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Topics - RedSleeves

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So, this'll be the spitball thread. The powers that be have stated that this is an ongoing collaborative project. Where does everyone else think they're going with this? What's the next challenge? Thoughts????

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Units 81 and 83 were so far unattended. It was for the best, I suppose, there was no need for them to see what was left of him. Of us. His beat up flashlight turned towards the shelter caught on starbursts of wood and frost, grotesque parodies of artistry and realism. I hoped they would’ve splintered and cracked and warped during their seasons’ long confinement. Irreparably so. But on the morning of the tenth? They looked right into me, just as they always had.

A tree frog-now possessing eight thin, brittle legs-glared ominously in the morning gloom. An owl with two misshapen beaks and wings held on by spiderwebs of frost loomed on a shelf just above my head. The menagerie gazed eerily from the ether, dozens of dead and tormented figurines carved out of a lifetime of self-loathing.

Some days were better than others, some days I was better than others.

All save one had judgement in their eyes, all but one remained untouched by time and the elements, a three-and-a-half foot tall oak caricature of a bear. He stood before all the rest, watching, and waiting. Always waiting, for me, I suppose.

I stepped in, stepped out, stepped in again, tip-toeing around a fucking statue I had carved when I was twelve. Bumped into frigid walls and scuffed my boots on shattered bits of blood, sweat and tears so I didn’t have to look at him. Ironhide. The first under my knife, but not the last.

Havre has never been a home to me, not in those early years and surely not now that bodies are turning up in storage units. Mountainous and self-reliant and just-behind-the-times, Montana was everything his brother hated. Everything Uncle Mark thought to be safe. Out of sight and out of mind, he made a home for us tucked into the base of Gardipee Hill. No neighbors and a deer path for a driveway, that was home to me. The people of Havre never thought much of the two California born beach boys staking a claim on their mountains, just outside of their town. Never thought much of the soft and pampered and too loud outsiders in their little sanctuary on high.

“Mommy hit me,” I would whisper, “and Daddy liked to play games.” The good folk of Havre called it a cry for attention. The people here drowned unwanted curs on the outskirts, and called it ‘the done thing’ in the city proper. Gardipee Hill was our fortress, Uncle Mark’s and mine, and our rescued little fluffball Bruce never left our sight.

He taught me how to wait for the thaws to finish their work, unearthing already hewn pieces of lumber separated by the growth and retraction of the ice and the cold and living wood. He taught me how to read the lifelines in the dead things he carved, taught me to mind the grain as you would a trail head. He breathed life into me outside of a town of nobodies and not-good-enoughs. He gave me a purpose with knife in hand and a hunk of oak and steady hands on boyhood slim shoulders.

“Part of you, yes? Seems only right to make it a true thing, the others too.”

He gave me a home, a room all to myself with a lock on the inside and a promise to always knock first.

I buried him three years ago. Sent Uncle Mark six feet deep with a heaving chest and dry eyes. He was meant for better things, kinder places and peoples.

Three years ago, I and the minister were the only ones at his graveside. Three years ago his brother was released from the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. He had shown exemplary behavior while serving his time, and had met a woman too. Had another baby on the way, from what I was told.

I found a weasel in some ash not too much later, curled tightly in on himself with fearful eyes and paws ready to dart away. I was scared to death that I would find a greying, grizzled nightmare waiting for me at home. I felt as if someone was watching me, always. Just watching. Ironhide was never far from me then.

I had never wanted to step foot into that unit again, left the bear as sentry there to keep the monsters away. The lack of climate control in #82 had nearly ruined all that was left of our handy work. We had spent years honing our craft, trying to make something of ourselves, and these decrepit and macabre hunks of wood were our legacy. I wore Uncle’s old gloves as I tended to our things, needed a touch of warmth on a week filled with touches of the past. Wood creaked and settled as I wandered through the concrete shelter, determining who was salvageable and who was not.

