distraction. My head needed to sort through how my day changed into something I never expected. I didn’t know if I should believe what Winston had told me. But then I thought, what if it was true? My mom had been acting more and more tired lately. I began to think back in the recent memory, sorting through my thoughts and trying to make comparisons. The ways I’d seen things in our family now from how I seen em before this was brought to my attention. Things always seem clearer once one has things pointed out and focused on. I could find similarities with mom’s recent behaviors and things Winston had pointed out. But who hangs out in the woods to give people bad news? Especially kids? That’s it, I reiterated to myself. I’m going back tomorrow and talk once more to Winston.

I turned the television off and walked out onto to the porch. My mood called out for me to now avoid thinking about any “bad possibilities” and instead towards the trees where I’d spent a couple of hours talking to a strange old man with a story that he hinted held an unhappy ending. At only ten years old, I wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with my predicament. Should I talk to my mom or dad? Did they know already and just hadn’t told me? Since I couldn’t decide what to do, I did nothing but look out at sky and wait for the sun to begin setting. It would be a different thing to do—to try and clear my head and watch as to what our surroundings would look like in the early evening. Would it different too now? Or would the cicadas still chatter their regular tunes, and the fireflies still fly low and gather in the grass as they signaled to one another? I suddenly didn’t think I liked Prague, Arkansas and the oddity it had given me.

The wind blew through the trees surrounding our house. The birds fell silent as if a storm was about to blow in. I looked up at the sky and watched dark gray and black clouds beginning to swirl together, intermingling in a twisted struggle, as if to prove which between them was the strongest. The temperature dropped and a chill blew up onto the porch with a sudden gust of wind. Winston was right. I now sensed a storm of some kind brewing, and it looked as if it would be upon our new but old farmhouse soon. Glancing towards the trees in the distance one more time before going inside, a slow to come question entered my mind. Just who was this odd man or ghost, Winston Miles, anyway? And where did he come from? What’s more, where did he live? I’d be askin’ some more serious questions tomorrow and Winston would need to give some clearer answers, if he ever wanted me to come back again. Did he have real information or was he just some kind of a kook who preyed on confusing young kids and leaving them hesitant in our uncomfortable worlds.

* * * * * *

My eyes wanted to close and allow myself sleep as I laid as still as a buried bone under my sheets. My brain just wouldn’t shut off and let me go. Winston Miles. Kind of an odd name for such an old woolly man, I thought. I closed my eyes again and squeezed them tightly as if to command them to stay shut, to turn off my brain, and allow me to fall asleep. It worked, but not exactly as fast as I had hoped.

* * * * * *

Thoughts were blurry at first when I woke up, but I knew right away I’d been dreaming. The kind of dreams I’d never had before. It felt so real though, as if Winston had been in my room and not just in my head trying to give me comfort while he tried to explain why my mom was going to leave me. There it was. It sank in this time and tears began to flood from eyes. I didn’t even care if anyone heard or saw me bawling like a baby. It would soon be only my dad and me, and he was never home. My mom was dying and there was nothing I could do to change it. Why was this happening to us?

I suddenly wondered if Winston had visited with my dad. I wondered if it were any easier getting news of losing someone you loved when you were old. So many unanswered questions to ask Winston today. Did I have weeks or months with my mom—or only hours or days? I also pondered if it was truly easier knowing in advance of the pending doom, the knowledge she would be taken from us. Maybe, just maybe, the unknown surprise would have held less bite. Now every time I’d see her, I’d visualize her already gone. Each time I looked into her eyes; I would now secretly wonder if today would be the day I’d lose her. Would I be able to keep her from knowing that I now knew her horrible secret?

Chapter 3

“Good morning, Chance. Were you able to sleep?”

“Winston, I have questions I need answers to. And hell no, I didn’t sleep well. Do you really think it’s better that I knew about this before it happened? Will she hurt or will she die quickly?”

Winston leaned up from against the tire swing tree, just like yesterday when I’d first met him. “Son, I will try to give you answers, but I’m kept on a tight leash about what I say and when. I’m just not allowed to travel down just any old roads, willy-nilly without rhyme and reason. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but I have no choice in the matter.”

“By who? You said you weren’t an angel—is it the devil you answer to?”

