IF I WERE A HOT-AIR BALLOON
If I were a hot-air balloon
I'd dance among the clouds,
I'd carry you away, my love,
far above the crowds.
Away from cloying fingers
of memories painful still,
sailing faithful to our hearts,
true to God's good will.
Toward my rainbowed canopy
you'd reach with love and trust,
ever certain that no matter what,
I'd hold you as I must.
I'd hold you gently and free from harm,
and carry you swift and sure,
I would take you ever higher,
and you'd always be secure.
If I were a hot-air balloon,
these things I'd surely do,
But I'm not this, I'm just a man,
so this I promise true,
to love you always faithfully,
and walk forever next to you.
Here's one that began as a short story, then I realized it's probably a novel. I haven't touched it for some time, but now I feel the urge to bring it out of mothballs. What it will be is a mystery to me at this point, but I want to tell the story, whatever it is. Perhaps the reason I'm suddenly interested in finishing it is to avoid working on my current novel! Nonetheless, in its incomplete state, it's a mystery in more ways than one, so it's working title is simply...
THE MYSTERY STORY
"Ya know, there's nuthin' as temptin' as a locked door," said the old shoe-shine man as he ambled down the dimly-lit corridor. "But there's nuthin' in there 'cept mops and brooms and cleanin' stuff that you shouldn't be messin' with, son, though it ain't normally locked. Now come away from there. Where's your folks?"
"No, mister, you don't understand! He — he pushed her in here," the little boy cried as he twisted frantically at the door knob and pushed and kicked at the door, the loose red curls atop his head bouncing wildly.
"What fool thing you talkin' 'bout, son? Who's in there?"
"They're in there! I think he's hurting her! You gotta help me, mister!"
The tiny boy began to make frenzied leaps at the door, ramming it with his shoulder, and with each impact, he expelled a squeaky grunt. Falling to the floor in a heap, he would quickly recover and fly at the door again, his forty pounds barely shaking it.
The frail black man turned and began to shuffle out of the corridor, calling over his shoulder, "I'll go get someone to help. You listen to ol' Jessie now, an you jes' settle down, son, jes' settle down. I'll get someone," and he moved back out into the waiting area of the bus terminal. As he made his way across the worn black-and-white-checked linoleum toward the front as fast as he could, which was only slightly faster than his usual pace, he could hear the dull thud of the boy's body against the door becoming fainter and fainter.
Arriving at the ticket counter, Jessie put his polish-stained hand lightly on the shoulder of a plump woman standing at the agent window. "'Scuse me, ma'am, but I need to talk to the man here."
"I beg your pardon. I was here first," she said, shrugging off his hand and giving him a cold stare.
"Yes'm, you surely was, but there's a little boy…."
"Ma'am," said Virgil, the ticket agent, "let me just take care of this and I'll be right with you."
"He can just wait until you've given me my ticket. I don't want to miss my bus."
"Please, lady," said Jessie, "that poor little boy…."
"Ma'am, your bus isn't leaving for another forty-five minutes and this will just take a moment, I'm sure, then I can…."
"I want my ticket,” she interrupted, “I was here first and I want my ticket. Now how much do I owe you?"
"Yes, ma'am, alright," said Virgil. He glanced at Jessie and rolled his eyes. "Jessie, just a second, okay?" He finished keying the data into the terminal on the counter in front of him. "That'll be forty-two dollars even, ma'am."
Jessie shifted nervously on his feet and glanced back towards the entrance to the corridor, then looked back at Virgil. "Virge, there's a little guy back there carryin' on somethin' fierce…."
"You are a very rude old man," said the woman, stopping the rummaging she was doing in her purse and glaring at Jessie. She turned back to Virgil and handed him the money.
Jessie looked over his shoulder again, then back at Virgil. "But Virge..."
The woman and Jessie both jerked their heads around as a loud bang and crash echoed from the corridor, and the woman squealed, "Ohmygod!"
"What the hell was that?" said Virgil, leaning and staring through his window.
Just seconds after the first, a second loud bang sounding like a door-slam brought the wiry ticket agent out from behind the far end of the ticket counter at a full run.
"Down there, Virge! The cleanin' closet!" yelled Jessie, pointing as he followed at a pace nowhere matching Virgil's. By the time Jessie reached the corridor, Virgil was out of sight, the hallway empty. Jessie could see light glowing from the now open closet at the end, and he'd taken just a few steps more when Virgil poked his head out from there and yelled, "Call an ambulance! For God's sake call an ambulance right now!" and he disappeared back into the closet.
Jessie muttered, "Sweet Jesus, sweet Jesus," to himself as he began his trek back to the ticket counter, still unable to muster any great speed, but now panting and wheezing from the effort. In the middle of the second beseeching of his Lord there came from outside the building the loud screech of car tires and the nerve-jangling crunch-rip of metal against metal, at which he let loose with a very loud, raspy, "Sweet Jeezuus!"
The nasty plump woman, frozen in place next to the ticket window, belted out another "OHMYGOD!"
Jessie, finally gaining a little speed from a combination of adrenaline and momentum, scurried behind the counter. His trembling hand reached for the phone just as a man in blue jeans and a red t-shirt bolted through the front door and ran up to the counter, pushed the plump woman aside and stuck his head through the window.
"There's a lady out front hurt bad," he said. "Got run over in the street by some maniac! Better call for help. Tell 'em to hurry!" and before Jessie could say a word the man ran out as fast as he'd come in.
Jessie dialed 911.
The sheriffs' vehicles sat sentinel at various points and angles around the bus station; red and blue mechanized beacons sent lights inside and out, piercing night shadows, as if the beams were seeking out culprits and clues.
