Scars Remain

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I felt like a loser. It was Halloween night, but mom said I was too old for trick-or-treating. I knew it was a bad idea to leave me where she left me, so far out in the middle of nowhere; and I don’t mean your pleasant peaceful grove in the middle of a magical woodlands nowhere, I mean the secluded, dangerous-at-times center of Broken Wheel Pike, top number in the county for its ominous fabrications telling tale of serial killers lurking in the piney undergrowth, rabid mutations secreted away in the deep shadows. It wasn’t all that it was murmured to be, but it wasn’t my favorite place either, especially at night. I didn’t grow up here, but my cousin did. At least, he had.

That was what bothered me about spending Halloween here at my aunt’s excessively large cabin; I had been staying under the watchful guidance of my cousin; he was my age at the time, 15, and I was 12. Finally too old for trick-or-treating Aunt Bree concluded, she left for her 2nd social party of the season, leaving my recently deceased uncle rolling in his already dissipating grave at the notion of leaving their only son home without a guardian when there was a known escaped convict somewhere in the woods practically behind their backyard. “Aaron’s the county skeet champion, if anything does happen, they’ll be fine,“ She crooned somewhat reassuringly to my mom. I don’t know why I was there, I think I was sick and couldn’t go trick-or-treating… yeah that’s the year mom bought me a crapload of candy to make up for not being able to go. But anyways, they left us. I didn’t let Aaron out of my sight the entire night up to the events of the evening.

He turned on the T.V., slouched back on the leather sofa with legs splayed out contentedly, and began munching from a bowl of hot popcorn we shared. I curled up on the other end of the sofa under a blanket, legs and feet chilly despite my jeans and double layered-socks. I looked over at Aaron, who sat, completely comfy and toasty in a mossy-lichen green hoodie and a pair of jeans with a hole shorn through the knee, his treasured shotgun, loaded and resting against the couch. “The safety’s on this time, right?” he nodded. “Like we need to have another hole blown in the ceiling.” He grinned, flashing his warm brace-laced smile, and we began to reminisce about the time when he first got it, and how our whole family spent that Christmas here. Aaron had slipped out of his room Christmas Eve, when he still believed in Santa, and was determined to see him. Instead he found presents already under the lit tree, and instinctively reached for the biggest one with his name on it. I found him silently unwrapping an oblong rectangular box, and withdrawing a beautiful Winchester 12 gauge shotgun. He went and fetched one of his cartridges from his room, inserted a single bullet in it, and snapped it in the gun. “Are you crazy?!” I whispered urgently from the hall at the bottom of the stairs. “The safety’s on, it won’t go off, I’ll put it right back, I just wanna see how it feels, “he reassured. I slipped into the kitchen, thirsting for a glass of milk. I had just replaced the milk back into its spot in the fridge when I was startled by an extremely loud bang! that shook the house. Ears ringing, I wasn’t even thinking; I dropped the glass and ran to the living room, leaving the fridge door unattended and swinging. Aaron was scrambling to put everything back as it was before he disturbed it; the thundering of the adult’s feet hammering in the stairwell sent dust and splinters coming from the new hole directly above us in the ceiling. He glanced at me sheepishly. “Umm… my finger slipped… I think I accidentally switched the safety off…” Aunt Bree was the first on the scene, my mom and, well, I don’t even consider him my dad anymore; he probably thought I’d shot Aaron or something because ‘I’m the trouble kid in this family’. But we’ll get to that later. She howled, “Aaron Samuel Ingrams! Whatever are you doing?! Have you gone insane?! Do you have any idea….” That was about the time I departed from my perch in the dark kitchen doorway, slipping up the back stairs through the kitchen, to my room, and under my quilt, my mess on the tile floor forgotten. I could hear screaming and a lot of fussing from Aunt Bree, and Aaron trying to reinstate himself. They eventually quieted down, but just as I was about to drift off, I heard my mom screech, “Harlan Andrew!” She must’ve walked into the kitchen; I had a signature glass that everyone knew was mine and mine only with little birds flying on it that I always drank out of ( I was 10 ok?); of course I made the mess. I shrunk lower under my covers, squeezing my eyes tight shut. Christmas morning brought with it a sulky Aaron and a trio of angry parents. But we still got to open the rest of our presents. Aaron was under the condition however, that if he ever wanted to get that gun, he would not be getting it until his next birthday at least, if at all. 4 years ago, when he hit 14, he received his prize.

