Though no official leader of this particular gang existed, Johnny Timepiece was their uncontested ruler. They called themselves a democracy, but when the time came to take a vote on whatever decision was present, each boy waited to see Johnny’s decision then all hands quickly joined with his. This was not done out of fear or encouraged by force. No, this gang loved and respected their leader completely.
Their group was not a large one, numbering only twelve with Johnny being the thirteenth. All of the children were orphans left to their end on unfriendly streets. Johnny had found them and brought them under his protection. Most orphans in Mintora were not so lucky as these. When parents died, their abandoned children were known to disappear and police investigation never followed. Chilling stories were whispered in Mintora, theorizing on the nature of the disappearances. The ones that slipped through - though this was quite rare - were faced with the morally decrepit back alleys and the underworld of Mintora. If Johnny didn’t find them in time, it would have been better for them to have vanished immediately.
Much of the business in Mintora was overseen and run by its own government. All the rest was fought and squabbled for by corrupt merchants and business men - the greedy, slimy kind. They generously called themselves the ‘Independents’. Johnny was wary of the government, but it was against these Independents and their thugs that he and his gang warred with daily. In a city with so little these children tricked and pilfered what they needed from the men who connived and stole from the rest of Mintora.
To be continued.
He stopped under the tree furthest from the house, propping his bicycle against it. The house looked almost the same as it always had, but now it seemed alive. McCray had left its weathered white paint, but painted the trim and windowsills a dark, joyful green. The whole place seemed lush, a stark contrast to the entire town of Bridger. The ancient monsters covered everything with their far reaching branches. Lanterns hung from their limbs and a swing hung peacefully from an untiring arm.
Taylor made his way around the front of the house. The grass surrounding the house was unkempt and grew in large patches. It was green, nothing like Taylor had seen in months. He knelt and pressed his hand into a spot where the grass grew particularly high. A grin sprang unexpected to his dry face. It was good to feel something so alive while everything struggled, just surviving.
The stillness broke with the greeting. Taylor jerked upright and looked towards the house where it had come from. Sitting on the front deck was a man. A pipe hung contentedly from his lips. His face was mostly covered by a well organized, grey beard. In stark contrast, the shorter hair on top of his head stood whichever way it pleased, defying any comb. He reached up with a large hand, taking the pipe from his mouth. “I see you’re fond of my grass.” He spoke in a tired baritone, but with none of the lazy mannerisms that many farmers indulged.
Taylor stuttered just a little. He disliked meeting new people and this surprise encounter left him off balance. There was something in the man’s face, he couldn’t quite place it, like a resting humor or a quiet joviality.
"Uh, hi there." Taylor finally managed. He tried sounding confident but failed. "I’m Taylor Dowde. I came to talk to McCray. Are you McCray?" He asked and then berated himself, of course he was. Taylor approached the deck and pulled back his shoulders, the uncomfortable way appropriate adults do.
"I believe I am," McCray replied. "Although I can’t say that I am entirely convinced some days." The corners of his eyes wrinkled. Taylor decided that McCray amused himself regularly.
"I came to talk to you about employment." Everything that he was saying sounded foreign to Taylor. He wasn’t sure how to act professional and assumed you had to be stiff. "I’m looking for a job." McCray chuckled and, realizing that his pipe had died, set about relighting it. His eyes didn’t leave Taylor’s face, they smiled and studied him. Succeeding in his attempts with the pipe he again took it from his mouth and made to answer the boy.
"I run a small operation here, you can see that. Although I could use some help with the new gardens and there is a good amount of rebuilding to do. What exactly is it you’re looking to do?" The man’s casual demeanor made Taylor realized how foolish he was acting.
"Well, sir" he paused, thinking. I don’t really know exactly." Taylor felt stupid; he hated feeling stupid. He looked at the ground. Nobody would hire a completely under-qualified hand he thought.
It is a strange thing when your parents have to tell you there has been a death in the family. Usually it would include helping me remember who uncle “Pat” was. I guess it’s different when I had recently spent just a week getting to know him.
Road trips were always unerringly the same with my family and we had gotten good at them. Every summer we would pack up and leave home, embarking on a month long journey for my dad to raise support. Miles slipped beneath our worn wheels with ease. Nobody would believe how three little boys would be crammed into the backseat (not to mention all the other items stuffed in with them) and yet somehow refrain for hours from bickering. We had lots of practice and a good many “Don’t make me stop this car!”s under our belts. The routine was worn out with age but we still loved it. Five in the morning, pulling out from the half empty Super 8 parking lot, we always had miniature powdered doughnuts and bottles of chocolate milk in our laps. In between pre-home-made PB & J sandwiches I gnawed beef jerky. I would try to make it last as long as I could, savoring each dry strip. It was a necessity.
This time we were headed to Canada, my first time out of the country. As an avid camping family it seemed the logical choice. After all, as native Montanan’s we were practically neighbors. We were going to meet up with my dad’s parents and his brother Pat. I didn’t know Pat, he was divorced and usually when we were in the area he was busy with work at the broadcasting station. The fact that he lived, along with all the McRae’s, in Wisconsin had never provided more opportunities to get to know him either. The one thing more awkward than meeting a new acquaintance is meeting an unknown relative. Probably because you are supposed to love them, right? Extended family is a joke.
Rain greeted our entrance into my first foreign country. It’s hardly fair to call it “foreign” but I took what I could get. Bleak sky prevailed, quickly closing gaps in the clouds that afforded any small glimpses of direct sunlight. The backseat of our rusted green Nova was growing more confined by the minute and my legs were beginning to realize they had not moved in several hours.
