GRAVEL PIT (R)

Vanessa laughed. Sighed. Then popped out another short laugh. Francis sat next to her on the couch, watching the same television screen, but he didn’t laugh. His mind was too wrapped around what he intended to do later that night, after most people had gone to bed.

Things had come up missing from his shed. First a socket set he knew he had put away. Then a battery charger—which never left the shelf above the tool bench—and parts for the restoration of his sixty-one John Deere 3010, although he possibly could have misplaced them.

The alarming reality came this past Saturday morning when the enclosed trailer he stored for his sister—also in that shed—had an obvious bow in the seam of the door where someone had tried to pry it open.

He almost called the police several times that week, but it was probably just kids raising hell, and more than likely, neighbor kids. That always seemed to be the case. One neighbor of his kept getting gas stolen out of his bulk tank and it turned out to be his cousin’s boy who lived just down the road. He didn’t want to start a feud with any of his neighbors. He just wanted them to leave his stuff alone.

He figured a good scare and a call to their parents would be enough to straighten them out—once he found out who they were.

But now, as it grew late, he questioned his plan. Why was he feeling anxious? He was unsure. Call it an ill feeling, a premonition. He tried to shake it off and convince himself it was just the night-time willies. Certainly he wasn’t afraid of the boogey man.

Funniest Home Videos ended at ten. Francis leaned over and planted a big kiss on Vanessa’s neck. He smelled the familiar vanilla and floral imprint of the perfume she had put on earlier in the day. He felt a sudden urge to stay in, but he stood, forcing himself to move forward with his plan.

He stretched his arms to his sides, then listened to his own unenthusiastic tone. “Well, I’m headed out.”

Vanessa mumbled something about paying taxes for people to deal with stuff like this.

“Well, they aren’t going to catch them red-handed like I will. By the time the police would get here, the little bastards would be long gone. How you going to prove anything? Foot prints?”

“They do.” She replied, then hit the off button on the remote while getting up from the couch.
“Well, you have a good time out there. I’m going to bed. I have to be in to work early.”

“What?”

“I told you I’ve got to open tomorrow.” Then she gave him a kiss on the side of the cheek and left the room. Francis snatched a pillow off the couch, just as she touched the lights out.

He grabbed his corduroy jacket off the hook by the back door and stepped outside. If it wasn’t needed to keep warm, it might be needed to keep the mosquitoes from biting him.

There he stood, staring at the dark sky as the first few breaths soaked into his lungs. The air tasted moist. The few stars he saw were covered by a haze. A gust of wind tickled the young cottonwoods on the edge of the field and they reacted by waving their arms wildly. It encouraged Francis to slip on the jacket while still in the wind-protected zone of the two-story dwelling. He headed across the open yard.

The barn vent covers banged against their frames. He thought he felt a droplet of rain on his cheek. At least he’d be under a roof. A snipe gave voice from somewhere in the pasture, then another, their hu-hu-hu calls sending a shiver down his spine.

He didn’t pause along the route, not even after he entered the shed. He immediately climbed atop the wooden shipping crate that had been pushed against the inside wall of the shed not far from the big open door. From there, he was outside the faint glow of the yard light that shone as a twisted square on the floor just inside the door.

The six-foot crate, filled with scrap iron, hadn’t been moved in years. The cover was four-feet up in height and Francis liked the idea of being off the ground. He sat his butt on the pillow. It could be a long sit. For how long? he wondered. It was a Friday night and he didn’t have to work in the morning. That was good. If the hoodlums were under twenty one, they might show up as early as ten or eleven. He might be snuggled up in bed with Vanessa by midnight.

But, if they were of drinking age, it could be as late as an hour or two after last call. Francis felt for the length of pipe he had laid there earlier in the day. Once he identified the kids, he would bang it against the side of the tin shed as hard as he could—maybe holler and cuss some, threaten to whoop their ass if they ever came back.

He smiled in the dark as he pictured the kids running scared across the yard.

From where he leaned his back against the inside of the shed, he could see a thin line of sky. It was framed in by the barn roof on the bottom and the shed door on top. Thick, twisted sheets of grey floated in the southern sky. Occasionally, there would be a break in the clouds and a lighter glow would shine down and brighten things up outside. But not inside the shed. When it got lighter outside, it only got darker within.

He thought about the big shed door, which he kept open spring through fall. Even if he closed the big slider, it didn’t have a lock. He could put a hasp on it, but it would be a pain to unlock it, and slide it open every time he wanted in. 

                                                                                 ***

Around midnight, the layers in the sky thinned, but the wind still threaded its way in the door and out the many large cracks in the walls, making for a variety of creaks and groans within the shed. He heard one louder sound—probably more wind, or a raccoon that had snuck in undetected. For sure no human had passed—unless they slithered in like a snake.

The sounds he had been hearing were too quiet, especially for someone breaking into a trailer. Francis stared at the dark corners, and even though he couldn’t see anything, he pictured in his mind the boat and trailer not far behind him, the snowmobile trailer next to it, and further back, his sister’s enclosed trailer. To the front and on the other side of the door was his workshop, garden tools hung on the wall, and to the far south of them was the torn-apart skeleton of the antique John Deere. The familiarity with his environment brought comfort to his mind.

His back still against the wall, he let his head hang to his front like a cowboy might rest against a fence pole out on the range. He had pretty much given up hope that he would actually run into anyone tonight. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t walk up to the house right then. Maybe just a little longer, he thought.

And somewhere in those thoughts, he nodded off.

It seemed like only minutes had passed when a noise brought his attention back to the shed. Loud or soft noise he couldn’t be certain because he had been asleep. He knew that. But the sudden realization that an intruder might be inside the shed sent his heart to racing.



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