The following is a story sketch I wrote up in response to a writing prompt I got out of the book 642 Things to Write About. I wrote the whole first draft in two hours and spent only enough time editing and cleaning up to make it readable. I don’t want to present these sketches as finished pieces, but as they are: rough sketches done for practice. I hope you enjoy the sketch. If you like this public writing journal, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter and recommend it for your writing friends. Thank you!
It was eight in the morning on December twenty-seventh, a Sunday. Theodore Hartman, my uncle, was out back in his shed, looking for a tool he needed to remove the leather seat from my Dyna Low Rider, an old, beat-up Harley-Davidson I bought as a sort of Christmas present to myself at a good price from the dad of a buddy of mine. My buddy’s dad had given up riding after an accident on the I-15 put him and his wife in the hospital for three weeks. “I was going to have the damn thing destroyed,” he had told me. “It doesn’t run anymore after the accident, but if you want it that bad, I’ll give it to you for three-hundred bucks.” I did want it that bad; I had my reasons. So I got the cash together from what little savings I’d accumulated from odd jobs, called in a few Christmas favors from my mom and other relatives, and I towed that bike home on Christmas morning.
I didn’t know anything about motorcycles — I still don’t; I don’t even have my license — but my uncle had told stories on several occasions about his younger, crazier years spent tearing down the streets of Salt Lake City on his Indian motorcycle, splitting lanes, running red lights, out-maneuvering the cops, all that awesome stuff. “That was before I met your aunt Claire,” he would remind me after each incredible story. “Then when your cousin was born, I got rid of the bike and put my rip-roaring days behind me.” And he did. I knew my uncle as a cautious, reserved man, constantly concerned with the health and wellbeing of aunt Claire and cousin Adam, his energetic son who had just turned six.
Adam thought the world of his father. Every time I came to visit my uncle, Adam would be there, right at my uncle’s side, holding his hand, smiling at every word he said, like his dad was the most interesting person in the world — and he was in a lot of ways, cautious and reserved as he had become. Adam wasn’t at my uncle’s side that day. He had caught a bad cold the previous week and aunt Claire wouldn’t let him out of his bed. But he sat on his knees on that twin-sized bed, watching me and his dad coming and going from the carport where my junky bike leaned over its crooked kickstand. He would wave at us when he caught our attention, quickly dipping away from the window when aunt Claire came into his room, scolding him for doing everything he could to break her rules and remain sick.
“I am too old and tired to manage that boy,” my uncle said, returning from the shed with what I could only guess was some kind of hex-wrench, if that’s a thing. “Claire has a better handle on that spark plug than I could ever hope to. Let me give you some advice.” He knelt beside my bike and began working the tool with his elbow on the bolts holding the leather seat in place. “Don’t wait until you’re forty-two to have kids. The childbirth nearly killed your poor aunt and the child-rearing will put me under before Adam turns eighteen.”
“I think you’re doing alright,” I said. “Even for an old guy. At least Adam likes you. If my dad was still around, I don’t think we could have the kind of relationship you have with Adam.” It hurt to talk about Dad; it hurt to think about him, but spending time with my uncle helped. I don’t know, maybe the only reason I got that bike was to have an excuse to spend more time with him. I did feel a bit jealous of Adam, I couldn’t help it. I loved Adam like a brother, but there was that little part of me, a primal, dark part that wished my uncle didn’t have a kid at forty-two, that I was the only one privileged to the stories about his rip-roaring years, that I had him all to myself. For almost a full five years after Dad bailed, it was just me, Mom, aunt Claire, and my uncle Theodore.
“Can I do something?” I asked, watching my uncle remove the seat and setting to work loosening the bolts around the fuel tank.
“Damn!” he said, dropping the wrench. He rubbed his index finger where he had jammed it against the bent frame. “Yeah, you can learn something. This bike is going to require plenty of work and I’m not keen on the idea of spending all of my free time in next year split between your cousin and this mess.”
He said it with a smile, but I felt a sick tug in my stomach. Didn’t he enjoy spending time with me? Did he really not have room in his life for both Adam and me?