"You're sure?" said Sheriff Adam Inali into his cell phone. He listened for a moment longer and sighed, "Oh, man, what a mess. How's he and the woman doing?" He closed his eyes and pinched at the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger up under his reading glasses. "Well, that's good, anyway. Okay, I should be there in about 15 minutes," he said, and he snapped the phone shut and slipped it back into its case attached to his gun belt. He stared for a moment at his note pad on the ticket counter, made a few more notes, then looked up. "Mr. Dillard, just one more thing I need clarified," he said to Jessie, who was standing a few feet from him, leaning against the counter, "Why didn't you help the kid get that closet open?"
"Like I said, he wasn't makin' much sense an' carryin' on and all. I jes' figured I'd get Virgil to get the key and get in there. I'm an ol' man, what was I gonna' do? I jes' wish now I'da told that lady to shut her darn mouth, that's what."
"Okay, Mr. Dillard, I understand. Thank you," he said. He turned to Virgil on the other side of the ticket window and said, "I think I've got all I need here, sir. Thanks for your help with this."
"Sheriff?" said Virgil, "I heard you ask. How are they doing, the boy and the woman? Tough little kid. After what he did, he should get a medal."
"Well, sir, I guess they'll be okay...physically anyway. She's got some pretty nasty cuts and bruises. Well, you saw. And the boy's arm is broken, but he'll mend. That's the least of his problems. My deputy talked to him at the hospital. Said he and his mom are going to L.A., like you said. Kid said she's got work there and an apartment lined up. She left him waiting here with their bags to run down the street to get some sodas and stuff for their ride. Boy's name is Darin McCardle."
"Yes,” Virgil said, “I told you I saw the boy's mom go out the front after she bought her tickets. McCardle? That's not the name she gave for her ticket. See here," he said, turning the manifest around so the sheriff could see. "Like I told you, it's Fielding — Elizabeth Fielding."
"Yeah, I've got that here," said Sheriff Inali, tapping his note pad. "And that's who I sent one of my deputies looking for. Pretty, blonde hair, right?".
"Uh, huh. And her bus to L.A. is due any minute, but I don't guess she's gonna be on it with her kid in the hospital and all. Anyone find her yet?"
"Sure did,” said the sheriff, “but we didn't know it 'til now. No I.D. on her. Her purse was knocked all the way across the street and lodged in the branches of a rosebush."
"Oh, no," Virgil said, nearly in a whisper.
"Yeah, the lady that was run down out front. It's her."
"Is she gonna make it?"
Sheriff Inali glanced toward Jessie, then looked back at Virgil and said, "She died en route."
"Sweet Jesus," said Jessie.
"I've got to get over to the hospital. Thank you, Gentlemen," said the sheriff. As he headed toward the front door, Jessie fell in behind him.
"Where's the boy's papa? Darin? That his name? Where's his papa?"
"Yes, Darin. Well, Mr. Dillard, the information is a little sketchy at this point, but it looks like there's been no dad in the picture for quite some time. The deputy that talked to him said that, of course, he was still really shook up. I'm going to talk to him right now, and the woman who was attacked."
"Poor little guy. Wish there was somethin' I could do to help. Had no idea, no sir, no idea at all the trouble was so bad. I tried to get'im some kinda help. He was carryin' on so, ya know, throwin' hisself at that door. Poor lady — both them ladies, oh Sweet Jesus, if only I coulda' — coulda' done somethin'."
Sheriff Inali held the door for Jessie, put his hand on his shoulder and walked out behind him.
"Mr. Dillard, none of this was your fault, you know."
Jessie turned and faced him and looked hard into his eyes. His lips parted as if he was about to speak and his eyes were watering up, but then he suddenly jerked his head skyward. "You hear that? Yeah, lookie there!"
The moon was nearly full and in its glow, it was easy for Sheriff Inali to see what Jessie pointed at, though he heard nothing. A large owl swooped away through the sky, then slowly turned and headed back toward them. Once it was directly over them, it turned sharply, climbed higher and arced out of sight.
Jessie lowered his head and looked back at the sheriff, his eyes now much wider than before. "That means the Devil, that owl does, ya know?” said Jessie, nearly in a whisper. “That bird knows bad news…maybe brings it. Learned that from my papa when we'd go huntin' when I was no older than that little guy…Darin."
The sheriff nodded his assent to Jessie. "Many people believe that. My people, my dad's side, that is, are Cherokee. They honor the owl as sacred. The owl has great night-vision and they wish to draw that power to themselves to see in the dark…more to have great awareness."
"Maybe both is true,” said Jessie, again in a whisper. “What happened today sure is evil, yes sir, sure is. You think you gonna catch that man soon?"
Sheriff Inali searched the sky, saying nothing. Finally, mostly to himself, he muttered, "I guess I could really use that owl's help now.” He then looked back at Jessie, shook his head, and said, “So you could hear it, huh? That's really something."
Jessie smiled. "Yeah, I hear pretty good still. Ears still work pretty good. Could hear them big ol' wings whooshing through the air, yes sir. I know someone else who's gonna need a lot of help. The poor little guy, Darin, he's gonna need help. Anything I can do, you jes' let me know, Sheriff."
"I'd say there’s more than your ears that still work just fine, Mr. Dillard," and he gently touched his left index finger to the middle of Jessie’s chest. With his other hand, he reached out to shake Jessie's hand, and Jessie's returned grip, he noticed, was remarkably firm.
"Please, jes' call me Jessie. I'm jes' ol' Jessie, sir."
"Alright then, Jessie, I'd better get over there now."