To explain the thing with my dad, I used to worry about whether or not he will ever get over me, he’s always yelling at me constantly, everything’s always “my fault” in some fashion or another; it’s not like he’s ever really loved me though. I wish mom would just leave him already. Aaron was like the son he always wanted; sturdy, polite, perceptive, and intelligent; never missing black powder season, practically living his life in the dirt. Ian, his actual son that he will unashamedly claim, is the same. I’m almost the opposite. I’m strong enough now I guess, but back then I was kinda scrawny, my asthma was worse, and I always got picked on at school. I’ve always been the artsy type; writing my feelings out, playing around in photography. Drawing in class has affected my grades and had teachers hanging over me for them more times than I can count, which doesn’t help with my dyslexia. I’ll never be what my dad wanted. I used to cry myself to sleep at night when Aaron, sometimes with Ian, 9 at the time, came in late with a kill and my dad, my dad, would enthusiastically pat them on the back, and exclaim, ”that’s my boy!” I would walk over to him with a freshly completed painting, and ask him how he liked it. Without even looking up from sharpening his hunting knife, he muttered, “yeah, looks good, looks good…”, and completely change the subject to strike up another conversation. If I stood there in my hurt too long, he’d cut off midsentence and snap,” what do you want?” I’d mumble my unhappy apologetic “nothing”, and he’d always sneer, “Fine then, get along with ya.” When he had a beer in hand, it was instead a sharp ”go away.” I used to consider maybe he felt sorry for him, since Aaron’s dad died in a freak surfing accident shortly after he was born, but it still stung like nothing else could, to be cast aside like I didn’t matter. Thinking about it now I’ve decided I don’t even care anymore, it doesn’t matter since Aaron’s been gone. He, my mom, and my 2 friends are the only ones who’ve ever appreciated what I do.

Well, I hate school; more like it hates me. I have 2 best friends; Greyson Dunn, whose my age, has been there since 5th grade. Rajesh Koothrapali (a.k.a. Kootie) moved here when I was in 8th grade during his freshman year as an Indian exchange student. He got an extended visa, so he can stay in America as long as he has a job, housing, and keeps a high B average in school. The only reason I was here tonight is because they were pulling pranks I’d already been in trouble for years ago. Against the years prior mentoring of Aaron, Greyson and I went anyways and TP’ed an entire front lawn in one of the fancy neighborhoods, sprayed shaving cream all over parked car’s windshields, and crashed a party some retirees were having. We even managed to throw in some pyro play in an empty Wal-Mart parking lot before the night was over. Needless to say we were bad kids. Still are in some ways. So I get to, in the footsteps of my cousin, watch my younger brother tonight instead of repeating the feats of last year’s All Hallows Eve because I’m grounded for grades. Not that I mind, he’s old enough that he can take care of himself. Ian, he reminds me so strongly of Aaron, his dark hair has a red tint to it, his hazel eyes are filled with the same kind but mischievous light. When I’d stand and be put down by my father constantly, he’d wait a few minutes after I left, then follow me upstairs wanting to console me, only to have my door slammed in his face; I never have cried in front of Ian, and I refused to start then. He was the favored child from us 2, the best he could’ve done for my comfort was go away and be miserable himself. But we’re past that. The man he calls father is an alcoholic now, yet another reason I will never be like that man, nor consider him any relation to me. If I’m not good enough for him, then he’ll be more than happy to fail in my eyes as well... While Ian played video games, I sat there with my iPod, taking myself back to the night that changed my life.

