Return to Contents Fantasticoe 2001 - 10th Anniversary Issue
The Return of Ray Sampson
--An unfunny tale of manslaughter and other bad things-
He lifted the lifeless body out of the trunk, propped it up over his right shoulder, and climbed down carefully into the ditch. He had to be quick. If anyone saw his car parked on the side of this gravel road they would be suspicious, and involuntary manslaughter didn't sound too appealing. The morning dew on the weeds was soaking through his jeans. The body was growing very heavy. He tried to hurry with the body into the forest, through the prickly brush. His bare arms were being scratched to hell by the thick bushes but that didn't slow him down. He had to get rid of this body. If anyone found out what happened his life would be over, not to mention the bruises to be left on his ass from his father's foot.
He found the perfect spot, right next to a large bush surrounded by piles of crunchy fallen leaves. Next to it was a large oak tree. He laid the body face up on the ground and covered it as best he could with the browned leaves. The eyes seemed to look up at him momentarily just before he covered the face. He looked away and continued covering the rest of the body. Hopefully the animals will get to him before anyone else does. He took one last look, then hurried back toward his car. At the edge of the woods he tripped on a fallen branch and fell in a small puddle of mud. Shit! He stood up quickly, looked around, looked back at the branch as if he didn't know what tripped him, and then returned to his car, not quite so hurriedly this time.
"What do you think happened to him?" Will asked.
"I don't know," James replied quickly. He wore a baseball cap slightly off center, jeans that were a little dirty on the knees, and a short sleeve shirt that wasn't buttoned straight. He had been sitting on a large rock next to the stone pillar of the bridge. He and Will were hanging out underneath the old stone bridge out on North Prairie Road. The road was a dead-end gravel road. It wasn't frequently traveled so this was a perfect hangout for a few seniors looking to get away from the overwhelming stress of high school difficulties. Every day after school James, Will, and Katie would meet here and discuss the day's events, gossip, and dilemmas. Also, it was a great place in the summer for a little skinny-dipping action.
Will took a pebble from his left hand and skipped it across the stream with his right. It ricocheted off a pillar and nailed James in the forehead. He was so startled he fell off the side of the rock. Ow, Shit!
"I just wonder why a seventeen-year-old kid would run away from home," said Will. He turned around and saw his friend sitting on the ground next to the stream rubbing his forehead. "Oh, sorry, dude. Did I hit you?"
"Hey, it's cool," replied James as he picked up his cap and replaced it on his head. "Why don't you think he'd run away?"
"Well, his parents are cool, he plays football, and his grades are fine from what I know. I just don't think he would have had a reason to run, you know?" Will had his blue jeans pulled up to his knees and was wading in the cool water.
The boys didn't mention a name, but Ray Sampson was implied. Ray wasn't at school that day. His parents filed a missing person report with the police that morning. He hadn't returned to the house after going out to get the mail on the other side of the gravel road he lived on. The police visited the school to talk to all of his friends. An announcement was made over the school intercom that anyone with information should go to the principal's office. Ray's locker was two down from Will's. That morning Will didn't get the 'Hello socially inferior kid whose name I don't know' look from Ray. Every morning that look reminded Will that he was an outsider, just like James and Katie. But not this morning.
The sun was bright in the sky that Friday afternoon, but it was hiding behind the tall oak trees lining the creek while Will and James continued to talk under the bridge. A car went past on the gravel road above and rocks flew over the embankment, causing a small pebble storm into the creek below.
"Old Man Temple must be off early today," said Will looking up at the bridge. James looked up and back down.
"Where's Katie? Usually she's here by now," said James looking down at his watch. Soon another car approached and slowed to a stop right before the bridge. Katie was usually the last one to arrive because she had to take her little brother home first, but today she was unusually late.
"Where have you been?" asked Will as Katie climbed down to the creek through the ditch, avoiding the high brush and weeds. "It's almost three-thirty. Where the hell…"
"You guys won't believe this," she interrupted, catching her breath. "Remember that Ray kid that's been missing?"
"Yeah, we were just talking about him," said James as his head perked up. He scooted forward on his rock. A little too far. He rolled right off the front of it. Damn it, he thought as he pushed the rock back into place and sat back down. The other two pretended not to notice.
"I think I know what happened to him," Katie said suggestively.
"What?" said the two boys almost simultaneously as they looked up at her.
"No you don't," replied James with a forced chuckle. "I mean…what…um…happened?"
"You guys can't say a word about this." Katie's tone was softer now as she knelt down next to James. Will dropped his handful of rocks in the stream and stepped out onto the stone base of the bridge.
"What is it?" asked Will impatiently. There was a long pause while Katie turned her head and stared at the stream. James and Will just continued looking at their friend who was unusually discontent.
"You…you guys wanna see his body?" Katie turned and looked her friends in the face. She was serious. Her lower lip quivered.
"He's dead?" asked Will, his eyes wide and eyebrows raised.
"I think so," she answered softly. Again there was a long silence.
"You've seen him?" asked James, his hands held his knees tightly.
"No, but my little brother was out in the woods behind our house at about 10 this morning, before afternoon kindergarten. He told me on the way home today that he saw two legs coming from under a pile of leaves. He was too scared to say anything to Mom about it," Katie was almost in tears.
"It can't be Ray. The cops said he ran away. He's probably out of the state by now," insisted James. His voice was rising.