Winston smiled slightly. “I’ve never been questioned by a ten-year-old before. You are smart, Chance. You think of some pretty deep questions that I’m not used to wondering if I’m giving answers I would need to pay for later.”  Winston reached over and patted me on the shoulder. “But no, I’m not ruled by the devil. It’s complicated and something more on a path I’d rather avoid right now.  We need to focus our time together on you. As far as will your mother feel pain. I’m sorry to say that I would assume there will be some discomfort involved—but it shouldn’t last very long. A more important answer is that—the process has begun and will take place much sooner than I’d wished. You won’t be able to keep a secret, Chance, but the good news is that she’ll see it in your eyes when you go home today. There will be no need for you to feel as if you must hide what you’ve been made aware of. Go to her, give her comfort, tell her you love her, and you’ll miss her very much. Don’t waste a second giving her all the love you can. Make some lasting memories you can cling to, boy.”

I could see what looked like a drop of water pooling up in Winston’s eye. His job doing this wasn’t easy on him. I could feel his pain almost as much as I felt my own heart breaking with sharp aches and burns. Like needles and baseball bats sticking and hitting me. I suddenly felt a deep, guilty sorrow. I looked back briefly into my life and realized how many times I should have or could have told my mom how much I loved her—but didn’t. I thought at the time I was too busy playing or going off on an adventure to worry with silly words. Of course, she must realize how much I need her and love her. Silly words. How could I have taken her for granted so much.  But now, I knew those words were never silly, and I can never break the impossible task of taking back all the times I missed letting her feel the comfort from those words, because of my selfishness. There would be no way of giving extra in a day to take the place of all the times I hadn’t bothered.

It was as if Winston could read my mind before I even knew what was clouding it. “She knows you love her, Chance. She’s always known. Even when you had disagreements—she never stopped loving you, or knowing that she was important in your life, even through your temporary anger she knew you never stopped loving her back.” Winston’s eyes sparkled with a twinkle that surely came from heaven somehow. “Think of this as a test, Chance. If your mother is strong enough to make it through her painful journey, remember that you too, someday, will be able to do the same when it’s your turn. I’ll bet she will be there to help you with the transition once you reach the other side. We all have our limited time before we’re called to the next level. No matter if we see it coming or not. It’s the circle we live within. Nothing to fear. I’ve been through it. It’s much scarier to imagine and wonder about any pain involved than it is to pass. Your mind is busy with many other things in the moment, other than worrying about pain or fear of what’s to come in the end.”

Winston leaned down and took me into his arms, giving me comfort. I now needed it desperately. His words made sense and I think I believed they would help me at the time all of this would come.

* * * * * *

When I got home, the house was silent. I opened the door, and something felt different. The air smelled different, and the quiet warmth told me Winston was somehow with me. That’s when I broke down completely. I knew it was my mom’s time and I sensed a feeling of compassion from Winston, even though I’d just seen him was back at the tire swing.

Ah, the tire swing. A place I now longed to be instead of facing what I knew was to come. The tire swing had gone from an adventure to a moment of fear that quickly moved into an aboding feeling of doom. Funny how now it became a place I’ll always remember as one of complete comfort and safety. My cocoon to hide away from the cruelties of this world I still didn’t understand.

I made my way slowly to my parent’s bedroom and as I came closer, I heard sobs. It sounded as if they came from both my mom and my dad. I slowly pushed the door open and watched. My mom was in bed, she looked very pasty white, pale. Her breathing wasn’t normal, and my dad was kneeling beside her quietly telling her he loved her. It was something I wasn’t used to seeing between them nor was I ready to witness it. I knew my dad loved her. I knew he loved me. He just never showed it in the ways mom did. He rarely said it out loud. But he was a soldier. He was trained to hold his emotions in check. It was his job. He did it well.

I’d never seen my mom so sickly, and I swear to God I’d never seen my dad cry, yet he was sobbing like a baby as he clutched my mom close. I could barely watch. I wanted to be in the middle of them. Holding and hugging each of them but I couldn’t make my legs move. My heart ached. I was feeling things inside my mind and body that no boy of 10 years old should ever be forced to feel. I wanted to be a God-believing young man, but I questioned why he would do this to my mom and my family. “Damn, you for this!” I said in a shaky voice that came out loudly before realizing what I’d done. Both my dad and my mom turned to see me. I didn’t know how to react. I was sad. I was frightened. I was angry. I stood as if I were a statue, only able to stare. I finally worked up the courage to speak. “Winston told me this would happen, but I didn’t believe him! God damn that old man! Why couldn’t he have been a liar?” I hollered before I could stop the word my mother refused to ever hear aloud before.

