Wednesday, April 7, 2021

MELVIN AND THE MURDER CRAYON by Patrick Barb

The black crayon—the one School Resources Officer Gary swore looked like a gun (“or maybe a knife…definitely something!”)—rolls out of Melvin Jenkins’s limp hand. It comes to a stop under the water fountain outside Miss Beverly’s classroom.

Blood, splashed across white porcelain fountain, drips down. Droplets splatter against a black vinyl tile in the elementary school’s checkerboard hallway. The black crayon—its gray paper wrapper peeled away—blends in with the floor.

 

Later, as more police officers, EMTs, school staff, and administrators filter through, someone will step on the camouflaged crayon, grinding it against their heel, as they try to lean in and take a quick sip from the fountain.

 “What the hell are you doing?” someone will ask, trying to sound like they’re in control.

 

School Resources Officer Gary can’t put down the gun in his hand. After all, there’s protocol to follow. With his free hand, he wipes unanticipated tears from his cheeks.

He looks down at Melvin. He’s so small. School Resources Officer Gary blames the shadows—the way they fall, long and black, across the hallway at this time of day. They made the boy look so much bigger.

 And then, there was that thing in his hand. Why didn’t the boy just drop that thing in his hand?

 

School Resources Office Gary will take early retirement and start a new after-hours security job at the local for-rent storage facility lot. He’ll never know the “thing” was a crayon.

 

He can’t even remember the last time he fired a gun. It’s been years since he had time for re-certification. But he knew someone who kept pushing his paperwork through.

Melvin’s construction paper—with the drawing he’d hoped to finish at home while his Mama watched the local news for her Lotto numbers—rests beside the boy’s body on the floor. The paper showcases black crayon marks and faint gray boot print scuffs.

 

In the days ahead, that drawing—boot prints and all—will sit center-stage for countless hours of news coverage. Talking heads will split time between extolling the artistic significance of Melvin’s monochromatic palette and holding it up as indication of a third grade timebomb ready to explode (if not for School Resources Officer Gary’s quick thinking and even quicker trigger finger).

 

“I’ll be right back. Please stay in your seats,” Miss Beverly says. She’s surprised by the calm behind her words, even as fear pounds needles into her brain. It makes her want to scream.

 She steps into the hallway, keeping her eyes on the ceiling and the flickering fluorescent light fixture overhead. The clanging fire alarm that someone’s pulled does the screaming for her.

 She can’t look at Melvin. She’s afraid she won’t recognize him if she does. Not because of any damage from School Resources Officer Gary’s bullet, but because she’s unsure if she ever really recognized Melvin before everything became everything.

 She only knows his name because Sally—the best artist in class and a young lady with an incredible amount of promise—asked, “Miss Beverly, did someone mass shoot, Melvin?”

 The principal, assistants, and some of the teachers who want to be seen as doing something, circle around School Resources Officer Gary. They speak in hushed and urgent tones about hushed and urgent next steps to take.

 Miss Beverly picks up Melvin’s drawing from the floor. She holds it close, inches from her nose. She still can’t look at the dead little boy—the dead little boy who traded a chocolate milk for a Capri Sun at lunch earlier in the day. “Put that down, that’s evidence,” one of the older teachers says.

 She drops the paper. Her eyes follow its descent, and she spots the gray paper sleeve that once encircled Melvin’s black crayon.

 She returns to her classroom to cry with the other children.

 

The D.A. will hold a press conference to announce he’s considering possible charges. He’ll hold another press conference to address the protests that spread downtown once news of the shooting hits social media. He’ll plead for peace and understanding, while also insisting that SWAT’s presence and the curfew are necessary for community safety.

He’ll hold a final press conference weeks later to announce that his office has found insufficient evidence to press charges.

 On that night, someone will throw a brick through the D.A.’s windshield with a Xeroxed copy of Melvin’s black crayon drawing taped to it.

 The clean-up crew will pick coin-sized shards of glass off the silhouetted form rendered in a child’s sloppy, yet careful hand. A gap of paper-white separates the black crayon scrawl in a surrounding frame.

 Melvin won’t be around to explain what he’s made. But most “experts” will agree that it looks like a chalk outline of a body on asphalt.

 Mrs. Jenkins will ask to bury her son with the drawing. But the D.A. will insist it has to be held for evidence and that she shouldn’t make such unreasonable requests.

 

Melvin Jenkins dies in the school hallway. His drawing’s never finished.

 He hates using the black crayon. Thinks it’s too boring. But the teacher—Miss Beverly (always calling him Marvin, but at least she smiles at him sometimes) only passed out black crayons to Melvin and his classmates.

 “What’s that in your hand? Drop it! Drop it!”

