Credit: Elizabeth Lies (https://unsplash.com/photos/M3mxw-vol0o)

One Step too Far

Jerry looked at what he’d thought was the front door to the residence. Now he wasn’t so sure.

It couldn’t even be called a house. Just another of the countless shit-hole white trash shacks that were scattered all over eastern Texas like cow patties in a cattle auction holding yard.

“Hurry up, Jerry! Quit standing there like a mule lookin’ at a new gate and tell ’em their elec-a-tri-ci-tay is goin’ be out for an hour!”

Jerry turned and flipped off his boss, grumbling, “I’ll show you a new gate when I shove it up your ass.”

He started walking around the shit-hole, trying to figure out which door was actually used.

Every side, all six, had its own door. Or a door in the wall, whether it opened or not, he didn’t know.

It was impossible to find a track worn in the dead grass that tried to pass as a front yard that would lead him to the door most used.

Each time he decided on a door, he’d go up to it and raise his hand to knock, then pause as he noticed there were large screws going through the doorjamb into the door to seal it shut.

Every door was like that. Already irritable from the Texas summer sun, he made it clear around the house, finding every door screwed shut, every window covered in thick tin foil-like material on the inside to keep the sun out. He’d even pushed on some doors to make sure. Nothing budged.

He was about ready to pound a fist on the wall and see what happened. That was a good way to get yourself shot in Texas, though, pounding on the side of some redneck’s mansion.

One second you’re thumping your meat hammer on rusted tin siding, the next there’s a smoking stump on your shoulders and a large buckshot hole in the wall.

Arriving again at what should be the back door, he was surprised to see it cracked open now, darkness visible inside.

Something rolled beneath his steel-toe boots when he stepped closer. Around the base of the door were all the screws that’d been holding the door shut. There had to be fifty or more, their holes like gaping wounds in the edge of the door.

There was no way someone had the chance to get all those screws taken out in the time it’d taken him to make it around the shack.

Hearing nothing, he pressed a gloved hand against the door. It swung easily inward, slowly opening enough for a man to fit through.

It was then he saw movement ahead. He squinted, trying to see through the dark interior.

He saw skin, that was sure. Yes, a naked back now, long hair and pale naked butt cheeks. Without noticing he was doing it, he stepped through the door to get a better look. Now he could see the figure, definitely a woman, he caught a glimpse of a breast from the side.

Another step. He wanted to see more, it’d been so long since he’d been with a woman, since he’d seen this much of a woman. Three years since his Margie had passed away.

He never saw the thin white line on the floor as he stepped over it. Something in the back of his mind noticed the light coming in the door vanish, but summed it up to a cloud passing in front of the sun.

The woman reached her hands back and pulled her long dark hair up, wrapping it into a bun. With her arms out of the way, he could see the silhouette of her left nipple as he crept closer. Something was on her wrist. A tattoo.

She stepped out of his sight.

Not even thinking about anything other than getting another look, he slid to the side, one more step forward.

He never saw the thin red line as he crossed it.

Able to see around the corner now, he expected to see the woman’s back again.

Instead, she was right in from of him.

Marge. His Marge.

Her face was twisted, teeth rotted off stubs, skin pale and lifeless, decomposing. Yet there she was, looking straight into his face.

Her left eye was smashed, her lips split, nose a hanging mass of cartilage.

Just like it had been that night.

He’d drank too much. She’d nagged him one time too many.

He’d snapped, beating her eye, her mouth with a bottle of tequila.

She’d had a cerebral hemorrhage and died on the spot. He’d loaded her into his old truck and staged a bad accident. He was friends with the sheriff. Had gotten him to not look too closely into the accident.

“Marge, hon…” he croaked.

She looked at him impassively.

“I’ve missed you so much, you have no idea.”

“You killed me.”

The voice was not Marge’s, like he remembered. Hers had been sweet, mellow, like a bird.

This was gravelly, hollow…dead.

“I didn’t mean to! I’m so sorry. I swear, if I could go back I would. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t wish it all back.” He was pleading, hands up in front of him, a weak shield between her and him as he backed up until his back was pressed against a wall.

She followed, her eyes black.

“You killed me. You got away with it then…now you won’t. You had a chance to turn back. But you crossed the line.”

“What line?” he asked, warmth trickling down his shaking legs.

She nodded down at the red and white lines.

“You could call those the lines of fate. If you’d chosen to turn back, you would’ve lived. But you chose to reveal the type of man you truly are.”

He whimpered.

As she raised a glass bottle, he glimpsed the tattoo on her wrist, the dove he’d taken her to get when they’d gotten married.

The bottle came down, again and again until he was nothing but a bloody pile on the floor.

****

The foreman stared at the body on the stretcher. He looked up at the firefighter that had found Jerry.

“Damn.”

“Yup.”

“What killed him?”

“We found him out back of the house, laying in the dirt. Not a mark on him. Looks like he inhaled some H2S gas, likely escaped from that old oil well out in the pasture. Family should be able to get a nice settlement out of it.”

“He ain’t got no family. Wife died in a car wreck a few years back. H2S, you say? Ain’t that what they call the Two-Step Gas?”

“Yup, nasty stuff. Once it hit’s you, you maybe make it a couple o’ steps before you lose consciousness. Then you’re dead in under a couple minutes.”

The foreman shook his head. “Wait, what’s that?” he asked, pointing to Jerry’s left wrist. The paramedic turned the wrist over, displaying a faded tattoo.

“What is that, a bird?” the firefighter asked, squinting. “Kind of a weird thing for a man to have tattooed on him.”

“I’ve worked with him for five years, he didn’t have no tattoos. But his wife did, a dove just like that on her wrist. Said it he’d taken her to get it when they got married or something.”

“Weird.” The paramedic mumbled.

The foreman and firefighter nodded in agreement.

© Trevor Scott 2016

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