BLOOD ON THE SCARECROW
Baxter Falls, Connecticut
Daniel dreamt. It was always the same dream. He’d dreamt about it for so long he could give a perfect play-by-play without any effort. They haunted him for as long as he could remember. Particularly during times of stress. The dream always began in black and white. It started with him in the back of a wood-paneled sedan, a familiar but distant tune, reminiscent of Glen Campbell, played on the radio.
In the front were two people who chatted livelily, their voices were loud and clear, but he was unable to comprehend their conversation. They laughed and smiled lovingly at each other. They were his parents, but when they turned to talk to him, they were faceless a blank canvas. Anyone else would have been disturbed by anonymous distorted parents, but for him, it was as normal as the blue sky. He knew if his parents had faces, they would look happy. Though the seat obstructed his view, he knew they were holding hands. They always held hands. They would be laughing and joking around, but whenever they looked at him, their individuality wiped away.
His mother wore a dark flowered dress with a light background. Her hair pulled back into a ponytail, adorned with a matching ribbon. His father wore a dark blazer. As soon as they turned away came the moment he hated the most. This was always in color.
Their sedan passed through an intersection, he turned his head left, he saw another vehicle—a black truck with flashers ablaze—barreling toward them. He screamed in silence. His vocal cords paralyzed. The world seemed to stop. Everything was in slow motion. He wondered as the metal crunched metal if the other driver had attempted to stop.
The sedan spun wildly out of control. He tensed up. His body stiffened. The unmistakable smell of burnt rubber and gasoline overwhelmed his senses. His eyes watered uncontrollably. He couldn’t help but gag.
But it wasn’t over.
The sedan careened violently into a telephone pole. The pole snapped falling on top of the pickup truck, the transformer crushing the cab. A massive explosion shook the car. A shower of sparks flew, rivaling the finale of a fireworks show.
The sedan windows shattered upon impact and scattered everywhere, the glass cut him mercilessly. He felt something warm oozing down his face. His parents suffered the brunt of the accident. Their unrestrained bodies violently tossed. His mother was thrust forward, slammed her head into the dashboard and then into the broken glass of the windshield. The windshield was a spider web of cracks and broken shards. Her face and blue flowered dress saturated with blood. She stopped moving. His father’s head implanted into the steering wheel. He prayed his father died instantaneously. Blood splattered everywhere.
All noises ceased. The world was silent. The only audible sound was the blaring sirens of the fire department.
The incessant clamor grew louder as they neared. The siren slowly morphed into an annoying beeping. Daniel jumped. When he awakened, it was to the sound of his alarm. After several attempts to silence, his right forearm swiped the clock off the nightstand. The beeping persisted. Daniel leaped out of bed and yanked the cord. He fell back on the bed exhausted. Daniel groaned in frustration and rubbed his face. It was going to be one of those days.
Daniel relished the few precious minutes he had before he was forced to get up, he reflected on the nightmare. For years, off and on, he’d had the nightmare. Daniel was curious about his parent's demise, and Gramps was loathed to talk about it. Daniel repeatedly asked his grandfather the question, which was, where they were going and why? One day in a fit of frustration Gramps finally answered. It was an answer Daniel regretted.
Daniel’s obsession got the better of him at age sixteen and he investigated the accident. He went to the local library and photocopied the article printed the day after the incident. The Baxter Falls Gazette was a true hometown newspaper. The daily paper took pride in the community and never glorified disasters. The article was sketchy and vague in detail. He had read the story so many times he had it memorized. Daniel took liberty with the story, he always filled in the missing pieces. With each nightmare, the story changed. It always ended the same way. He tried to discuss it with his Gramps who stonewalled him. Whenever Gramps wanted to ignore conversations, his lower lip would quiver. Daniel knew not to broach the subject again.
The only variation for Daniel which seemed to change was his place of sleep. From the time of his parent's deaths, he had slept in this room. Daniel had been away from this bedroom for about ten years and lived on his own. It was a bittersweet return. Gramps’ health was in decline. The Senior center called Daniel to let him know his grandfather was acting a little peculiar. There were moments he seemed lost. Daniel was there to keep a watchful eye on his grandfather.
