Fifteen Minute Fiction: Balls in the Canyon

Ugh! This is the first one of these I’ve done where I got to fifteen minutes and had to wrap it up fast. I’d love for this to become something more, but I like it how it is, too, so. Yeah. Anyway, you know the rules: prompt, fifteen minutes writing, no editing. Here it is.

The prompt was: Write about a summer night.

It was the summer of 1988 when my neighbor disappeared.

The dank, heavy heat of August sat on the town like a slab of fat. We sizzled, we stank, and no matter how many fans you thought you had, and even if you set them all up against a bucket of ice, you sweat and sweat. You slept in sweat, ate in sweat, watched the news in sweat and we were all sweating when the police came.

She was fifteen, a woman, practically. We had lived across the street from one another since her family moved there eight years before. I was four when her daddy’s truck came bouncing up the drive, kicking stones and dust into the air. The grass had died, and the small yard was a pale, stupid yellow. I had never, even that young, thought that someone could live in the house with its criss-crossy panels that were coated with the remains of mud and grit and mosquitoes. When they walked through the front door – the screen slapping shut behind the mother, the father, the four brothers and Chelsea – there was silence. It was like they had disappeared into a cave or a train car.

The brothers were Tom, Rosco, Jack and Dustin. They looked like copies of the same person but in different sizes. Like shirts or game pieces. They were all snub-nosed, square-headed, thick-armed guys who played football or kickball or baseball. If there was a ball involved, they were in on it.

I never saw Chelsea spend time with her brothers. It was either her outside or them. When they were outside, I stayed inside, too. Once, when I was six and didn’t know any better, I asked to play with them. We walked to a wall outside the playground at our school.

“We’re going to play wallball,” they said. It was never one of them, at least in my memory of it. It was like they were a hydra or some other nightmarish creature with too many heads and mouths that were always moving, sneering, leering.

“Okay,” I said. “How do you play?”

For a half hour, I stood like a doomed man in front of a firing squad. One by one, they would hurl a basketball in my direction. Sometimes they missed. Usually, they didn’t. And I would lose, because you won by staying still, and I could never, ever keep from even just slightly cringing.

It went on and on until the ball bounced into the ditch and was gone.

Chelsea told me that sometimes she would go in the ditch because she knew it was the only place her brothers wouldn’t go. “One time, one of them went down and got really bad poison oak. And my momma said that if they ever went down again, she would switch ’em. I think they just figured there were enough other places to go.”

I went down there with her, but only once.

The police came over, grim-faced, and asked if I had any idea where Chelsea might have gone.

And even though I cried, it just looked like sweat, which dripped onto my shirt when I shook my head ‘no.’

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