Disclaimer: This is a start of a mini, blog-run series I decided to go with. My special treat I’ve been contemplating laying on you guys, as at least partial compensation for not blogging as much as I’ve promised. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, but was rather unsure of the audience’s response, and if the series itself would be any good, since I only had a vague idea in mind, a handful of relatively colorful characters, and lack of good, detailed scenes– since the story and idea in mind are both relatively, well, excuse the pun– novel. I was told by my wonderful, awe-inspiring Writing professor, Dr. Dan Williams, never to criticize my own work, but we artists tend to excel at being our own worst critics; I like to think that that treatment (albeit self-torture) often steels me for anything negative someone has to say about my writing, what can be improved, etc. If you like this, please state as much, and I will gladly continue the mini series. If not, then, that’s alright, too.

So, without “much ado about nothing” (excuse the secondary pun, if you dare)… I present to you my short story mini-series, “The Junk Collector.”

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Rain.

Cold, heartless, dreary rain, plummeting the ground beneath them, around them, and into them, as though beating them. Nipping at them. Stinging their bare skin and making it almost impossible to see the well-worn dirt road in front of the truck. Nearly opaque, in fact. The torrential downpour had begun almost the instant they entered Blank County. There was no turning back now.

Kodi sat hunched over next to Guy in the truck bed, clad in a bright yellow poncho, scowling at the rain as if that would make it evaporate instantly. His “waterproof” armor tightly clung to his coco skin as he clutched his knapsack, trying to uselessly shelter it from the merciless weather. Guy could still spy tips of pencils and the ends of paintbrushes sticking out from pocket crevices; bulks of camera equipment pushing out against the bag’s sides.

“Hey,” he said gently to Kodi, “Why didn’t you put away your gear inside the truck cabin before we left?” As soon as he said it, he instantly regretted it. Kodi set his glare into him, sticking out a pale pink tongue. “If I wanted my most precious possessions to get tossed, torn, and smashed to bits, yeah, I would’ve,” he said, “but unlike you, I don’t just chuck things in the back of some old truck to be tied down and–”

“So you’d rather they be soaked through and ruined?” At this, Kodi immediately stuffed his bag under his poncho, lower lip sticking out like a small, fat little worm. “Look, I know you’re upset about the move. We’d all prefer it if things could’ve remained the same, but…”

“But Dad made the decision for us,” finished Kodi, not making eye contact. “The least he could’ve done was let us have a vote or something.”  He huffed angrily.

“C’mon, kiddo, you know it was gonna happen eventually,” said Guy. “It was either move or lose his job. And with Mom outta the picture…” His throat suddenly dried, despite all the wetness surrounding them. He couldn’t say anything more.

They were silent for a while. Guy closed his eyes, almost leaning back against the truck bed walls, absorbing the shakes, the rattles, the sudden jerks and bumps accompanying their unpleasant journey. He was thankful for the physical pain of the bullet-rain– it helped him to concentrate on it rather than the emotional pain. He felt grateful too, that he hadn’t bothered pulling on a jacket over his gray tank before they left; he might’ve have been tempted to pull up a hood once the darkened clouds gave way. The rain helped disguise the tears. And Guy would’ve rather been shot than let anyone, even Kodi, see him cry.

******

“Well, guys, we’re here,” announced Dad as he parked in the mudded-out driveway. “Let’s get out and have ourselves a look at the place, shall we?” Kodi’s shoulders were hunched over even more, head lowered, small wet dreads dangling. “No.”

“C’mon, Kodi,” said Guy, giving his all to sound more upbeat. Even if it was just an act for Kodi. Kodi sluggishly got to his feet, walking around the behemoth, tarp-covered pile of belongings as if in slow motion. Uh oh. Kodi only slowed down purposely when he was exceptionally angry– which rarely happened, but when it did, he was a small ball of fire to be reckoned with. Guy leaped out of the truck bed, turning and looking up at Kodi’s emotionless face. He still tightly grasped his knapsack with one arm, the other dangling loosely by his side. “Kodi?”

Kodi flew off the truck bed right at Guy, fist raised. Guy’s eyes widened, startled, but he managed to halt the fist before it was buried into its intended target. “You can’t tell me what to do,” Kodi said in a low tone, panting slightly. “Kodi, just… just calm down,” said Guy, fighting the instinct to flinch. Kodi, glowering still, lowered his gaze, and, thankfully, his fist as well. He straightened, eyeing the two-story farmhouse for the first time. “So this dump, this hovel… this is our new, so-called “home”?”

“Knock it off,” warned Dad, “or you’re grounded for a month.”

The young boy shrugged. “So? See if I care.”

Guy exhaled. This wasn’t going to be easy. “Looky here, Kodi,” he said, trying to sound reasonable, “I know we’ve all been through a lot– especially you. But think of this as a new chapter in our lives. A chapter that’s character building and can help all of us grow. We can make new friends while still keeping in touch with the old ones–”

“”We?”” repeated Kodi. “Or,  I think you actually mean, “Dad and I”.” He kicked at the ground disgustedly, splashing mud and water. “It’s one thing after another with you people. First you take away my memories of when I actually HAD a real family, then you uproot all the memories I make after that by just deciding to move and–”

“Kodi, stop it. You know we had nothing to do with that. You know that that’s just how we found you, passed out in the middle of the woods, without any memory of who you were or what you were doing there, who your family was. We clothed you, helped you, raised you. We were the family you couldn’t remember. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that something to be grateful for?” Dad asked.