My uncle must have noticed something wrong in my face, because he stood up and put a dirty hand on my shoulder. He was perceptive like that, a real good guy. I would follow him wherever he went too if I were his son. But I wasn’t. “Actually,” he said, “if you could run to the shed for me real quick and grab my toolbox, that would be a big help. I need to start teaching you the names and purposes of all this stuff anyhow.”
I jogged out of the carport through the six inches of snow towards the shed, an old, once-red wooden hut where I spent many adventurous hours of my own when I was Adam’s age. But my death-defying experiences involved rusty pick-axes, not high-speed asphalt, cobwebs and daddy longlegs, not pursuing police. I pulled at the door to the shed and a trickle of dust dribbled directly into my right eye. I cursed, quickly turned to make sure my uncle didn’t hear, then began rubbing at it furiously. I thought I had blinded myself. I’d never gotten anything so perfectly in my eye before. I spent several minutes trying to clear it out. When I was able to open my eye again, I tested it out by looking up into the sky. That’s when I first noticed its strange green glow and swiftly moving clouds.
It was such an odd sight that I completely forgot the discomfort in my eye for a moment and just stood gawking up at it. The sun was completely hidden, except in a few thin streams of gold in the distance, which shone down on chosen parts of the neighborhood. The wind picked up then, and I felt a chill run from the nape of my neck, down into my Nikes.
“Did you get lost, son?” I heard my uncle ask.
I looked down and began rubbing my wounded eye again, as if to give excuse for my delay. I pointed to the sky. “Do you think it will snow again?”
My uncle stepped out from under the carport and looked up. I could see the expression on his face change from mild curiosity to a strange look that could have been confusion or fear, which sent that chill down my back again. “Could be snow,” he said slowly. “Could be something else.” Something else? “Anyway, it looks like it’s coming on fast. We might have to put this bike business off until later.” Later? My uncle returned to my bike and began fiddling with the handlebars, glancing out into the distance every few seconds at the skyline with concern on his face.
Later? I’d already waited days to get started on that bike. Later? If we stopped now, we wouldn’t get back to it until next weekend, and then Adam wouldn’t be sick. Adam would want to spend the whole time asking his dad all of his annoying questions, ruining what little time I had to spend with my uncle, demanding attention for every stupid comment. Later? I threw open the shed door and let it slam against the wood. I started groping around in the dim light for my uncle’s toolbox. I found it in the far corner of the shed. It was big and red and weighed close to a hundred pounds. I tried to lift it, but I couldn’t quite manage the weight so I let it slam down. Damn Adam! I wish he wasn’t so clingy. I wish he didn’t have such a close relationship with his dad. I wish he stayed sick forever. I wish he would just leave us alone!
“Simon?” I heard a small, raspy voice say as a little hand caught hold of my shirt. I jumped and cursed again before realizing it was only Adam. He was standing in his pajamas, a zip-up onesie with Spider-Man printed all over them. He must have lost interest in watching from the window.
“Adam,” I said, more angrily than I meant it, “what are you doing out here? If your mom finds you—“
“She won’t,” Adam said with a grin. “I pretended to be asleep and she fell for it. I just wanted to see what you were up to with my dad.” My dad. “I really like your bike. Dad says I can’t never get one, but you can — that’s so cool! And Dad won’t care if I’m out here with you guys.”
Well, I cared. I cared very much. Now he wanted to ruin whatever time I had left today with my uncle too? And why would my uncle refuse to let Adam ever get a motorcycle, but have no problem with me getting one? Did he not care what happened to me? Adam just smiled up at me, snot oozing from his nostrils, like we were the best buddies in the world. It’s hard to describe the mixture of disdain and fondness I felt looking down at this little boy, a boy who stood directly between me and my uncle, a boy who in many ways reminded me of myself at his age: a rule breaker, an adventurer, and a complete daddy’s boy.
I finally let my anger win out over my sense of brotherhood and was about to threaten Adam with telling his mother if he didn’t get his sick butt back in bed that minute, when I felt the whole shed quake. Adam stopped smiling and I could see pure terror in his face. I felt it too, but I didn’t let it show. I heard my uncle shouting something outside and I rushed to the shed door to see what was the matter.
