As he got to the middle of town, he saw Kinsey's bar. It was closed up for the day. He remembered Kinsey saying he was going to be out of town for business. He would have liked to say good-bye to him, too. Then, he was overcome by such sadness, he stopped the car in front of the hardware store across the street from the Yew. The old timers would be gathering soon for their morning coffee and conversation. Reaching into his backpack, Ghost took out a book. It was Kinsey's college math textbook he'd been studying that day that seemed so long ago. He'd leave the book with the guys here. They'd get it back to Kinsey. They'd always welcomed him to sit a spell, and tell them his stories and dreams. He didn't want to be known as a book stealer after he left, so he hobbled up the porch steps to lay the book on the porch swing. They'd find it there.
As he bent over to place the book, he was overcome by a wave of dizziness. He sank to the floor of the porch, and managed to ease himself over by the side of the decking, by the thick vines of kudzu that climbed the trellis there. They had choked out most of the rose bushes that had been meant for the spot. Only a few still bloomed, blood red ones, like the blood that still flowed from Ghost's torn body. He passed out to that heady smell.
It grew lighter as dawn broke. A couple of the old timers drove up to the hardware store. They figured the owner, who lived back behind the store, would have coffee brewing this early, as this was his usual habit. They noticed Steve's T-bird parked at a weird angle in the street. They shook their heads and wondered to each other what that young'un had been up to, to leave his car there. They walked around back to get their mugs of coffee and visit awhile, then moseyed on out to the front porch of the store, to sit in the chairs in the shade of the overhang and vines. It was already getting hot out this early in the morning.
As they walked up to find a seat, they saw drops and smears of blood on the wooden planks. They looked puzzled, but not too alarmed. Those kids that hung out at Kinsey's were known to get into a fight occasionally; it was nothing to get excited about. They sipped their drinks, and conversation was beginning, when they heard a low, moaning sound. They looked at each other, again puzzled. Then, they heard it again, along with a scuffling noise. It was coming from the side of the porch. One man got up to see what was there, thinking it might be a cat or something.
"Oh, my God, Ghost!" he exclaimed loudly. The other men jumped up and rushed over.
"Ghost, what's wrong?" he asked. Ghost was slowly awaking and trying to sit up. Two of the men took him under his arms and helped him. It was then that they noticed that Ghost had been brutally beaten.
"Ghost, what happened?"
"We have to get him to a hospital."
"Who did this to you?"
They all talked at once. Ghost's head was still spinning, and he moaned again. They helped him to the front of the porch, and questioned him again. Ghost shook his head to try and clear it.
"Jus' 'eve ma lon," he mumbled through his swollen, bleeding mouth. Blood trickled down his face from the deep gash in his head. Blood had soaked through his clothes, and his hair was matted with blood and debris.
"Ghost, you have to let us help you. Just sit here, and we'll go find someone to get you to a doctor."
"NO!" Ghost said, "I'll be ok, I have to go now," he slurred.
"Ghost, listen, we can't make you get help, but what happened?" they asked, concerned.
He was coming more fully alert, now. He tried to get started speaking, but just sighed. After a long moment, he said, "Guys, thanks for helping me, but I'll be ok. Thanks for being nice to me all these years." He tried to smile, but it hurt too much. He closed his eyes to collect his thoughts, then pulled over the textbook that had been dropped earlier.
"Kin y'all give this to Kinsey for me? I kinda borrowed it, and since I'm leaving..."
"Sure, sure, Ghost, we'll get it to him for you," one man said, as he took the book from Ghost's hand. The book had blood smeared on it. The guy frowned.
"Ghost," he said gently, as he sat in front of him. "Who did this to you, son? It's ok to let us know."
Ghost only shook his head and sighed.
"Ghost," the man tried again, "we're just very concerned. Whoever hurt you, we need to know. What they did to you is wrong. Something has to be done about it...Ghost...did Steve do this to you?" he asked slowly.
Ghost sucked in a sharp breath and sobbed. Tears began to fall into his cuts, stinging his face. "He, he...didn't mean to. He was drunk," Ghost whispered, as he hung his head and let the tears fall.
"That bastard," the guy said.
"We'll kill him, let's go, guys," said another.
"NO!" Ghost wailed, now. "Don't kill Steve! He won't even remember what happened. Promise you won't kill him." He tried to get up to leave, but the guy stopped him.
"Ghost, calm down, we're not going to kill anyone, but he needs to know what he did to you, and pay dearly for it. He could go to jail for what he did."
Ghost just sat there and cried.
"Has he done this before?"
Ghost nodded, and whispered, "Sometimes...just when he's been drinking too much."
"How can you have stayed with him for so long, then? You can't justify getting beat up is ok, because he'd been drunk."
Ghost nodded, swallowing hard, and said simply, "Because, I love him."
The men were silent for a bit. "What are you going to do, Ghost? You just can't go back to him...he doesn't treat you right. Next time it could be much worse, you know."
Ghost nodded, and told them he was leaving for awhile, that he'd be ok."I have to go now. I'm gonna go by the graveyard to say bye to my grandmother, first. I'll leave Steve's car there. You can tell him it's there. Do whatever you want about telling him what he did. I don't know if I'll ever come back." He sobbed, again.
The men all wished him well, and watched Ghost hobble to the car and weave his way down the road. They were lost in their thoughts, staring at the blood on the porch steps, that Ghost had left behind.
Next installment coming soon!
Peace, Love, & Writing