We watched Whale Wars back to back for hours. It was nearly one in the morning, I must’ve drifted off. I woke to the T.V. off, mumbling “wha…” Aaron held his fingers to his lips, warning silence. He leaned over the couch with his hand on his gun, erect and stock still, watching the door, gray eyes wide and alarmed. I tried to be brave, but I’ll never forget how he swallowed, then ground his teeth when the silhouette of a man appeared at the back door, a shadow in the clear moonlight. He wasn’t scared anymore; I wanted to be just like him. I know it sounds selfish, and I don’t mean it like that, but Aaron’s the only one who ever put me first, who held me in a special regard no one else did; for once I was someone else’s favorite. He had always treated me as if I were his own brother; despite his prowess in winning my father from me, never letting an unkind word go for more than a day without turning it around. Reaching for his 12 gauge, he squeezed my shoulder, and whispered urgently, “hide, and don’t come out until I say its ok. No one but me, understand?” I nodded, stomach churning with anxiety. He loaded the gun, and crept around the corner. The last I saw of his red hair bobbing jauntily over his ears became a shadow on the wall. I saw it raise the gun to its shoulders, the finger slowly begin to squeeze the trigger. Bang! I heard the glass shatter from the storm door, heard a man yell in pain, frustration, I’m still not sure. I saw them scuffling, a writhing mass of shadow on the floor. A bulky hand, obviously not that of my slender cousins, continuously groped unsuccessfully for the gun.

While trembling on the opposite side of the doorway in terror, the phantasmic battle on the wall persisting, a slight glowing in the corner opposite me drew my eyes to a luminous orb, self-levitating and blooming a rosy soft light, no bigger than your generic light bulb. Afraid it would draw the attention of the man attacking Aaron, I inched towards it, hoping to divert the man away so Aaron could get a shot at him. I was almost across the doorway when something made the hairs stand up in the back of my neck, the loudest noise I’ve ever heard nearly deafened me, and I was slammed into the wall from impact. I slowly looked over my left shoulder to the bullet hole in the wooden kitchen door, confused… didn’t I hear 2 shots…? Midway through the thought my collarbone swiftly graduated into the feeling that someone had stabbed me with a red hot iron rod, pain only intensifying with every second, and I could feel warm liquid oozing from my arm socket. Panic stricken I whipped around. Aaron was facedown on the ground, not moving, the man standing over him. I swear the guy was looking at me, but I didn’t stay to find out. I ran down the hall clutching my shoulder, my pattering feet drowned out by the thundering of my intent pursuer. Looking back, I didn’t see the jump rope strung across the floor; I slammed face first into the horizontal wood paneling, rolling over to see the double barrels of a loaded shotgun less than a foot from my face. The hefty bald man leered gruesomely; unshaven, mismatched black and yellow teeth like a broken slatted fence. My heart nearly stopped, amidst its throbbing I thought, I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die and see grandma and I’m gonna see Aaron and mommy won’t know... He raised the barrel to the bridge of my nose, blocking my vision. I closed my eyes, beginning to relinquish the control I’d held over my erupting sobs. Torrents of salty tears dampened my cheeks as I shook violently. He pulled the trigger.

Click... after about a 20 second period of hyperventilating from the surety that I was hallucinating, or dead, I ever so slowly peered though one eye. The gun rested on the floor, the man prostrate in front of me, blood pooling around his head. Behind him stood a glowing figure, the face of which was the most beautiful I’d ever seen, I can’t even tell you if it was a man or woman; it practically radiated tranquility and benevolence. Long flowing locks trailed out behind it like a silky, almost feathery, train. I could make out an open robe encasing its hovering body, however it was so bright there was nothing to cover that could be seen really; I knew this as I stared mesmerized, mouth agape, upon the little orb in the corner that had evolved into this magnificent… thing. It stared back. After a couple minutes, eyes remaining fixated, I unintentionally slumped forward, dizzy, faint and shaky from the loss of blood, peripherals sporadically blurring. The glowing thing paled to a translucent grayish blue hue. With a blood-curdling screech, it began to rapidly rotate in a whirlwind of dust and darkness, seemingly pulling in from the very corners of the hall, and erupted in a whirl of darkness; I covered my eyes from flying grit with my good arm, hair blown and tousled, and when I looked back, it was gone, leaving the body of the man who had tried to take my life, and nearly succeeded, twice. Slowly, tentavely, I crawled by, hesitating as I passed to get a better look at him; his eyes were open, glassy and still, like dark swirled marbles. One twitched. I’ve never clambered so fast in my life. By the time I struggled, by now on hands and knees to the doorway I’d previously hid behind, my entire right t-shirt sleeve was soaked with blood, dripping off like a faucet onto the floor. I couldn’t go any farther, collapsing face-first with a groan. Before I passed out completely, however, delirious I moaned, “…Aaron, are you awake…?” I stretched my hand out, reaching for him, and stilled, expelling a sigh. He stirred, looked up slowly, and blinked. “Harlan…?” He wasn’t hurt as bad as I thought apparently; he valiantly pulled himself up with a few pain-induced grunts and stumbled over to me, fondling my hair in comfort and pulling off his hoodie for use to staunch the bleeding. As I faded away, still in agony and lightheaded, I felt his arm sturdily wrap around my upper body, holding me up and lift my legs in unison, all the time murmuring, “hang in there Harlie, stay with me little buddy, hang on please…” his breath tickling my ear. My head finally lolled back exhaustively, and I went limp, falling into the black.

