Them No Good Boys – 997 words
We didn’t mean for it to happen.
Not that anyone’d believe us if they knew. Them No Good Boys, they called us, always up to somethin’. Mama laughed it off; she never saw us the way everybody else did.
We weren’t brothers. Not blood, leastways. Jimmy’s pa told him things was better when he weren’t around, so Jimmy stayed here. He carried a knife. “For protection,” he said. That thing couldn’t hurt anyone, really. No matter. It made Jimmy feel better.
Neighbor Billy was the oldest of us, fourteen. He’d lost two brothers to the coal mines already. “Next year’s my turn,” he’d say with a grin that never quite reached his eyes.
Piper was the quiet one. Maybe ‘cause he was the youngest – only nine. His da’d left when he was two. He lived with his ma and sisters out by the river. He liked our house better.
Not that we had much. Pa was always tryin’ to sell something to somebody, stuff we never could afford ourselves. Ice boxes. Auto-mobiles. Mama’d just shake her head, love in her eyes. But love didn’t put food on the table.
“Sam,” she’d tell me, “God works in mysterious ways. He finds solutions when all hope is lost.”
I wasn’t so sure. If God was takin’ care of us, how come we never had nothing? How come everyone complained about us, callin’ us delinquents?
It wasn’t like we ever done anything really bad. Stealin’ Mrs. Parson’s nightgown off her line to see if all four of us could fit in it (we did) didn’t count, did it? Or when Billy used his dad’s blacking to paint Farmer Davis’s white nag? “I told MaryBeth Whitnum he had a zebra,” Billy’d explained. The horse had raised a ruckus after only two stripes. Farmer Davis never caught us.
He knew, though. Everybody knew. They told mama we needed some sense switched into us. She’d roll her eyes behind their backs. She knew we weren’t No Good, just boys seekin’ somethin’ to do in a place with nothin’ to offer.
This time was different, though.
Piper had showed up this mornin’, his eyes worried.
“What’s up?” Jimmy’d asked, pokin’ him in the side. Sometimes they didn’t get along.
Piper glared at him. “It’s Lily.” Lily and her mama lived in a crumbling cabin ‘cross from Piper. I knew he was sweet on her. I suspected Jimmy was, too – another reason he an’ Piper needled each other.
Lily often showed up at school with fat lips or black eyes. She’d say she fell down. We knew better. Her dad was the town drunk.
“She gots a broken arm. I saw her mama fixin’ it up in a sling this morning. Lily was bawlin’ somethin’ fierce, and her mama was shushing her. I knew she was worried Hunspecker’d hear.” At the mention of Leroy Hunspecker, Piper spit on the ground.
Billy scowled. “We gotta do something!”
“What?” I asked. There was silence.
“Break his still!” Piper exclaimed after a minute, his face lighting up. “Then he can’t drink no more!”
Hunspecker brewed his own ‘cause he couldn’t afford the tavern.
So we set out that night, four rag-tag boys wantin’ to right at least one wrong in the world.
Hidden behind a gooseberry bush, armed with slingshots and Billy’s pellet gun, we shot at the wooden barrels behind the cabin. Jimmy crowed when moonshine flowed from the holes we’d made.
Then Piper ran into the yard. What was he doin’? “Piper!” I whispered urgently. He ignored me, stopping instead to pick up a rusty axe. He raced forward and began hacking at the still.
The door to the shack slammed open. “What the devil!” hollered a voice. Leroy Hunspecker emerged, carryin’ his rifle. When he saw the still, he roared. He lifted the gun, aimin’ at Piper, who scrambled for the woods.
Jimmy shot another rock, striking Leroy in the elbow. Leroy whipped around. Jimmy stood rooted to the spot, a trail of urine darkening his pants.
“You’re dead!” The voice came closer. “You hear me? DEAD!”
We watched, frozen, as Hunspecker’s foot caught on somethin’ in the yard and he tripped, dropping the rifle, which fired. Hearing the shot, our paralysis was broken, and we leapt up, racing away fast as we could.
We heard nothin’ else.
We stopped only when we reached home. Piper was already there. Lungs heavin’, legs tremblin’, we made sure we was all OK. Tears streamed down our faces, unacknowledged.
“Why didn’t he come after us?” Billy finally said. We had no answer. We entered the house quietly as we could, not wantin’ to wake mama, and headed for bed.
The next mornin’ when I walked into the kitchen, mama jumped. “Goodness, you scared me,” she said, hand over her heart. “I have news. Leroy Hunspecker died last night. Apparently he fell on an iron rake left in the yard. It went right through his head.” She paused. “Who’d’ve thought anything could penetrate that bastard’s thick skull?”
I said nothin’. What could I say? My mind raced. Did she know we’d been there? Did anyone?
She came over to me, studying my face. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” she said after a moment, smoothing the hair on my head. “I’m glad you boys weren’t anywhere near there. He was a dangerous man.”
We saw Lily at the funeral. She stood, expressionless, clutchin’ her mama’s hand. Afterwards she came over to us. “I saw you. I saw you break the still,” she whispered to Piper, who flushed beet-red, unable to deny it. A smile spread over her face. “Thank you,” she added before runnin’ back to her mama.
I can’t help thinkin’ that what happened that night was good. Not for Old Man Hunspecker, of course. But for Lily. And maybe for us No Good boys, too. We felt we’d saved someone.
We know two wrongs don’t make a right. But sometimes they make all the difference.
When you’re used to writing a 150 word story every week, 1000 sure feels different. But that’s the bonus challenge Flash Friday handed out to us, to draft an 800-1000 word story based on the photo prompt for the first ever Dog Days of Summer contest. Luckily we were given two weeks to complete such a Herculean task (and yes, there’s still time for YOU to enter, since the deadline isn’t until July 22nd).
And Herculean it proved to be, but not in terms of making my story long enough. Rather, my first draft had nearly 1900 words in it, so I spent the last few days chopping and hacking and chopping some more (not like Piper, though). What do you think of the result?