"No, wait," Will interrupted. He leaned over and spoke softly. "Let's go check it out. Maybe it is him. He doesn't live that far from Katie. Maybe he got attacked by coyotes and they chewed up everything but the legs before being scared off by a passing car." Will was getting excited. The thought of actually seeing a dead body seemed to appeal to him. "There's even a reward! That would be like," he paused to count on his fingers, "almost two thousand apiece!"
"Will, you're crazy!" James answered with hostility as he stood up from his rock. "We're not gonna go look at a dead body. The coyotes probably ate the rest of him last night anyway."
"It is a lot of money," said Katie.
"You're actually considering this, Katie?" asked James. "Of all people, I can't believe you want to see a dead body!"
"It might be cool, James. We'll be rich," stated Will. James plopped back down and leaned against the stone pillar. His eyes drifted along the stream and he rested his bruised forehead on his palm, his elbows on his mid-thighs.
"James?" Katie sat next to him and put her arm around him. "Think of all the things you could buy with two thousand dollars. You could get a new pair of jeans," she said looking down at his dirty knees. A truck sped past and over the bridge, heaving rocks over the side again.
"Shit!" Will, who had been anxiously roaming around down the stream, was caught in the pebble storm and scurried back under the cover of the bridge. Katie looked over at him and giggled. "Yeah, very funny, smart ass!" Will remarked.
"Alright…" James gave in hesitantly. Katie and Will turned sharply and looked down at him.
"Yeah!" exclaimed Will as he hurried up the ditch to the road. "C'mon, let's go!" Katie followed behind Will. James took his time climbing the ditch and eventually climbed into Will's car, but not before slamming his already bruised head against the roof. Son of a…! Katie crawled up into her Jeep and slammed the door. The two cars hurried off down the North Prairie Road. They drove past Ray Sampson's house on the way to Katie's. James looked curiously out the car window as they passed. After going by the house, he turned around and looked back the other direction, across the road from the house. As he tried to turn back around in his seat he became tangled in the seat belt. Damn it, he thought. The road curved around to the left and a few minutes later they were at Katie's house.
Will jumped out of the car and ran around the house without even closing the car door. Katie went inside to get her brother so he could show them to the body, and soon the two of them came out the back door. James walked very stiffly around the house to the backyard. After turning the back corner of the house he tripped over his untied shoelace. Oh Shit, he thought loudly to himself, struggling to regain his balance.
"C'mon, James!" yelled Will.
The four of them entered the edge of the forest. Will and Katie followed closely behind her brother through the thick brush. James followed at a distance. He was looking off in front of them, remembering that Ray's house was not far, a couple miles through the forest at most. He was hoping that the body had been removed by something, a pack of coyotes maybe. As he imagined the body being torn up by wild animals, a large branch whipped him in the face. Ow, you piece of…! James came up to a section of the forest that was cleared. He looked to his left and right. He noticed a path of sorts that had been carved through the bushes that led from deeper in the brush to the direction of the road. The others had passed it by, as their minds were preoccupied.
"Over there," said the brother, pointing in the direction of a large bush surrounded by piles of leaves. Will hurried over to the bush, anxiously kicking away leaves and brush. He found nothing. Katie went over to the bush and helped him look.
"There's no dead body here you lying little shit!" Will yelled at Katie's brother.
"He was here this morning, I swear it," the brother replied almost whining. James looked a little confused but he stayed where he was, at a distance.
Suddenly there was a shouting voice from deeper in the forest. "You should have been driving faster, James!" the voice shouted. Soon there was a face to match the voice. It was Ray. He was limping quite severely and had several cuts on his face and arms. "You son of a bitch. You fucking killed me!" he screamed at James.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Will was trying to defend his friend.
"It was an accident, I swear!" James cried. "I didn't mean to hit you. I didn't see you crossing the road. I was on my way to school one minute and then I was burying you in the leaves the next! You should have been watching anyway! Jesus Christ, I thought you were dead! You were dead!" James backed up quickly and almost tripped over a tree stump. Whoa, shit!
"And I still am dead, but not as dead as you thought, bitch!" Ray ran at James and tackled him. Will and Katie tried to tear Ray away from him, but he just kept punching and kicking. Ow, damn! A few shots to the ribs and a couple to the cheek bone later, Ray grabbed James' torn shirt and pulled him up so they were face to face. Then he began shaking James violently. James' head shook around on his shoulders as if his neck were made of rubber. He looked like one of those chihuahuas that people put on their dashboard, and their head wobbles around when the car hits a bump or a squirrel or something. Then they rolled around on the ground, each of them struggling to dominate the other.
After brawling for a couple minutes, Ray stood up from the battered James. "Next time, watch where the hell you're going!" he said. Ray kicked a pile of brush onto James and walked along the path carved through the brush toward the road. As he neared the edge of the forest his body faded into the air.
"What the hell was that?" asked Will as he helped James to his feet.
"Shit, man. It's a long story."
I would like to thank Terry Heller and the Creative Writing class for helping me revise this story, particularly Trina and Desi for encouraging me to turn it into a comedy; the old stone bridge outside of my hometown of Monticello, Iowa for the bridge inspiration; and most importantly, the fish that swim around in the aquarium on top of my desk for their company during all the stressful writer's blocks that I had to live through while writing this story.
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