Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Red Church: The first chapter

The Red Church is available at Amazon for Kindle and at Smashwords in other digital formats.


The world never ends the way you believe it will, Ronnie Day thought.
There were the tried-and-true favorites, like nuclear holocaust and doomsday asteroid collisions and killer viruses and Preacher Staymore's all-time classic, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But the end really wasn't such a huge, organized affair after all. The end was right up close and personal, different for each person, a kick in the rear and a joy-buzzer handshake from the Reaper himself.
But that was the Big End. First you had to twist your way though a thousand turning points and die a little each time. One of life's lessons, learned as the by-product of thirteen years as the son of Linda and David Day and one semester sitting in class with Melanie Ward. Tough noogies, wasn't it?
Ronnie walked quickly, staring straight ahead. Another day in the idiot factory at good old Barkersville Elementary was over. Had all evening to look forward to, and a good long walk between him and home. Nothing but his feet and the smell of damp leaves, fresh grass, and the wet mud of the riverbanks. A nice plate of spring sunshine high overhead.
And he could start slowing down in a minute, delaying his arrival into the hell that home had been lately, because soon he would be around the curve and past the thing on the hill to his right, the thing he didn't want to think about, the thing he couldn't help thinking about, because he had to walk past it twice a day.
Why couldn't he be like the other kids? Their parents picked them up in shiny new Mazdas and Nissans and took them to the mall in Barkersville and dropped them off at soccer practice and then drove them right to the front door of their houses. So all they had to do was step in and stuff their faces with microwave dinners and go to their rooms and waste their brains on TV or Nintendo all night. They didn’t have to be scared.
Well, it could be worse. He had a brain, but it wasn't something worth bragging about. His "overactive imagination" got him in trouble at school, but it was also kind of nice when other kids, especially Melanie, asked him for help in English.
So he'd take having a brain any day, even if he did suffer what the school counselor called "negative thoughts." At least he had thoughts. Unlike his little dorkwad of a brother back there, who didn't have sense enough to know that this stretch of road was no place to be messing around.
"Hey, Ronnie." His brother was calling him, it sounded like from the top of the hill. The dorkwad hadn't stopped, had he?
"Come on." Ronnie didn't turn around.
"Looky here."
"Come on, or I'll bust you upside the head."
"No, really, Ronnie. I see something."
Ronnie sighed and stopped walking, then slung his bookbag farther up on his shoulder. He was at least eighty feet ahead of his little brother. Tim had been doing his typical nine-year-old's dawdling, stopping occasionally to tie his sneaker strings or look in the ditch water for tadpoles or throw rocks at the river that ran below the road.
Ronnie turned- to your left, he told himself, so you don't see it- and looked back along the sweep of gravel at the hill that was almost lost among the green bulk of mountains. He could think of a hundred reasons not to walk all the way back to see what Tim wanted him to see. For one thing, Tim was at the top of the hill, which meant Ronnie would have to hike up the steep grade again. The walk home from the bus stop was nearly a mile and a half already. Why make it longer?
Plus there were at least ninety-nine other reasons-
like the red church
- not to give a flying fig what Tim was sticking his nose into now. Dad was supposed to stop by today to pick up some more stuff, and Ronnie didn't want to miss him. Maybe they'd get to talk for a minute, man-to-man. If Tim didn't hurry, Dad and Mom might have another argument first and Dad would leave like he had last week, stomping the gas pedal of his rusty Ford so the wheels threw chunks of gravel and broke a window. So that was another reason not to go back to see whatever had gotten Tim so worked up.
Tim jumped up and down, the rolled cuffs of his blue jeans sagging around his sneakers. He motioned with his thin arm, his glasses flashing in the midafternoon sun. "C'mon, Ronnie," he shouted.
"Dingle-dork," Ronnie muttered to himself, then started backtracking up the grade. He kept his eyes on the gravel the way he always did when he was near the church. The sun made little sparkles in the rocks, and with a little imagination, the roadbed could turn into a big galaxy with lots of stars and planets, and if he didn't look to his left he wouldn't have to see the red church.
Why should he be afraid of some dumb old church? A church was a church. It was like your heart. Once Jesus came in, He was supposed to stay there. But sometimes you did bad things that drove Him away.
Ronnie peeked at the church just to prove that he didn't care about it one way or another. There. Nothing but wood and nails.
But he'd hardly glanced at it. He'd really seen only a little piece of the church's mossy gray roof, because of all the trees that lined the road- big old oaks and a gnarled apple tree and a crooked dogwood that would have been great for climbing except if you got to the top, you'd be right at eye level with the steeple and the belfry.

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