Wars at Home

My imagination ran wild whenever I stared at the old house with its peeling white paint and broken windows. Yep, there’s another one broken. Some kids were probably chucking rocks at it.

Why did the Cartwrights up and abandon this house so suddenly last year, leaving behind their TV, couch, beds, old newspapers and various treasures which we neighborhood kids would collect? Maybe they were really outlaws on the lam after their latest bank robbery, and they were finally found out. Who else would live in a secluded house in the woods at the end of a lane?

At that moment, unaware anyone else was there, my body stiffened as a hand grab my shoulder and jerk me around.

“You spyin’ on me, kid?” came a gruff voice from behind me. My feet stayed planted when they should have been running, just like in my nightmares.

Staring me in the face was this dirty, gritty hippie. He smelled like cigarette smoke and sweat and wore a black patch, like Scott and I wore when we played pirates, over his left eye. Brown straggly hair hung down to his shoulders and a thick mustache almost completely hid his top lip.

“No, I.. I was just coming to..,” my voice shook and my eyes opened wide.

“You sure you ain’t just trying to get a look at the freak?”

“I play here a lot; I didn’t know anyone else was back here.”

Did he see the tears forming in my eyes? Is that what caused him to let go of my shoulder?

“Wait a minute,” he paused as if he was trying to make up his mind,
“ you’re the Miller boy, aren’t you?”

“Uh huh.” My body stopped shaking.

That voice was kind of familiar. Now I paused to make up my mind.

Max! Max Boyd! It couldn’t be!

Max went missing on August 25,1970. My memory was clear on that because it was my birthday, and he had promised me a ride in his 1959 Chevy Corvette Convertible.
When I last saw Max, he was a tall, skinny,18 year with a butch haircut. He always wore black-rimmed glasses, jeans and a white t-shirt. Whether driving his shiny black Corvette or riding the Harley Davidson motorcycle, he yelled hello, or waved, every time he passed me. It would have bothered me if he ever would have forgotten. But he never did forget.

Max usually kept to himself, but I liked him. He was a loner, kind of like me. Neither of us had any brothers or sisters, so I looked up to him as the older brother I wished I had.

“Got a light?” he asked.

“What? Uh, no, I don’t smoke.” I said, coming back to my senses.

Propped against his right leg was a cane which he leaned on as he stuck his only hand into the pocket of his jeans to fish something out. Then, just like dominoes falling in line, Max’s cane dropped, his hand became wedged in his pocket, he hopped twice and fell right over. Without thinking, my hand grabbed hold of his left sleeve and held tight to the top of what remained of his left arm. Instead of letting go, I kept holding on, like that time a few years ago when I put my finger on the burner of the stove and just left it there before finally jerking it away. My right hand held tightly to the sleeve while my left hand pressed against Max’s back to heave him up.

He grunted then shook his head, “nuthin’ but a cripple; a 20 year old cripple”.

Staring me in the eye again, he blurted out, “you touched my arm; or what’s left of it!”

I’m sorry,” I pleaded immediately, “it happened so fast, I..”

“My folks,” he interrupted, “they pretend nothing’s wrong. They act like I’m still in one piece; and a kid isn’t even afraid of it.”

Everything happened so fast was all. I had never seen a man with one arm. The closest thing to this was Lefty Shelton, who had lost two fingers on his left hand from a farming accident. It had something to do with a farmer and a cow, no one was ever quite clear about that.

“It’s so cool that you’re back, Max,” I said softly, looking him straight in the eye.

Max’s mouth dropped open when he heard this. He finally spoke up and asked me to keep quiet about seeing him back here.

My mind was racing as Max Boyd, who had disappeared two years ago, was now limping with his cane slowly and unsteadily back down the lane.

Now, Max was home.

Why did he leave and where had he gone? My plan was to help Max get better and to learn the secret behind his disappearance. He seemed to need a friend, and I needed that “ older brother” now more than ever.

What a way to begin summer break that June of 1972!

8 thoughts on “Wars at Home

  1. Ash says:

    I’ll be honest, you almost lost me. Nothing’s happening initially; it just feels like a vague observation. But then Max shows up, and I was all in! My suggestion would be to revisit those opening paragraphs. I initially pictured the boy standing out on the street staring at the house like any other gawker. But as this progresses, I get the impression this place means more to him, and I’d like to see that sooner. What about starting with the protag’s need to visit this strange place? Maybe show him climbing through broken fence posts or through over-grown bushes to access the backyard? Beyond just the mystery, I’d like a better sense up front as to why this kid feels drawn to play here.

    I found the interaction between the protag and Max really intriguing. But consider presenting details/descriptions in an order that seems realistic for the protag to notice them. For example, while I really like the way you describe the dirty hippie initially, I felt a little slapped in the face when I later read that he was missing a couple appendages. Like, how was that not one of the first things the protag notices?! Some of those awesome, smaller details can be worked in while they’re talking.

    I would cut “It would have bothered me if he ever would have forgotten. But he never did forget.” It’s not really adding anything more than what we already know from the previous sentence.

    I really enjoyed the protag’s random aside about Lefty Shelton. Lol, I LOVE wandering minds. It felt realistic and a bit quirky.

    The end of their exchange felt a little rushed, however. Don’t just say “he seemed to need a friend, and I need that.” I want to see the protag’s own loneliness first, feel it right alongside him since I’m in his head (expanding that intro a little might help with this). Then, I want to see what he sees in this odd amputee hippie that makes him think he needs a friend. Maybe it’s even too soon to make this assumption? Curiosity, IMO, could be enough to keep him coming back. Friendship, could be an unexpected bonus down the line. Anyway, I hope some of this is helpful. Good luck!

  2. Matt says:

    I really like the interaction between the boy and max. It seems like they have a lot of history together that can be unraveled through the story. I’m confused by the Cartwrights house. Is there a tie in between the house and max or are they separate storylines? Is there something max says to the boy at the end that can segue into the next chapter or set stage for how the boy will help his friend?

    • Bret says:

      Matt, thanks for your input! The house is sort of a place of refuge for Max and will be further elaborated on in the story. I will look at the end of the chapter again.

  3. David says:

    One of the things I like about your scene is that it pairs together two very different types of people, and I think that provides a lot of possibilities. Another thing I like is that it is set in the seventies because it gives it a sort of nostalgic feeling, especially when you mention the 1959 Corvette. In a way, this reminds me a little bit of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” although that is a novel for adults with a child as a main character. In that book, Scout tells the story about herself as a child from the perspective of a child, which I think might be an interesting way to tell this type of story, although it would probably change your target audience. It’s just something to think about. I only say this because it seems like there are parts when the protagonist seems like a kid and other parts where it seems like he is an adult looking back on childhood memories.

    The weakest part, to me, is the last two paragraphs, when the protagonist decides to help Max and find out the mystery of his disappearance. It seems a little bit too contrived, as if you’re saying, “By the way, here’s the plot of this story, in case you were wondering.” It might read more smoothly if you had the character wonder why Max had suddenly re-appeared instead of making any plans yet, and then introduce the motive after this scene has had a little more time to simmer.

    • Bret says:

      David, thanks so much for your input! I like what you said about the last couple paragraphs and will look at those again.

  4. Blake says:

    I like the year you chose, as well as the interaction between Max and the protagonist. There’s promise of conflict, as well as a bit of mystery as to what happened to Max. I found myself hooked after Max was introduced.

    The only thing I would suggest revising would be the closing paragraphs. The explanation of the goal read more like a notification to the reader than an actual thought of the protagonist. I hope this helped!

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