“Chance…” she quietly whispered.

I could see her wince in pain, but she kept a brave smile as her eyes called out to me much louder than her hushed words were able to. I slowly walked over, afraid to make a noise, believing it could bring on more pain to her.

“I love you, Chance. I want you to always know that. I’ve been so proud as you’ve begun to grow into the beginnings…” She coughed and cleared her throat. “…the beginnings of a fine young…man.” She appeared as if she agonized to speak to me, but I somehow understood that she needed to tell me in her own voice, no matter the discomfort. “…You’re in my heart forever, even when I’m gone—and I’m inside your heart. I’ll always be with you, sweet-pea.” She smiled through the blur of salty tears, but my tears felt as if they doubled hers. My father just blankly stared at us, as if he were watching his world collapse like the Trade Center towers did on that dreadful Tuesday morning, all those years back. You see something like that, and you know you can’t make it stop or go back in time and reason it away. You want to, but the impossibility of it overtakes your “will” to pray it so. My father’s “will” had begun succumbing at a bewildering pace. I saw fear meld into anger and then to hatred. The soldier inside him, trained to take over, truly did, and it shoved the compassionate part of him away, as if it were unneeded refuge.

“Boy! Who in hell, is this Winston character and what did he tell you?” My father demanded.

I looked up at him, not knowing how to respond.

“Chance! I asked you a damned question. Who is this man?”

“I met him at the tire swing—out in the woods behind our house. Past the field. He told me about mom and comforted me. Told me she loved me and always would. He held my hand and told me I would make it past the pain.”

I saw red in my dad’s eyes for the first time ever as he investigated mine, deeper than he’d ever gone before. I’m not sure why? Maybe because it was another man had forewarned me about my mom, or the fact Winston was there to comfort me when he wasn’t? I didn’t know, I felt hatred and blame exploding from his questions. I feared losing my mom, but I was instantly more frightened of what my dad may do. His eyes reflected meanness and hatred while my mom’s eyes spoke pain and regret. All I could manage was to let my eyes move back and forth between the two, wondering which one of them needed my comfort and strength more.

“Where the hell does this Winston live? Did he touch you?” Dad barely paused after his questions before asking again, “I asked if he touched you in any way, Chance?”

I froze. I didn’t know what the right answer to give him was. Yes, Winston had hugged me, rubbed my shoulder, given me comfort about the future that was creeping upon us. He didn’t do anything wrong. He wasn’t creepy, or scary. He was loving. I didn’t know how to tell my dad all these things. He was painting Winston as a criminal, when he was there for me. I knew my dad couldn’t be, but why would he hate someone who was able? I couldn’t answer, especially while Mom lay there suffering and seeing my dad angry when she needed to feel his love and the touch of his hand.

I looked over at her just in time to see her smile at me and mouth my name in silence. It was like a warm breath of fresh autumn air blew through the room as her wispy smile faded with one last gasp of air taken in, before it slowly released and came spilling back out to meet an end. Her eyes began to roll into her pale bruised eye sockets, revealing the life exiting them before they stopped short of disappearing under her lids. She was gone and I knew it. My dad’s anger driven by something he couldn’t understand had now stolen his opportunity to say goodbye to mom, the love of his life. I knew instantly he would regret that action forever.

I instantly hated him for that. His eyes still boiled, and his question burst from his pursed lips.

“I’m gonna ask you one final time, Chance. What’s the man’s name—first and last, and where can I find this fucking pervert?”

“His name is Winston…Winston…Miles…but he ain’t no ‘pervert,’ he’s an angel sent from heaven to finish his penance.” I sniffled. “Only place I ever saw him was at the tire swing in the woods…and in my dreams the other night.”

At the end of my words, my dad flew outta our house without so much as a goodbye to my mom or me. I walked over very shakily and knelt beside her, putting my arms around her cooling skin. I’d seen in the movies how they always took their fingers and ran them over the person’s eyelids to close them as if they were sleeping. I can tell you it didn’t work, and I wish I’d never attempted it. Her eyes snapped back open, and I believe that will be my final haunting memory of my mom until my last dying breath. Winston had told me not to fear death, that we all would achieve it someday. Seeing my mom’s eyes snap back open and stare at me with a cold emptiness—will make me fear death until my end is called to be.

