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              They kept staring at the body as if it would move or come miraculously alive by the mere curiosity of their minds.  The body was that of a man slumped over on a bench beneath a cedar tree in the town’s park his arms crossed and his chin resting tightly upon his chest in an obvious attempt to keep warm during the bone-shattering, below freezing temperature of that previous November night.   That afternoon however, was relatively crisp and full of sunlight which seemed to burst at the seams of the blue sky.  It was almost impossible to ascertain the age of the man, for his face and body were so ravaged by weather and hunger that he could have easily been thirty but looked well over fifty.  Dirt, dust and grime which encrusted his unshaven face and stained his ragged clothes could tell a million tales of countless barnyards, boxcars, sidewalks, railways, highways, fields, and byways the poor hobo had traveled through.

            A ten year old boy was the first to see him.  The afternoon had gleamed quite sharply for almost two hours when the boy stumbled upon the body on his way to where the centennial parade was to begin a few hours later.  In a town where everyone is accounted for, where no face goes unrecognized, the discovery of an ugly reality can disrupt the order of those townspeople’s lives.  It was not more than an hour that the boy had found the poor man than a small crowd of party-goers on their way to the parade stopped to gawk at the new exhibit on display.  “Who is he?” one spectator asked while munching heartily on a bag of potato chips.  “Must be a drifter,” another brilliant audience member proclaimed.  By now, word had spread about the dead hobo, resulting in practically half of the town’s population swarming locust-like into the park.  It was nearly half-past four in the afternoon when two police officers passing by stopped, irritated at the possibility of missing out on the celebration.  A considerable drop in temperature had taken place at an alarming rate and rolls of foaming grey clouds began swelling the increasingly darkening sky.

           The officers went through the familiar routine of dealing with the scene of a non-violent death.  A pulse was taken to confirm that the man was dead and his entire person was searched to find identification.  Nothing of importance could be found.  No wallet.  No license.  No credit card or any other such pertinent information could be found from his clothing.  All that was found was sixteen cents and a small, black-and-white photo of a pretty, blonde young woman with a bright smile.  In exquisite, feminine handwriting on the back read: To Harry, with love always, mom.

            The youngest of the two officers, a rookie of three months and only a twenty-one year old, scratched the rough stubble that sprouted erratically atop his oversized head.  Grimacing from discomfort not only because his significant bulk could barely fit inside the midnight black and recently pressed uniform but also from an icy wind which cut across his rosy cheeks and equally red, bulbous nose.  Looking unusually dumbfounded, he leaned away from the corpse and whispered to his forty-one year old partner who stood with coal black eyes blearing directionless at the ground who was calmly surveying the situation.  “Tim,” the young officer began, “I think he’s dead.”

            Tim stood six feet, two inches tall, in stark contrast to his partner, Colin, who was four inches shorter.  The wind that blew against his oily, black hair which was meticulously combed back as if it had been molded from plastic and dropped on his head from above, did not move one glued strand.  And with a solidly unmoving expression on his face, which seemed to forcibly hold itself back from bursting out with laughter, Tim turned toward his partner.  “Why don’t you disperse the crowd while I radio for an ambulance,” he said, plucking the C.B. from his shoulder.  Dozens of on-lookers stumbled anti-climactically out of the park.  After several minutes of trying to reach the station and the ambulance dispatcher, Tim gave up in disgust.  “What’s wrong, Tim?” asked Colin, squinting with puzzled eyes.  “The damn frequency’s breakin’ up,” he responded.  “Must be the storm that’s comin’,” Colin said who continued further, “guess we’ll have to haul him down to the station.”  But as he said this, as he shifted his rotund torso which seemed to roll and swirl like the erratic movements of an amoeba, he was abruptly stopped by his partner, who grabbed him so violently and unexpectedly that he nearly toppled his horizontally challenged partner.

            “Wait,” Tim began, “I have a better idea.”  He rubbed the underside of his chin, casually eyeing the darkening sky above.  “I say we hide him there in the bushes till morning,” pointing as he spoke to a thicket of plants, long grass and shrubbery not more than ten yards away.   “What the hell are you talking about, Tim?”  Colin stared in perplexity for a few moments, trying to see if his partner was joking with him.  But there was only stone-cold stillness in Tim’s eyes; no trace of humor could be found in his rigidly, highly-strung, and dangerously over-testosterone filled facade.  “You’re not serious, are you?”  Colin asked unaware of how to react.  “Hear me out,” Tim began, hunching down so close to Colin’s fat face that their noses nearly touched.  “If we take this dead bozo down to the station, we’ll be stuck with four hours of paperwork.  We’ll miss out on all the fun while the rest of the guys bang the town red.”

            Colin peered on tip-toe over his partner’s large shoulders at the dead man.  Two black abysses of the inevitable stared back without life or emotion.  “He’s got no ID, no one knows who he is,” said Tim, who aggressively continued, “The only officers who know about it are standing here.  This night will be the biggest night this town will see in years, and I’ll be god-damned if I’m going to let some nameless corpse ruin my good time, how ‘bout you?  I hear Jane is gonna be there, and you know she has the hots for you.”  Colin blushed while mumbling some embarrassed words.  “We’ll be back in the morning,” Tim added.  “What will we tell the chief?” Colin wondered aloud.  “How would he find out?  Even if he did, we could say that some kids played a prank and hid the poor son-of-a-bitch before we could get to him, that’s all.”  Colin hesitated briefly, took one more quick glance at the body, then spoke.  “Alright! what the hell, I’m in the mood to get plastered tonight.”  They propped the body against a dense patch of stiff thorn bushes and covered him with leaves.

