Frank’s Hideaway by Bryan Fontenot

Last week I received word that Frank had died in a bar fight, his throat cut by another man.  Frank wasn’t a friend, not for a long time now, but when we were twelve years old, we had been best buddies.    I was overdue to visit a few relatives, so I came down for the funeral, and now, with the burial over, I decided to take a walk down here, to the little hideaway we used to visit. When we were middle school friends, this little patch had been a refuge, a place to play hooky, sneak a little chewing tobacco, and play cards.  But that was before Frank murdered his kid brother Joe.  It was this awful patch of ground that had changed Frank.

I’m not going any closer.  This is far enough.  It smells rotten here, the air heavy and putrid.  I’m convinced now this is truly an evil place.  It’s really just an ugly pimple of dirt and bushes, no bigger than the backyards I remember from childhood.  Frank’s death brought me back here.  I came because I needed to know if my memories were false memories, or the real thing.  Now I know, because I’m not twelve years old anymore, but a highly functioning 25 year old, and this cesspool still feels like a crypt of demons.

I remember Frank telling me he had a “cool” place for us to hang out after school one day.

“Nobody knows about this spot,” said Frank.  “It’s behind the subdivision, going towards the warehouses, where they keep all the rusty pipes.  When the ground slopes down, the place is invisible from all sides.  A crazy optical illusion, man.” And he was right, it was a private place, ignored by most people.  Happy, bright eyed, normal people would no doubt just go around this place, without even thinking about it, the way you step around dog poop, instead of stepping right into it.

“But it stinks here,” I had said.  “Smells like dead rats or dog crap.”

Yet, he was so proud of the hideaway that I said okay, and we started going there to play hooky or just to hang out.  One day it really reeked, and I walked up to the spot gagging.  But there was Frank, laying on his side, reading a MAD magazine and eating a Snickers bar.  It was then that I noticed the dead possum, only about ten feet from Frank.  It was covered with buzzing green flies, the flies that only show up when something is dead.

“Jesus, Frank!” I called, covering my mouth and nose with my shirt collar.  “What the hell, man.  It smells horrible.”

“He looked up, continuing to chew his Snickers bar, and started sniffing the air.  Sniffing!  Like he was trying to catch the subtle odor of distant wood smoke.

“I guess so,” he said skeptically, then kept reading his magazine.

That’s how it started.  The place was a stinking, festering hole, but Frank didn’t seem to notice, and slowly he began to change.  Instead of shooting soda cans with his BB gun, Frank began shooting birds.  One day he started torturing a large box turtle we had caught.  I told him to stop and we argued, shoved each other, and then he killed the turtle.  I left in disgust.  His cesspool (a crazy optical illusion man) seemed satisfied somehow.  It buzzed with flies and pukey little green shimmering beetles.  Looking back, I think the diseased little pimple of dirt and bushes infected Frank with something dark and ugly. 

That summer between seventh and eighth grade, I didn’t hang out much with Frank.  But sometimes I saw him walking back to his house from the old hangout.  I couldn’t understand why he would go there alone, to that haunted, boil of a place.  Two events convinced me that Frank killed Little Joe that summer, although everyone else thought it was a terrible accident.  Joe was a 6 year old, snotty nosed little brat, and I loved him.  Everyone loved Little Joe – everyone except his big brother.  I visited Frank’s house the day before it happened, because Frank had called me on the phone and invited me over to see the new color television his dad had bought.  So I was there when Frank’s dad put the old TV up on the hallway shelf.  I saw him carefully tape the electrical cord into a coil and tuck it away.  So how come the police and neighbors all said that Little Joe had pulled the cord and caused the TV to fall on his sweet little head.  Everyone wondered how anyone wouldn’t know better than to create such a safety hazard.  There was a lot of anger directed at Little Joe’s dad.  But I saw something else the morning it happened.  I saw Frank climb out of his bedroom window and run towards his cesspool of a hideaway.  Soon after, there had been frantic movement around the house, police sirens, a fire rescue unit.  Little Joe was dead, his skull fractured by a falling Zenith television.

Why did Frank climb out the window?  Why not use the door?  And the look on his face as he started running for the hideaway, it was the look of a thing that enjoyed death – tongue sticking out from one corner, eyes too bright and lustful.  I don’t know if Frank just unwound the electrical cord and hung it so Little Joe could reach it (here little buddy, want to play?  Pull the pretty rope Little Joe) or if he pulled down the TV himself.  But I know he did it. 

Suddenly, I feel like a dumbass for coming here.  What did it matter anyway?  So what that my best friend had turned out to be a sadistic monster.  Or more likely, it was just a freak accident, because that careless, screw-up of a dad put a busted television on a high shelf.  Maybe if I see Frank’s and Little Joe’s screw up of a dad in town, I’ll bust his face before I leave.  Yeah, I’m a dumbass for coming back here, just wasting time and money.  I wasted my money on that flea bag of a motel where I rented a room.  If that arrogant little punk of a clerk is on the desk when I get back, I think I’ll slam his head on the counter bell – just bounce his face up and down so the bell rings again and again and again!

Bryan Fontenot, author

Bryan has written short stories, now and then, during the past ten years, and is working on a longer story. His favorite book is “The Pickwick Papers”, but also enjoys mysteries, science fiction, and lots of horror stories. He lives near San Antonio, Texas.