Chapter 4

My dad somehow found Winston Miles the same day my momma passed from this world. I wasn’t even sure it would be possible. I truly thought Winston was an angel and likely not able to suffer from injury, but my dad shot him with his heirloom colt .45 that his grandfather passed to his father and then on to him. It was now the keepsake that got him arrested and convicted of first-degree murder. I reckon it woulda been passed on down to me too, but it now lives in a cardboard box somewhere in a file room marked evidence at the courthouse or jail. I don’t want it anyway. My foster parents aren’t gun admirers or collectors like my dad was. He’d grown up with guns and hunting. It’s probably why he was a soldier in the army.

My life, like my dad’s, ended up a lot different than either one of us ever expected it to be. Love can die quickly when you lose an important part of the family. Dad and I were both guilty of taking for granted the life that we’d been fortunate to have with Mom within our circle. It makes me sick to my stomach a good portion of the time I have, now that I’m filled with her void. Everyone tells me I’ll feel better in time, but the pain I feel inside doesn’t seem curable at any rate.

My dad wants to see me, I hear, but my foster parents don’t think it’s a good idea. I’m not sure it is myself. I do miss him. I feel like what I did by listening to Winston was the reason he went over the edge. Maybe someday after I grow up, I can go see him again.

I miss adventuring. I live in the middle of downtown now. Not too far from the Wal-Mart. I can’t leave the yard for my foster parents fear I’ll be kidnapped or something. They’re also scared maybe Winston had family that may want retribution for my dad killing him.

The look in my mom’s eyes as she left my world, still gives me nightmares. My foster mom was nice and comforting at first, but she’s tired and says I need to cheer up or she’ll have to turn me back in. As if I were a damned library book or something. I don’t feel love anymore. I did hear something on the news that my dad may get the electric chair for killing Winston. I don’t want my dad to die, but I know he shouldn’t have done what he did. I don’t understand these things. Life went from exploring for fun to—surviving to live a life I don’t think I’d miss if I were to lose it. Hell, at least I’d be with my mom again then.

There I go thinking about things I shouldn’t, making my stomach knot up and bringing me to tears of pain. It’s like my insides don’t want to live inside my body anymore. They squeeze and push as if they’d crawl out if they could. Sometimes my legs hurt so much I don’t even feel like going outside.

Chapter 5

William Baker, or Bill as he is known, my dad, was learning how to fit into prison life and its routine. It wasn’t a lot different than the military. Instead of keeping physically fit for duty and practicing the ways of war—he now had to avoid getting raped or shivved. One must always watch their back when living in the big house. My dad surely had never known a fear like the one he lives daily now. I imagine he often wonders if delivering five rounds into that misunderstood old man or possible angel, was worth the price he was now forced to pay. I just know I lost not only my mother, but my father too. I know I’m living in a hell only God and I know as I sit and wonder about the things my dad fears as he waits to go to the chair. I’ve heard terrible things about what happens to prisoners killed by the electric chair. There is certainly pain to fear and dread. I wonder if he has that fear within himself.

Had my dad killed an innocent man like I’d sworn during the trial? Had his emotions of losing the woman of his life, his soulmate, driven him to blame an odd, bearded man that somehow knew his wife’s outcome before anyone else? I can picture him shake his head and let it hang low when those thoughts begin to rattle inside his brain. It was a lonely, scary life he now lived all alone in a cold, dark and dank cell. One filled with the evilest intended souls. Hell, he was seen as one of the same. No one knew his real story, only the one spilled through the news of the trial publicized and shown on television.

These are the thoughts I wrestle with at night anyhow, be they right or wrong, compared to the truth.

* * * * * *

Bill sat in the yard one day, other inmates playing baseball, while others sat in groups talking or playing cards. He sat alone though, his gaze as far from this place as he could take it. Like casting his mind over the Constantine wired walls and into the freedom of an unguarded ball field, his mind being the small hard leather-wrapped and sewn baseball. The thought it would take him away was an inspiring thought, but it never came to the fruition he’d hoped it would.

It was about time to line up and meet the newbies. The scabs that would soon cling to each other in the first night, hoping to be left alone by the lifers who craved to fuck the fear right into the ones that were still wet behind their ears. It was power the experienced ones held over the powerless new virgins come to live their new life under someone else’s control.  It had nothing to do with love, or any kind of sexual desire. One would have to learn to follow the rank and file. There were no free tickets of escape once you crossed the gated threshold of prison.