The wind whipped me in the face as soon as I reached the door. My uncle was pushing my bike to one corner of the carport to prop it against a support. The sky was a blackish, neon green now and the whole backyard was in a frenzy. Snow, bits of plastic and wood, and whole branches were twisting through the air. I saw a large branch laying beside the shed. That must have been what shook it so hard. I’d never seen weather like this in Utah, not ever, and nothing that came on so quickly.
“It’s some kind of hurricane!” my uncle said, barely audible over the now howling wind, even though I could see that he was shouting as hard as he could. “We need to get inside now!”
I rushed back into the shed to get Adam. He was hugging my uncle’s toolbox, tears rolling down his cheeks. “We have to go!” I said, grabbing his arm. He pulled away from me.
“No!” he said. “Mom will know I snuck out.”
I heard my uncle shouting some more and I grabbed Adam’s arm again. “Adam, there’s something wrong. The weather is going crazy, it’s not safe, we have to get inside — now!”
Adam just pulled away again and clung tighter to my uncles toolbox. He shook his head stubbornly. “I can’t, I can’t, I’m scared!”
I went to the shed door and looked out. My uncle was headed for the front door already, without me. He was rushing inside to his wife and… And little Adam. Adam who he actually cared about, Adam who he loved like a son because he had a son; he had a son and it wasn’t me. I glared at Adam. “You don’t want to move?” I asked, contempt rising in my voice. “You want to stay out here because you’re too scared to face your mom? Because you’re too scared of this stupid storm?” Adam shook his head, whimpering, snot and tears flowing down his cheeks. I looked out into the storm; the air was crowded with flying debris and snow. I turned back on Adam. “Fine,” I said, waving my hand at him, “You stay here then, but I’m making a run for it, and I’ll be sure to tell your mom how you were too scared and selfish to listen to me!”
With that, I turned and ran for the house. I could hear the faint cries of Adam as I pushed my way through the biting chaos of the storm. He was screaming something about not leaving him, about coming back. I stopped under the carport and turned back toward the shed. I couldn’t see more than five feet with all the snow and debris flying around; I couldn’t hear over the roaring clatter of everything crashing into everything else. What was I thinking? I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I had to go back for Adam, to drag him from that shed, to carry him on my back if I had to, but to get him safely inside to his Dad, no matter what.
I stepped out from the carport. My foot sunk deep into a mixture of snow and debris; I felt something snap. I heard Adam’s voice on the wind, scared and drifting farther away. I pulled at my knee trying to free my foot. There was an enormous cracking sound as a tree trunk smashed through one of the carport’s supports and the storm tore it to the ground, crushing my bike, only missing me by a few feet. My bike. Now what excuse did I have to spend time with my uncle?
That was the last thought I had before something hit me on the side of my head, sending me into darkness.
I woke up the next day in a clean, quiet hospital room by myself. My neck hurt so bad when I turned my head, I felt like I would throw up. I could feel the heavy wrappings the doctors had put on my head. I blinked several times. There was something wrong. I looked around the room, I looked at my hands, with the I.V. sticking out, I looked out the window at the clear morning sky, clear like nothing had ever happened, like the storm was just part of a horrible dream, but there was something very wrong. I could only see out of my left eye. The world looked flat and I felt disoriented.
I removed the bandages from my eye, checking if it was open. It was, but it saw nothing. It was totally and completely blind. I felt my face becoming hot. I felt tears threatening to spill out at any moment. All the pain and hate and anger and wanting pushed against my chest, preparing to burst out in a horrible flood of tears and spit. But before the dam broke, before all that pain could escape, I heard another sound — voices — and one of them was making the most horrible sounds I’d ever heard. The most chilling cries a person can make, the sound I had been preparing to make myself, only this was more sorrowful, more desperate, more true.
The voice belonged to my uncle, and his words told me everything I needed to know about that sorrow. Adam, little cousin Adam, my little cousin who I left in that shed because of my own fear and hate — Adam, the greatest love of my uncle’s heart, was dead.
Apparently he had tried to chase after me, because he left the shelter of the shed and he caught a chunk of wood — possibly peeled from the shed by the storm, possibly the same chunk of wood that half-blinded me — in the back of his head. Adam was not so lucky as to be sitting up in a hospital bed preparing to cry over the partial loss of his vision. He had died before he ever got the hospital.
But I got my wish, it seemed. I had my uncle all to myself then. All to my ugly, half-blind, miserable self.