 Melvin recalls a flash of yellow, orange, and red coming for him. He dies wishing he’d had those kind of colors for his drawing.

 

The next year, the school board will vote to cut the elementary school’s arts budget—a necessary sacrifice, following their decision to add two additional school resources officers.

 They’ll unveil the memorial at the start of the year: a locked glass case filled with drawings of Melvin made by his classmates.

 People will comment on how beautiful it is. “What a touching tribute.”

 Even still, someone will ask, “But why did the children have to use so much black?”

 

 

Patrick Barb is a freelance writer and editor from the southern United
States, currently living (and trying not to freeze to death) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His short fiction has been selected for publication by Not One of UsTales to TerrifyBoneyard Soup MagazineTwisted Anatomy, and Shiver: A Chilling Horror Anthology, among others. For more of his work, visit patrickbarb.com.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

FIRE NEEDS A MATCH by J.Rohr

Fireworks skitter, spitting sparks down the sidewalk.  The sky fills with flowers burning out of existence as they burst and bloom.  Under the blossoms, Elli sits on her porch watching Betsy Russell dance. 

 

Last week, Betsy went wandering the woods.  She carried a machine gun and spitting shark teeth she shredded trees.  A red queen practicing for a faithless valentine.  The police tried to catch her, but jack rabbit witch that she is, the lady satyr vanished in a blink.  And though only rumor accused her, around here gossip tends to be honest. 

 

Seasoned by such suspicions, Elli’s outlook can’t see a better accomplice.  Betsy’s an M-80, explosive Carolina Reaper.  The kind of firecracker pepper that incinerates tongues right before blowing off heads.  Elli's never been wild, so she needs a guide into untamed territory.  Kicking off her goody two-shoes, she makes her way over.

 

Momma wouldn't approve, not of what Elli wants, or talking to Betsy for that matter.  However, now's the best time.  Fourteen years young, Elli's old enough to know the adults are liquor loose on punch; the 'shine leaving everyone blind.  It's part of neighborhood custom:  the pig pickin' party where adults don't have to be adult. 

 

So, Elli goes straight for Betsy Russell, faunesse dancing on a dirt lawn.  Glimpses of grass appear between Betsy's bare feet as if her dancing makes things grow.  Given the boys eying her, the way they stand, pretzel twisted to hide their tent poles, Betsy certainly does make things sprout.

 

Not sure what to say, Elli taps Betsy on the shoulder.

 

Forever smiling, Betsy doesn't quit moving to ask, "How you doin' youngun?"

 

It's only three years between them.  Still, they've rarely ever spoke.  Elli's always been told to stay away.

 

Momma's said, "Sweetie, that wild child is no good.  Be neighborly but keep ya distance darlin'."

 

Yet, here they stand, inches apart, and though unsure how to begin, Elli starts.  A few stammered syllables turn into a flood of words prompting Betsy to pause.  She places a hand on the younger shoulder, and the two go for a private stroll. 

 

Elli empties a river into an open ear.  Panning that stream, Betsy collects bits.  She gathers enough to hint at a picture.  It doesn't hurt this is an old painting produced a hundred thousand times a year.  Betsy doesn't need every detail to guess the whole watercolor scene. 

 

Freckle-faced Elli chucked a heart of glass at someone.  A pack of cheerleader clichés interfered with any chance of a catch, and Elli’s potential Romeo dropped her heart.  Then those high school hyenas laughed when it shattered on the filthy floor.

 

So, Elli lays it all out.  What with it being the Fourth of July, those clichés are partying at a lake house.  If Betsy drives, the two can lurk until everyone there passes out.  Then the pair can burn the place down with everyone inside. 

 

Betsy says, "I feel I should say no."

 

Shoulders slumped, Elli glances up.  The firework flowers aren't blossoming as much anymore.  There’s less color in the sky.

 

Betsy adds, "But I'll carry you there on one condition."

 

"Anything!"

 

"I get to try talking you out of it."

 

Elli smirks, "You won’t."

 

"We'll see," Betsy winks.

 

Then the faunesse and firebug set off.  They cruise to the lake in Betsy’s beat-up car, sharing scars along the way.  Nothing bonds like misfits exposing their imperfect parts, especially to those who seem like reflections.  Their jagged edges fitting together like jigsaw pieces.

 

It’s a good thing Betsy remembered matches or things might’ve been different.  There might never have been that fire welding them into sisters.  Now—beware—there are two lady satyrs in the woods, chewing up trees and living carefree.



LISTEN TO AN AUDIO VERSION OF THE STORY HERE!

 

 


J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history, and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog www.honestyisnotcontagious.com and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.