Setting up camp in the rain is practically impossible and completely miserable. Your hair slowly soaks in the misty precipitation and leisurely runs in slick rivulets down your spine making you shiver. All the while your dad lets you know what exactly you are doing wrong. My dad always insisted that we do it first so that he could follow up and show us how it was “supposed to be done.” When we finally had his approval, our tents pitched and firewood gathered there was no consolation knowing that everything was already thoroughly soaked.
Every one of my dad’s siblings drove Jeeps, a trait probably inherited from his parents. Not that they really needed or used them for the original exploratory purpose. Jeeps were just preferred. Their convoy of rugged all terrain vehicles came sliding up the path only a few hours behind us, grabbing soft earth with their tires and slinging it in every direction. They pulled up next to our meager vehicle spattering it brown and making it look insignificant.
I always love to see Barbra and Mac, for grandparents they aren’t too bad. I’m not their favorite by a long shot but that hasn’t ever bothered me. I’m quiet and reserved, hardly what constitutes a McRae. I gave grandpa his hug, easily wrapping my arms around his slight frame, hardly anything to hold on to. His clothes smelled like his preferred brand of cigars. Grandma was bouncy and full of energy that came from some unknown well. She is a strong woman. Knowing what she has gone through in her life proves it. Her hugs were always warm and sincere. I think she really appreciated the people in her life, almost losing grandpa to cancer for a second time most likely attributed to that. Then there was Pat, I knew nothing about him and honestly did not care to. I don’t like meeting new people and I avoid it as much as possible. Uncle Pat and I began our awkward relationship with an introduction from my mom,
“Thad, you remember Uncle Pat don’t you?”
“No, not in the slightest,” I thought, but smiled and nodded my head. Being young and shy I found that agreement could make anything simpler.
There is only so much one kid can do to create entertainment for a whole week in the woods while his parents engage in various forms dominoes. If it hadn’t been for my mom’s warning, the mud and I could have had endless hours of fun. That left it up to my imagination to make the afternoon drag by.
…I, Chief Running Wolf, slipped through the forest undergrowth, my feet silent as the animal from which my name was taken. I can smell my query up ahead, it was not far off. My sharp eyes caught a red flash of blood from the first arrow I had let loose, spattered on the moss. It was fresh. I hear a rustle to my left and…
My concentration was broken by the sound of a river up ahead and I realized I must have gone far. All around me the trees and grass had the sheen of fresh rain and its bright scent clung to the air. Beads of clean water gathered on thin branches, slipping along the wooden length until the weight was too much, release and tapped me on my upward turned brow. I was always partial towards rain and held no trepidations when it came to getting wet. The woods were beautiful; glistening even in the dull light. The cedars quickly gave way to smaller vegetation and these to large smooth rocks the size of my fist. I walked carefully on these towards the sound of the river for a bit before looking up and seeing Pat. He was balanced on one of the bigger rocks at the edge of the water. In his right hand he clutched an assortment of brightly colored pencils and with his left he drew one of them, the blue one, across the open notebook he had sitting in his lap. I approached him as quietly as I could but he didn’t even look up as the river stones mutedly clapped together under my feet. I looked on, entranced, as he finished his sketch of the water flowing in the river bed and the trees lining the banks.
I still love to draw, years won’t change that. Uncle Pat was not particularly good at it, but it gave us a bond; the secret kind that nobody could see or even noticed except the two of us. It is funny to me how when two people share a fondness for something, words hardly matter at all. We sat in the wet woods of Canada sketching God’s creation together every day until we left.
“Goodbye Uncle Pat.”
I looked down at his white face. It was barely a week after I was told he was murdered. Murder is a cold, mean word. It is harsh to hear and carefully used. My uncle was murdered. I could not cry, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I tried, but my eyes were still dry. I tried thinking about the time when we were together. I hardly knew this man, my uncle. It was always strange to me how family will stay family and will always be family whether you know them or not. Death changes a face.
I knew who it was and yet my heart couldn’t really connect the dots.
I turned away from the casket and shuffled back towards my seat. Only grandma was crying; wet eyes. Someone in the back hastily muffled a laugh as I was sitting down. I squeezed my eyelids together, thinking back to me stumbling upon him by the river. Such simple memories in a reality so detached from the everyday norm. When I finally let my eyes open and looked around I saw his ex and two kids sitting up front. I wondered what it was like to lose a dad. I still don’t know my cousin’s names. I’m right, extended family is a joke. The service ended and they exited quickly, following in their mother’s wake.
Funeral homes are stuffy and dark places that nobody likes to be in. They make everything unbearably more depressing. I don’t know if it’s the dim miserable lighting or the thick scent creating a haze in my mind and making me think too hard. Whatever it is, the moment I pushed open the door and sharp air hit my face, I forgot about those thoughts. I forgot the pessimistic jokes I told myself and cynical floating ideas. I forgot that Pat was gone. All my family followed behind already talking and laughing together at some joke. Traces of the suffocating room quickly washed from their minds by the brisk breeze and traces of pain were shrugged off. That’s how the McRae’s have always been. There is one way I am like them: I smile a lot.
I am a leaver, Never the left. It’s my legs that need to stretch. It’s my eyes that need new sights. I make excuses to loved ones, But really it’s my choice. My selfish heart won’t let me stand And it whispers, “It’s alright.” So excuse me again, My body is vibrating. I have to make my trail. I have to make tracks.