Play With The Prose 7, Challenge 12: Kelly Wells

During the final week of the season, we had to write a redemption story. Before I get to that, I want to acknowledge those of you have begun following my blog after reading one of my stories. Thank you for coming around and I hope you’re enjoying them. If you’re interested in reading the other stories, or perhaps participating in the next writing competition, you can head over to Casa de Leche and check it out. There are other games there besides Play With the Prose as well.

Tom downshifted and settled into the right lane on I-64. Forty miles from Dumbarton, he hit a level stretch of highway and allowed his mind to relax. It was a brutal month on the road, starting with walking pneumonia and ending with missing his daughter’s birthday due to a high-priority shipment. The worst part was that he was almost home and still didn’t have anything for Kasey. Twelve years old and she had learned to cope with being alone most of the time. Heck, she wasn’t even expecting a gift. She was just happy when they made rent. Tom sighed and took a sip of lukewarm coffee. He hoped a stop at Wal-Mart tonight would inspire him. She deserved better.

***

He slammed the joystick down. Tom knew he had timed the jump to the lilypad, but the stupid game killed him again. Normally he’d be scolded by now but Mom was sleeping.

Excited chatter was coming from the basement. His dad’s friends were over again and they were louder than usual. Tom was strictly forbidden from going downstairs when Dad’s friends were over. He looked at Mom and then turned the volume up on the TV to make it seem like he was still playing. He then carefully stepped over her and crept to the basement door.

***

Tom pulled his rig onto Forest Avenue. A mile from the store he hit a red light. He noticed a group of teenagers in an abandoned parking lot on the north side of the street. He figured they were passing a joint around. A pang of jealousy bubbled to the surface; sometimes he longed for days where he could be carefree and forget everything. He then wondered if he ever had such a time.

The light turned green. He looked again at the group of kids and what he saw horrified him. He quickly pulled over and jumped out of the cab. As he walked towards them his suspicions were confirmed. They were passing a kitten back and forth, swinging it by the tail. One kid held up a lighter flame in the middle of the circle. Tom broke into a run. As he approached, he realized each one of these kids was huge. He couldn’t take down the smallest one in a fight, let alone all four.

“Leave it the fuck alone!” he shouted, charging the group.

***

He placed a foot on the first step. As soft as he could, Tom went down the stairs one by one. The normally creaky steps were being kind to him tonight, though he wondered if he could even be heard over the noise. Dad’s stereo turned on, further drowning out any noise he could make. He kneeled down as far he could and snuck a peek. Nobody was in the main room. The door to the family room was closed. He saw his hand touch the doorknob. Taking a deep breath, he cracked open the door.

Tom took a sharp breath. Six guys were standing in a circle, shouting at two bull terriers. The dogs were clawing and biting at each other. Streaks of blood were on the cement floor. A scrap of fur floated towards him. He saw his dad shouting at the dogs. And then he was smiling. Why?

His throat was closed up. His hand hurt from its grip on the doorknob. He wasn’t sure what exactly his dad was doing with these dogs, but he was scared. And angry. He thought about walking in when another man locked eyes with him. He thought the man would look surprised, but he wasn’t. The man just glared at him coldly.

Tom bolted back up the stairs.

***

“Hi, Dad,” Kasey called from the living room. She stopped running to the door about a year ago. Tom could hear some Mario game in the background. He threw the mail on the table, which included a late birthday card from grandma.

“Hey pumpkin. Happy birthday.” He sat down on the couch behind her.

She didn’t look up. “That was last week Dad. You already called me.”

“I know,” said Tom. “But I got you something this year.”

Kasey hit pause, then turned around. “Oh, you didn’t…oh my god Dad!” She stood up fast. “What happened to you!”

Tom touched the bruise that was forming around his right eye. “It’s nothing. Just a little accident on the road. Here, your gift.” He handed her a ratty cardboard box with the top open.

Kasey peered inside and jumped. She looked up at her dad and smiled the biggest smile he had ever seen. Then her face dropped. “But you said…” She reached in and pulled out her present. The kitten recoiled a bit, then cuddled into the crook of her arm.

“I know what I said. But you deserve one. You’re the greatest kid in the world.”

K: I know it’s just a story, but I want to beat Tom’s dad senseless for running the dogfight. I like the concept of Tom redeeming the sins of his father, rather than his own, and being better than his dad would have made him. Well done, Tom. GOLD

CW: Now this is a story about redemption all right. I wasn’t digging the time jumping at first but then I saw the reason for it and loved it. This was a great piece and I can picture Tom as a real genuine person, if flawed. – GOLD

Ah, sweet relief. I finished in second place behind Sarah Wreisner, the lady who beat me in the finals of the previous competition. I now get a bye all the way to the semifinals, which is probably a couple of weeks away. Let’s see if I can’t get off the schneid and avoid being a groomsmen for the fifth straight time.

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