I first woke up, wheezing, in an ambulance, sound gradually finding its way to my ears. The siren was surprisingly distant, people were hanging over me, actively passing things back and forth, over and around me. Inside the vehicle it was an excessively stuffy environment, the air was thin and scant, doing nothing but aggravating my asthma. I was so disoriented, I think I tried to sit up once or twice, only to be groggily pushed back down, by now coughing up blood and gasping for breath; I must’ve been in shock. Out of the haze, I recall my hair was soaked and my body was chilled with sweat, as I couldn’t remember going swimming; mumbling incoherent things, among them I remember were a plea to see Aaron, asking where my mom was. A woman with a brown bun was saying something to me, something to do with another ambulance maybe? me peering back lethargically in reply. Nearly as soon as I came to, I was put under a mask, inhaling oxygen that smelled of jelly beans. Before I knew it I woke up in a hospital room, still under a mask, with 2 IVs in my left arm, one supplying blood to my malnourished veins. My mom was asleep in the chair beside my bed. It was the most horrific experience of my life, to go through all that...

I was wheeled in to see Aaron, once I was pronounced stable, a couple days later at least. His face was an ashen pallor, I could see his life pulsating with every heartbeat, I could hear his shallow breaths strain to oxygenate him, I couldn’t understand why he was like this, he’d not bled like I had, how had he the resolve to carry me to safety. I asked in my naïve innocent way, and was answered with,”he bled on the inside sweetie, he bled so much more than you…” I scooted closer, near enough to see his eyelids flutter at his name. He slowly awakened, gray eyes vacant of their typical laughing demeanor; it returned a little when I snuggled my face in his shoulder, whimpering how he was the best cousin ever, trying not to break down as apologies for not hiding like he said to hiccupped out, but he quieted me. “Hey, it’s ok. You’re safe, I’m safe, we’re ok. I promise.” He smiled over his shoulder at me. They helped him to weakly pull me up beside him onto his blankets (now that I’m older and understand hospital protocol, I no longer wonder why they allowed it since what happened happened, and realized they knew it would since we’d been wheeled in the door), and I remember being so at peace, so tranquil. He ruffled my hair, leaned over and kissed my head, and we fell asleep. I later woke up beside him, with my mom, and his, both standing there crying, watching us. A little dazed, I shook Aaron to rouse him, “Aaron, get up.” He didn’t stir. Mom and aunt Bree’s crying intensified. “Aaron…” I touched his arm, I remember he was so cold. “Honey, he’s… he’s gone.” I was lost and naive, I refused to confirm the inkling thought that I shoved to the back of my mind. “What…?” Aunt Bree squeezed her son’s pale hand, gazing upon his features in mourning. “He’s with grandma, Harlan. He…he wanted to give what he had left to save you. We won’t see him for a long time now.” She never looked up as she said it...

