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  • Sissy hated to ask Bobby for help. He was the enemy, even if he was her own brother. He hung out with Paul LeFevre, her total nemesis. He not only hung out with Paul, but taunted her mercilessly whenever Paul was watching, as if to prove himself worthy of Paul’s cruel approval.

    Still, Bobby had something Sissy needed, and short of stealing it from him or begging his help, she had no idea how to get it. Bobby had the largest key collection in the neighborhood. He boasted that he could open any door without fail, and proved it, over and over, when no grownups were watching. Sissy had started her own key collection, but she so far only had three keys. Keys came to Bobby, and only rarely came to Sissy. Snakes came to Sissy, and frogs, and butterflies, injured birds and animals, unusual wildflowers, but none of those would help on this quest.

    Sissy had found a locked building hidden in the forbidden quarry, and felt there was some reason why she needed to get inside. Only when she got in would she know why. She had a hunch, and she’d learned to listen to hunches.

    Sissy had scraped together her allowances for the last three weeks, two dollars from Grandma and a dollar fifty from three hours of babysitting for the Smith girls and offered it to Bobby if he would bring his entire key collection and come with her without telling anyone else. She made them PBJs, his on white bread, hers on toasted rye, and grabbed a couple apples and some chocolate chip cookies, and stuffed everything in her green canvas Boy Scout backpack. Bobby hefted his three gigantic rings of keys into his matching bag and they each strapped on a canteen and set out.
  • They went through the bushwhack down to the salamander pond, up crayfish creek and through the horse field to the quarry. Whenever there was a long stretch of trail, Sissy looked behind to see if Paul or anyone else was following, but never spotted anyone or any unusual motion. “We’re not allowed to go to the quarry,” Bobby pointed out, needlessly, since they went there nearly daily. “I know,” Sissy said, tossing her long braids behind her shoulders. Neither of them turned back. They stopped, ate their lunch on one of the huge flat boulders on the cliff overlooking the quarry and then continued down one of the trunk ramps, through the quarry to the kilns in the woods beyond.

    They passed three silo-like stone lime-kilns, and at the fourth one, Sissy turned up a faint trail that Bobby was surprised to see. It wound up a narrow ridge between the fourth and fifth furnaces. The fifth furnace was Sissy’s gang’s castle, and Paul and Bobby’s castle with the 7th—Lucky Seven, they called it. So he walked by this path often. But, it was pretty faint. Sissy knew his attention had been directed elsewhere, probably listening for Sissy and crew.

    Not far beyond the top of the ridge was an old work shed. It had a tin and fiberglass roof, metal sides and a faded sign on the door that said, Gianelli Bros. Construction. It was neat-looking, as if it had been well-cared for until recently, but now, a large branch had fallen onto the porch roof and collapsed it inward, and it felt deserted.
  • Sissy pointed to the front door. Bobby gave a little shiver. “It’s creepy,” he said. He set his backpack on the porch, eyeing the roof, careful not to stand directly under the crushed part. He opened the screen door and tried the inner door, but it wouldn’t budge. He bent and examined the lock, pulled out the three circles of keys, chose the largest key ring, put the other two back, and shuffled through the keys. He drew a corroded key from the huge circular loop and tried it in the door. It didn’t work. The next one was even more corroded, and also didn’t work.

    The third key, scaly with rust, he jabbed into the dirt next to the porch, over and over, to clean, then wiped it on his shorts and T-shirt. When the key turned in the lock, Paul LeFevre appeared out of the woods and ran through the door as it creaked open. Then, Paul let out a shriek, ran out again, and disappeared. Bobby stepped inside, waiting a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. Sissy crowded in behind him.

    Bobby let out a gurgling sound, and shoving Sissy aside, ran out of the cabin. Sissy heard him crashing down the narrow ridge.
  • Sissy stood her ground. And then she saw him. A man lay on the floor with a bowie knife protruding from his chest, both hands clasped around the hilt, whether to drive it in or pull it out, Sissy couldn’t tell. His mouth was open and black inside. He was dead. Sissy walked a few steps closer. He had been dead a long time. He was a skeleton, still wearing clothes. Carhartt overalls, a red flannel shirt. He had scurf of longish blond hair, coarse and dirty now, clinging to his skull, and a short, thin reddish beard. The rug around him was stained brown and covered with lumpy shriveled things. Sissy didn’t want to think about what caused that.

    Bobby’s rusty key was still in the door. Sissy went out, closed and locked the door, and pocketed the key. Someone would have to tell her parents that they had disobeyed, and what they had found. Her parents would have to call the police. Bobby wouldn’t do it. Neither would Paul. It would be up to her, and she would be the one to take the blame.

    She pushed her shoulders back and walked slowly toward home. She stopped to catch crayfish and let it punch her fingers and walk around in water she cupped in her hands. Laughing, she released it and watched it swim rapidly backwards, flipping its strong tail, then lay on her belly on the crayfish rock watching minnows. She wasn’t in a hurry to get home, but she would do what she had to do. In her own sweet time.

    *

    Mary Stebbins Taitt
  • The key image was a prompt, offered by Glenda Lynne for the Cowbirders's Poetry and Flash Fiction Group, which has 7 remaining spots if you would like to join. I thank all the wonderful participants of the group for your efforts and discussion.

    This is a Flash Fiction piece in response to Glenda's prompt picture.

    This is the 4th draft of the story, which may go through further revisions, and was completed and posted 7-2-13.

    Health report: I seem to probably be getting slowly better, but it is up and down and pain is still with me (as the doctor warned me to expect.) I am 4 3/4 days into recovery at 12:30 PM 7-2-13. I thank all of your for you loving supportive good wishes. :-D
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