Bill hated to see the new convicts’ eyes as they were marched through the rows of those who were once in their same shoes. That day was the day he saw something he couldn’t believe.

A man who was the spittin’ image of Winston Miles. It couldn’t be though. He’d drilled five holes into that perverted old man. He watched him and wondered if Winston had a twin.  Bill kept his eyes on the man until the meet and greet was over with the busload of new roomies. He looked away for only a minute when the gate slammed close. Returning his gaze, Bill couldn’t find him again. He thought it was odd but chalked it up to an old ghostly haunt of his imagination.

Later, when Bill slipped back to his cell to read, there was the old, bearded man leaning against the bars. Bill’s new roomie. When he saw who it was, he turned ghostly pale. “Winston?” He asked.

“Yessir, I’m back.” Winston watched without much expression in his face. “…Not for the reasons I imagine you’re fearing. But when you find out, I’m sure you’ll be having a different feeling about me.”

“What? You here to haunt me? You’re dead. I know that, because I watched you die. You touched my son and messed with his head about his momma. You deserved what I gave you. You may be my roomie, but I got a hundred ways of making you feel pain or disappear. I got nothing to lose but my life, and that’s about a given to end soon anyway.”

Winston leaned forward and walked closer to Bill. “I’m not here to haunt you. Believe it or not, I’m here to help usher in some news that you’re not gonna wanna hear. I’m on a mission of mercy and here to help comfort you with that.”

“Comfort me? You, sick son-of-a-bitch! You may have ‘comforted’ my ten-year-old son, ‘cause he didn’t know any better than to defend himself from your kind. I won’t be accepting any of your comforting ways.’” Bill walked over quickly and stared into Winston’s eyes. “I’ve not ever been raped, and I ain’t intending on letting you be the first or last. If anyone is gettin’ any of that, I’ll see it’s you.”

Winston never wavered or looked away before he started speaking. “I’m afraid you are right about one thing, Bill. You are gonna die, but that isn’t the reason I’ve come here to today. I’ve been sent for other reasons. Your death is a way down the road. A hard road to plow, I imagine.” Bill perked up with a sudden peaked curiosity.

“So why are you here?” Bill questioned.

“I’m here because of Chance.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Bill looked at Winston, but his tough facade was weakening, showing slight signs of a falter within.

Winston stepped forward and touched Bill’s shoulder, “I’m afraid Chance isn’t doing well. In fact, he’s gonna beat you to that great unknown, Bill. I’m here to help comfort you through the pain of that knowledge. It’s like my job if you will, and I’m sorry today of that fact. Chance is a fine young boy and doesn’t deserve the road he’s traveling right now, but that’s above my pay grade. There ain’t a thing I’m able to change about that fact. I’m here to talk and listen to you without grudge or ill-will. I know we started out on a bad way. That’s behind us now. My mission is to bring an understanding and acceptance of what this big plan we are all a part of, has brought you. It’s my job. A job I love and hate at the same time.”

Bill fell to his knees, and he dropped his head to the cold concrete floor of the cell he now called home. He cried for several minutes with no restraint. Winston knelt beside him and pulled him into his arms. An odd hush fell over the entire floor and a cold silence danced throughout each cell, twisting in and out between the rusted iron bars that held men of all kinds together—yet separate. A silence that called out somehow to each inmate within the Greeneburg Maximum Security Federal Prison. It was a silence so loud, it made Bill’s whimpers seem quieter than they could possibly have been, coming from a man who was about to lose the very last thing he’d ever loved.

Winston looked up as if his eyes were locked on the heavens above, which were on the free side of the Carthage stone and concrete structure. With tears pooling in his eyes like no other time before, he whispered aloud, “Please let my retribution be considered paid in full, I can’t do this anymore.”

When the blur from Bill’s eyes finally began to stop flowing and began to dry to a point he could see again, he looked around the seven and a half by seven and a half cell in wonder. Winston was nowhere to be found, yet no guards were alarmed, no bed count was off at lights out. It was as if Winston Miles had never existed.

Chance took his last breath and passed bravely with no tears. His eyes closed upon their own, but in another world, Winston watched Chance’s mother lean down beside him and run her hand over his sweet, tired face.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Eli Pope

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