Tuesday, March 23, 2021

New Short Fiction by Fay L. Loomis

Trick the Devil

    I was coming home from school, on the last stretch, the part where the sidewalk ended. I heard feet scuffling on the gravel and turned around to see Rankin Skinner walking about a half  block behind me.
     He had been following me all week long, and it was time to put a stop to it, ask him what he was doing. I slowed down, until he caught up with me.
    “Why’re you followin’ me?”
    “Not followin’ you.  Goin’ home.”
    “You never did it before this week. And, I want to know why you take your shirt off when you get past my driveway.”
    “Need some sunshine before I git home, git to work.”
     “Where do you live?”
    “Right before the cemetery, ‘bout a mile from here.”
    “Never been out that far.”
    “Wanna come and see where I live?”
    I went back and forth about whether I wanted to or not, then said, “Sure.”
    He undid a couple of buttons at the top of his shirt and pulled it over his head. Black shoots of sticky hair stood on end.  I could imagine him slicking back his hair with a comb and water before leaving for school that morning. We ambled west.
      I could see that his stomach stuck out. Made him look kind of sickly. I didn’t say anything, though wondered why it was so big.  I coughed to cover up a sniff and decided the smell was coming from him. I moved a little bit closer to the ditch.
     We passed the next farm, hit open space, and continued to walk in silence. Neither of us said much in school, so we were OK with not talking. We had moved to Coldwater, Michigan, late in the spring, not long after the end of WWII, and the other fourth graders hadn’t been exactly excited to have me take a seat in the classroom. I don’t know how long Rankin had been going to that school. He wasn’t welcome either. 
    We finally got to a sign that read “Municipal Dump” and turned onto a dirt road that cut through thick woods. Up ahead were piles of smoldering trash, surrounded by dark pools of water.
    “Be careful when walkin’ over these boards,” Rankin said. “They’re kinda tippy, and you might fall in the water.”
    The planks led to an island where a metal shack reared its roof above the junk. I heard a voice, before I saw the woman coming out of the house. Her straggly hair was wadded on top of her head and a workman’s denim apron covered a dress so faded I couldn’t tell what color it was.  She blended with the dank ground she stood on.
    “Rankin, what are you doin’ bringin’ that girl here? You tell her to git out of here.  And, you put your shirt on and git to work helpin’ your daddy sort stuff. We had a lot come in today.”
    Rankin seemed to get whiter and smaller. He put his shirt on and walked to the side of the shack. I backed up to the plank, turned around, and started running when I got to solid ground.
    Back on the highway, I slowed down and began to think on why Rankin lived at the dump. I had heard that nicknames were given to trick the devil.  Rankin’s mother must not have known about that or she would have given him a better name.  Like Clark. Superman tricks the devil all the time, and Clark Kent does just fine. If Rankin’s mother had given it some thought, maybe that boy wouldn’t be living in a dump.

- © Fay L. Loomis 2021

Fay L. Loomis was a nemophilist (haunter of the woods) until her hikes in upstate New York were abruptly ended by a stroke three years ago. With an additional nudge from the pandemic, she has been living a particularly quiet life. A member of the Stone Ridge Library Writers and the Rat's Ass Review Workshop, her poems and prose appear in numerous publications.

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