Something to be grateful for? Wrong choice of words, thought Guy grimly. Kodi spun around to face Dad, mini dreads flying out around him, cracking like little whips. “You know NOTHING about me, old man. Do you hear me? NOTHING!” Kodi spun on his heel, in a singular move that would’ve caused Guy to get faceplanted into the muddy soil had HE attempted it, and sprinted towards the farmhouse, poncho flying behind him like a sail. Guy moved to follow, but Dad put his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t. He just needs some time to adjust a bit, even if it’s only to sulk in his room.”

******

Two days later, the situation hadn’t changed much. They were adapting to their new environment, as Guy’s new biology teacher liked to joke, all of them except Kodi. Kodi had practically locked himself in his room twenty-four-seven, save for school. He ate in his room, tinkered with his camera, painted and drew instead of doing homework. The third day, he allowed Guy to enter. “Have you seen her?” he casually asked Guy, brush strokes moving in elegant swishes across paper.

“Is your camera broken?” said Guy, noticing for the first time that Kodi’s new camera lay untouched on a shelf nearby. “Yes, but it doesn’t matter. I won’t be needing it.” Kodi sideswiped another angle of paper. “You know that better than anyone.” Guy couldn’t help a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. After they’d found Kodi alone and unconscious in the woods one day, when Guy himself was no older than 13, they’d taken him in and patched him up– but the cruel irony of the situation was that, despite being amnesiac, Kodi had a wonderful photographic memory. It was this that led them to nickname him, “Kodi”. Short for “Kodiac,” aka a kodiac camera. Guy couldn’t help feeling a pang of jealousy at Kodi’s ability.”I guess you’re right,” admitted Guy,  plopping down on the edge of Kodi’s bed, “but still, that’s no reason to trash it. I mean, photography’s one of your hobbies, your passions. You shouldn’t give up something you love just because–”

“I can store images in my memory bank perfectly,” said Kodi calmly, “and transfer those images to paper whenever I so please. Why would I need the expense of a camera to bother with that?” Guy stared at him. What’s with the kid?  On the other hand, the camera aside, he was at least staying away from the sour topic that had permeated the air inside the farmhouse the past few days. Maybe a blessing in disguise?

“And besides, you didn’t answer my question,” said Kodi, turning to Guy, and backing away from the painting he’d been so tediously pouring his soul over, “Have you seen this girl?”

Guy stared at the painting. It almost looked like a photograph of one of the freshmen. She was small, delicately built, with plain, mousy brown hair tied up into a loose ponytail. Kodi had depicted her in her everyday garb: a hoodie, boot-cut jeans, tenner shoes, backpack, and a small, angular face with warm hazelnut eyes. If she hadn’t been just another face in a tidal wave of people at school, he would have called her at least somewhat attractive. “Yeah, I’ve seen her around, once or twice,” he said. “What about her?”

“You haven’t heard what people have been saying about her?”

“No… What have they been saying about her?”

“There’s rumors flying around even my school, that she’s some kind of kid wizard or witch or whatever. They say that she mysteriously lost her two best friends a few years back, gone without a trace– and that she’s never been the same way since.”

Guy’s brow furrowed. “So they think she had something to do with her own friends’ disappearance? Why? Do they think she cast a spell on them or something?”

“No clue. But I don’t think she was behind their disappearances, just maybe knew what happened to them.”

“Oh? And why’s that?”

Kodi sighed. “Good grief. For being the older one, you really are clueless. I thought the older people got, the smarter and more observant they became, not denser and more oblivious.” Guy snorted. “Well, sah-ree,” he returned. Kodi rolled his eyes, got up and pushed aside some drawings, holding up two posters for his brother to see. They both read, “MISSING,” in huge red lettering; underneath the word were pictures of the respective girls, along with names, where they were last sighted, dates last seen, and who to contact. One girl, Charlotte Smithe, had shoulder-length red hair, a strong-looking jaw and cat green eyes; the other, Phoebe Cole, was almost cherub-like: short, curly blonde hair like Shirley Temple, huge, baby blue eyes surrounded by what were clearly mascara’d eyelashes. “That girl,” Kodi said, “has been putting these up everywhere– and I mean EVERYWHERE– since their disappearances. If she was really behind all this, I don’t think she’d be doing that, would you?”

“Maybe not, but that’s none of our business. We’re new to the area anyways, we can just let the authorities handle–”

Kodi slapped the posters down on the desktop, making Guy jump. “If you want to help me feel more at home here, if you want to do something right for a change, stop thinking only of yourself. She goes to YOUR high school, for crying out loud! Haven’t you picked up on anything odd?”

Guy could feel his face reddening. He hated conflict. Absolutely hated it. And he didn’t like the idea of getting involved in a mess that the authorities were probably still investigating. But if it was one thing he hated more, it was seeing the helpless getting hurt and being nearly unable to defend themselves. “You’re right,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry. I noticed her, once or twice, in the big sea of faces. Most people seem to leave her alone; she often eats lunch by herself, save for sometimes a taunter or two– I’ll go talk to her then, see if there’s anything we can do. At the very least, she probably needs a friend.” Don’t we all.

“Good,” said Kodi, and Guy thought he saw the boy sneak a grin for the first time in weeks. “Now, get outta here. I need to finish this before school tomorrow,” Kodi said as he playfully shoved Guy out the door, “And remember– you promised.

Late that night, Guy lay awake, staring up at the skylight in the ceiling, wondering about just what in the world he’d gotten himself into.

To Be Continued….

_______________

Image Credit: http://vultus.stblogs.org/2012/07/praying-for-rain-in-oklahoma.html

 

 

 

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