It was a difficult process, trying to decide who was worth the effort to preserve and who was not. Marg’s was a necessary haunt that week, I needed the burn of whiskey and the sound of rough people having a rough time like I needed air. No one ever spoke of how much change could hurt. Mr. Jenkins, by the bar, he always had an earful about the pain of his wife’s leaving, spittle flying and voice like nails on chalk, he would drive a nun to drink with how he rambled about his broken heart and ruined life and destitution. I would buy him a drink or three if he could explain to me why looking at decades old wooden figurines hurt so much just to remember. The tears were always gone by the time I got back to Flagler, the wind in Havre biting and miserable and present in just the way I needed it to be to make puffy eyelids match windswept hair and ruddy cheeks.

I hardly noticed when I set the figures I held beside that old bear. The first a bobcat, fierce and mistrustful and defensive as he snarled at passerby overtop a hunched shoulder. The last that weasel I found in mourning and paranoia. They too were unharmed by Montana at her worst.

I remember when I had carved the first of their kind, and how I felt a piece of myself settle as I stared and stared and stared at that first bit of myself. I felt finished, at that first sign of acknowledgement.

I was at the gates to the facility at open and left at close on the 10th, and again for the rest of the eviction period. Management had more than one dirty look for me while I waited at the gates, but I was the one in the wind and the chill so they would have to deal with it. Like I had to deal with urban LA orphanages, and being a too small toddling white boy with Shirley Temple curls and sweet, tender skin. I wasn’t very sweet when Uncle Mark found me, and I’m not all that sweet now.

Officer Anita was at Flagler every day that week, pacing that same gravelled partition in those same steel-toed boots. I couldn’t help the crawling of my skin when I saw her waiting, every morning, already on the premises before the gates opening. I damn near ached for a knife in my hand when she swung her gaze from left to right and back again for the entirety of her eight hour shift. She was quiet, never spoke a word, like those eerie, silent nightmares that leave you feeling as if something precious and half-forgotten was taken in the dark.

My sanity had always been questionable, but she was what led me to drink every meal during the eviction. The cat kept its face to her while we packed.

Her deadpan expression and heavy, measured steps rang like a death knell above the din of cut tape and box assembly and the heaving grunts of the other renters exertions. She was suspicious of us, seemed anxious to find a murderer among our number. Her boots scraped lightly across the gravel, softly and deliberately, sounds meant to be forgotten in its monotony. A part of me railed against her presence, against her folded hands and empty stare and blatant hunt for blood. She wanted a reason, any at all, to hurt someone. To justify her pent up aggression as more than a power play. She wanted to prove herself in her little town of Havre with its little problems. She wanted more than she had, nothing more than a lackluster career built on noise complaints in the suburbs and Mr. Jenkin’s drunken misconduct at Marg’s every other night.

I slept little and ate less while I took the week to pack my life away. If it wasn’t Flagler demanding my time, it was our home at Gardipee. I wouldn’t be coming back to Havre and its have-nots after the fourteenth. I had a purpose elsewhere, with a knife in hand and my soul in pieces before me.

I have always known the weasel. Small, silent, hiding in dark spaces, tight spaces away from large hands and lying voices. Away from angry eyes and adult games and touches that hurt.

The dead had forced my hand and it was time to move on. Any of us could have died in that unit, and perhaps we should have. Uncle Mark taught us what could be accomplished with enough leverage or a soft kiss of steel against a stressed surface.

I found a house in Arizona. The little two bedroom bungalow was two hours west of Phoenix. It was cozy and warm with no neighbors or groaning trees in sight for miles and miles. I would have a room to myself, with a lock on the inside. A little boy would soon claim the other room. He would be safe.

The unit was empty when I left, save for one small figure tucked deep in the corner, huddled and shadowed and scared. I buried a piece of myself on October 14, 2017. I couldn’t afford to be scared where I was headed. There would be no dark places to squirrel myself away. I had a brother just shy of three, and Uncle Mark’s brother walking free under the southwestern sun.


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