It was always comforting to know this was the room his mom grew up in. He treasured her old worn quilt. The room was a time capsule of his adolesce. The only change being faded paint. It was a reminder of the days he spent as a wayward teen. An eclectic mixture of rock posters covered most of the walls. Some of which he obtained from his father’s stash, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Allman Brothers and Charlie Daniels. Blended into the mix was Creed, Foo Fighters, and Matchbox Twenty. Smack dab in the middle of this testosterone-infused gallery was the queen of all posters. Farrah Fawcett in her iconic bright red bathing suit with her smile and come-hither eyes taunted him from across the room. Over his bed, thumbtacked to the ceiling was the American flag.
Above Daniel’s headboard was a beautiful sunburst guitar. A relic from the ages, it had belonged to his father. It was a vintage 1966 Gibson Byrdland. The body was a gorgeous, bright orange of a midsummer night sunset, accented by a mahogany hue.
Daniel fondly recalled the summer when he found the sunburst guitar in his parent’s attic. Excited, Daniel brought the guitar to his friend's house. This spurred his friends to rummage through the pawn shops and second-hand stores for musical instruments as they hoped to start a band. He passed the guitar around and allowed his friends to feel as cool as he did. They strummed the strings, did riffs, and attempted to mimic the moves of the great guitarists of their age.
Gramps had warned him not to take the guitar out, as it was one of Daniel’s father’s cherished possessions. He defied him. Later in the summer after a day of rehearsal, Daniel left the instrument behind. When he went to the garage again to rehearse, he found the headstock cracked. No one accepted the blame. He had mixed emotions about his friends. He felt he lost the few he had and couldn’t trust them anymore. His possessions were few, and of his dad, rare. All his life he had trust issues, and this further enhanced his feelings. He isolated himself from the world. He brought the guitar home and hid it from his grandfather.
His grandfather eventually found the guitar and the crack. He mounted it in the case and hung it up on Daniel’s wall. The guitar remained there for years, and neither he nor his grandfather ever discussed it. The garage band fell apart. Everyone went their separate ways, Daniel never forgot those summer days and nights where it seemed like anything could happen, and stardom was within reach.
Daniel moved past his nostalgia and got on with his day. He needed coffee before he could indulge himself in his morning ritual, he went down the hall to check on Gramps. His grandfather was in his mid-eighties, and while he always kept his body healthy, his mind had started to slip. Dementia was a terrible and cruel thing. He peeked into his grandfather’s bedroom and saw he still slept. The eerie glow from his small television illuminated the room. His snores bellowed throughout. The world was all right—for now.
Daniel descended the stairs and heard the last noises of the automatic coffee brewed. He helped himself to his first cup. The aroma of a well-brewed cup stimulated his senses. Already, he felt more awake. The serenity of a peaceful morning was to be cherished. As he plopped down on a stool at the kitchen island, he wondered how many more mornings like this he would have. He cast a disdainful gaze towards the pile of letters from Benjamin, Benjamin, and Franklin, Esq.
Inside the letters were the papers to change his grandfather’s power of attorney. He shuddered at the fight which would come when he asked his grandfather to change it over to him. His grandfather was proud and stubborn. He was going deaf in one ear which he refused to acknowledge. He kept on like nothing was wrong. The faked hearing was forgivable but a rotting mind? Inconceivable. A changed power of attorney would be the onset of a series of disagreements.
He stared into his coffee cup and sighed. He caught a glimpse of his reflection. He had aged poorly. His face etched with worry lines had stubble, and his eyes were duller than ever before.
No one ever prepares you for this.
He looked toward the living room where there was a photo of his family. It was a simple maple frame the portrait matted in emerald green. The picture, taken when he was three years old had the Olan Mills Portraits insignia on the bottom right-hand corner. His dad had a blue blazer, and his mom wore a blue and cream colored dress, with her hair pulled back. Daniel had on a long sleeved white turtleneck with Oshkosh overalls and orange work boots. Daniel was several rungs high on a white step ladder. Next, to him, his mom stood with his dad right by her side. They were holding hands.
“What would you guys say to him?” he asked the photograph.
He wondered what they would do? Growing up, he had heard stories about his parents like how his father was the funniest guy around or how his mother could balance finances like no one else. They were smart people who seemed to have the answers to everything. Now they were gone, and he was left alone to navigate the minefield of his grandfather’s advanced aging.
Daniel hustled upstairs, showered, shaved, and dressed. He went back to the kitchen to fill his thermos. He walked to the front door and stepped outside for the morning newspaper. It was not in the yard. “Gramps isn’t going to be happy,” Daniel mumbled. On his way out, he stopped in the living room and lovingly touched the picture of his parents. Ever since he moved in with Gramps, it had been a daily ritual. Today was different. It was the twenty-seventh anniversary of their deaths.