…My freshman year of high school, I was sorting through the old files the hospital had given us copies of, trying to find an assignment I’d misplaced. I found the medical papers for me and my cousin. “Aaron Ingrams- gunshot wound to abdomen, severe internal bleeding in spleen area. Condition: critical. Time of Death: 3:15 a.m., Nov. 1, 2007. Cause of Death: severe blood loss…” The usual stuff. As I was about to put it back, the words “blood donor” caught my eye. I read these words, becoming to sick to my stomach, eyes burning with afresh tears for the first time in 2 years. “Blood Donor amount: .75 oz. Recipient: Harlan Moorefield…” I was white. Aunt Bree’s final statement at Aaron’s deathbed reverberated through my mind. “He…he wanted to give what he had left to save you….” Her words now so stark and clear in my memory, I fully understood her parting remark to her only little boy. He was a hero; he didn’t have to do it, but he’d rather not died in vain I suppose. He was like that. But why for me? My face sunk in my hands, fingers entwining in the dark bistre curtain of my bangs.

I now faced that responsibility. 15 years old, alone in the cabin in the woods with my 12 year old brother on Halloween night. Tired of Halo III, Ian was drawn into an intense political debate; he was weird like that. Something bumped outside. He looked up at me nervously, hazel eyes meeting my green, and asked, “nothings gonna get us, right?” “Of course not, I’m here, and I’ll protect you, I promise,” I replied, clasping his shoulder. As I finished the sentence, a news flash popped up on the T.V., signifying breaking news. “A man was seen fitting this description escaping from the Holloway County Prison, and making his way toward the Broken Wheel Pike area.” There was a mug shot of a hefty man with dark skin in an orange shirt. ”From our understanding this man is not armed but is considered dangerous. May be seen under the names ‘Mike Shirley’, ‘Micheal Shirley’, ‘M.N. Shirley’, ‘Pedro Gonzalez’, and ‘Bebo’. If you have any information, call the Holloway County crime tip hotline: 276-879-5446. Once again, that number is 276-879-5446.” Oh man, not again. I was scared. Not as much for me, but for Ian. Amazing what memories do to you, more like scarring the imprints they leave on a person. A sudden crash and the muttered grumbling and cursing of a man startled me out of my retrospective repertoire; someone was outside. I reached for the Winchester 12 gauge loaded at my feet, all too familiar with its real capabilities. Not removing my gaze from the back door, I muttered, “get upstairs now, stay quiet and take your phone” I didn’t hear him move. “I’ve got mine, do it now.” Silence. “Ian.” I glanced behind me. He watched the door studiously, eyes wide, mouth agape while crouching in the shadow formed by the moonlit cast upon the couch. “You promised…” it was barely a whisper. “Ian, I’m keeping it now. If you want to be safe, do as I tell you ok? I mean it.” He looked solemnly at me, hurt. I sighed, kneeled, and unzipped my hoodie. “Here, let me show you something.” I pulled my t-shirt sleeve up over my shoulder, revealing the tight pink skin that stretched over my shoulder, slight tendrils of color fanning out from the ugly indentation of scar tissue. His lips parted slightly in silent shock. “That’s from the last time I spent Halloween here. That’s what happened to me when I didn’t hide like I was supposed to... it nearly killed me... it cost Aaron his life, Ian, to make sure it didn’t.” “You got shot?” “We both did.” I gripped the barrel of the shotgun. “This gun, right here...” and I recounted the story of my once 12 year old life nearly slipping through the cracks, how it took my cousin going under for me to be here to protect Ian...
Eventually I finished. He looked down, tears streaking his flushed cheeks. “Dude... I-I’m sorry I made it hard... I really am.” “Ian you didn’t make it hard...” I hesitated. “ You know you’re the only one I’ve shown this to right? Out of Greyson and Kootie... only mom, aunt Bree, and the doctors that-that... you know.” I swallowed, not wanting to continue; I can’t cry in front of my little brother. How protective and brave would that look? “Yeah...” I didn’t want to face the sound coming from outside. But if I were Aaron, I wouldn’t have wanted to either. I prepared to send him away. “Listen, if for some reason, I don’t make it out of this alive, I want you to know, I...