            Several hours later as the early morning hours of the following day waned, the parade, which began with much drink and merriment but was controlled by the local law-enforcement, became feverishly intense to the point where the law itself was now participating in the drunken debauchery.  On the opposite side of the park, police officers, the mayor and city officials grabbed ass and drank deep from the well of intoxication alongside the common folk of the town.  There were folk musicians on the town’s main square, which was still made of cobblestone.  A jig was being played as hearty women danced sensually with portly, apple-cheeked men with bottles in their hands.  Lights of all colors lined the town’s square as well as main street.

            This maelstrom of hedonism spilled into the park.  People were laughing, singing, dancing, and behind some bushes throughout the park couples groped one another with sloppy anticipation.  Behind one oak tree, a young man in a disheveled suit was getting head from a bawdy, middle-aged woman done up like a burlesque dancer from the 1920s.  A burly man with a grey beard and a young woman on his arm passed by them and stopped.  The burly man shouted out at them, “Hey there! No poking in the park!” Belting out a laugh and turning to the woman on his arm, he made like a hungry dog licking at something on the floor, only it was her face.  The young man by the oak tree shouted back.  “Ain’t no poke.  Just got a bite on the line.”  This made the burly man laugh even louder and, grabbing the woman’s ass and squeezing hard, he took a swig off of his bottle and then poured it down and over the woman’s mouth.  That’s when they came upon him. 

                 The burly man saw him first, as the wind that had been whipping up had blown away most of the leaves that covered him.  “Who’s this?”  He cried out so loudly that most of the people nearby stopped and looked at the body.  He grabbed the corpse and lifted him up.  As he did so, a voice from somewhere made mention that it was the body of the drifter found earlier, but no one listened and at this point, it wouldn’t have mattered.  The crowd cheered as the burly man bounced the body around like some grotesque marionette puppet, waving the corpse’s hand at people and making him dance.  People laughed and rubbed the deceased man’s head, patted him on the back, and danced along. 

                 “What he really wants is a drink, little hair of the dog will wake ‘im up!”  The burly man said.  He took his bottle of whiskey and poured half the contents into the body’s mouth, most of which ended up all over his clothes.  “No! No!” a man shouted from the crowd, “what he really wants is a little pussy.”  The burly man laughed and, looking over at the woman he was with, began the next part of the charade.  He spoke to the woman, moving the body next to her.  “Come on, baby.  He just wants a little lovin’.”  With that he put the body’s face closer to her own.  She squirmed and started to inch backward but was stopped by another man from behind her, who pressed his hands against her back.  “Come on, now.  Just a little kiss.  Make the man happy.”  She continued to squirm, turning her nose up and complaining.  “No! He smells bad.  Get him away!”  She tried to get away but the burly man flung the body at her.  The woman fell beneath it.  She screamed.  “Now, Now.  That’s no way to treat a gentleman.  Can’t you see he likes you?” said the burly man as he held her down by pressing the body against her.  A roar of laughter erupted.  The woman just kept flailing about, trying to push the body away.  Someone from the crowd shouted out another idea.  “Hey, let’s make him the town’s mascot.”  The crowd cheered in agreement.  The burly man smiled, licked his lips with glee, and lifted the body up.  Pointing to two other men, he then said, “Alright! you two hoist ‘im on your shoulders.  We’ll have a mascot for our parade.”  The men lifted the body on their shoulders as others from the crowd assisted in keeping him steady.  The burly man continued, “Now we all sing.  Lets show ‘im off!”  With that, they began marching out of the park and into the street, singing and marching with the head of the corpse flopping back and forth with each new step.                  

                 That’s when lightening was seen flashing across the sky.  Thunder rumbled louder.  Before anyone had time to blink, a lightening bolt tore violently through the sky and struck a lamppost, shattering it in half.  It fell straight across the crowd, striking the burly man in the head and killing him instantly.  Everyone stopped.  The light freezing rain became heavier, colder, and seemed intent on continuing.  Panic ensued.  A woman’s legs were trapped beneath the lamppost.  She screamed and begged for help, but the townsfolk began to flee chaotically in every direction.  The wind picked up to near hurricane speeds and within minutes the rain was so heavy that it made visibility at any distance impossible. 

                 The next morning was very cold and still.  The black sky stretched endlessly, showing no sign of light.  In all, six people had died, dozens more were wounded, and an enormous amount of money would be needed to restore the property damage that resulted.  Officer Tim along with his partner Colin trudged through the muddy park, the sound of water rushing through the street just behind them.  As they came upon the area where the body was hidden they stopped.  The bushes had been completely wiped out by the storm.  Colin shrugged and asked, “Where is he?”  His partner looked around, crossed his arms, and slowly responded.  “The storm maybe took him.  We drove all through these streets and found nothing.  No reports.  Must’a been the storm.”  Colin shivered, looked around, and took his cap off.  “I never saw a storm like that and I’ve lived here all my life,”  he said, shaking his over-sized head.  They walked back to the squad car as Tim took one more look around at the devastation of his town when, just before entering the car, he spotted something about ten yards away on the street in front of him.  He walked over to it and picked it up.  Colin looked on in bewilderment.  It was a photo.  A black and white photo.  The weather had damaged it quite a bit, but Tim knew what it was.  He looked at it and frowned.  “What is it?” Colin asked.  Tim quickly stuffed the photo into the inside pocket of his heavy leather coat.  “Nothing.  We got work to do.”  Both officers climbed into the car and drove off.  In the distance, a low rumble of thunder could be heard.                          

             

Comments (1)

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Great story, laughingjester. I like the ending. So when are we gonna see anymore material? (cue cricket chirp)

Joshua Hennen
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