“ I sighed. “Ian come here... closer.” He scooted nearer, and I embraced my brother, haunted with the fear I’d not get another chance. “Now get upstairs. If I don’t come up there after half an hour-“ I was cut off by a large object slammed against the side of the house. I was cocked and aimed in a matter of seconds. Men were yelling, not just one but several. Ian left my side and took off toward the front of the house; I let him go, swearing I heard a compellingly familiar voice among those outside. “There’s cops out here!” he yelled. “What?!” Dude what is going on?! Blue flashing lights and wailing sirens filled the front yard. This was chaos. We peered through the venetian blinds on the back door to see a man in orange being wrestled to the ground by 2 policemen. From what I could tell, he fit the description of the picture on the news a little too well for my sanity. His face was bloodied, I guess from falling into the side of the house. I eased the storm door open a crack, Ian bending to peer under my arm. “What the heck is going on...?” one of the officers strode up. “Do you live in this house?” I nodded, wary; living with an alcoholic and blowing things up illegally on national holidays, I’ve learned to be extremely mistrusting of certain public-servicemen; mostly cops, doctors, and social workers. I have yet to have an encounter with a fireman. Ian piped up, ”that’s not the guy that got out is it?” the officer quickly reassured him it was. ”you kids don’t have to be afraid anymore, the escapee has been apprehended, and it’s all thanks to your quick thinking.” What? What is he talking about…? He must’ve read the bewilderment on our faces. “If you hadn’t called us when you did, he probably would be in this house right now.” “But we didn’t call... we’ve been watching TV the whole night!” Ian exclaimed. “Well then it must’ve been a neighbor. Be sure and thank them next time you see them, they more than likely saved your life.” Behind him I saw a long, rusted butcher knife being confiscated from inside the man on the ground’s shirt. “Dude...” I realized the true extremity of the danger we’d somehow been spared from, this time. “Who was the person that called? Did they give their name?” “Before turning back to the scene, the policeman answered, “All he said was his name was Aaron and that he had a tip for us and to hurry out here.” My stomach dropped, catching my breath in my throat. “Hey, look!” Ian pointed to a dark corner by the trees, occupied by a tall shadow, head protruding from above the low deposition of fog that had gathered in the blue staccato light show imaged by the cars. As my eyes widened, a tiny glimmering of light began to hover amidst it; from here it looked, almost, like a firefly. “It’s too late in the year for lightning bugs...” but the cop was gone from the doorway, taking notes the details of the inmates re-capture; it was as if they saw nothing. The shining far away began to grow, taking the faint shape of a human figure. My throat tightened with the flood of memories that washed over me, settling into a pool of emotions that threatened to leave me drowning. “Ian...” my voice was shaky, barely audible as a raspy croak. “Do you see what I see?” his hand grasped my forearm, perhaps to remain in the reality that the supernatural, supposedly, didn’t exist. “I-I...” he stammered, swallowed hard, then slowly nodded. The specter progressively took a gut-wrenchingly proverbial contour, and I, remembering my last encounter with it, began to stiffen as beads of ice cold sweat tediously traced themselves down my back. Standing within, seemingly even a part of the... spirit, ghost, whatever it was, I swear, it was as if he’d walked out of the past. Exactly the same, he appeared as was the night he died; he stood there with hands shoved in his pockets, moss green hoodie swathing his upper half. His name screamed in my mind, but I hadn’t the willpower to utter it aloud; my verbal senses failed me at the connection of this image and the memories turning the wheels in my head. It couldn’t be, I saw him lowered into the ground, watched as they covered his rain-dotted casket with chestnut colored sludge. If it was him then I had some major rethinking to do about my opinions on paranormal activity and the like. It just couldn’t be him standing there like nothing had ever happened to him... Ian voiced the name I’d not spoken in so long before less than an hour prior. “Aaron.” He released the butterflies I’d withheld underneath everything for a forever. I opened my mouth to call out to him, but stopped. He noticed from afar nevertheless, and raised a hand in greeting, smiling broadly. His braces glinted from the car lights, a translucent blue. I raised mine back, Ian hesitantly replicating. He winked, let his gaze linger for a fond moment, winked, and just vanished, fog enveloping them to create an empty foggy mélange; the glowing spectrum that had once been there when it nearly ended for me gone with him. One blink and poof, just a smear in the fog where they’d stood. Ian nearly broke my wrist gripping it. I still looked in the spot where I saw Aaron for the last time, a tear slipping down my cheek; all these years I’ve never been able to let him go, and finally, 3 years to the day after the ordeal, I can finally breathe easier. With closure.



The End.





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