By John Thomas Tuft

Her running footsteps echo in the dark alleyway. She glances over her shoulder, fearful of the phantoms pursuing her through the evening. Any time she stops and listens, the sounds stalk her, driving her forward. Shadows expand and darken as she passes, clutching at the cloak trailing behind her in the wind. The elegant gown, a sheath of emerald, that she donned earlier for the prom now inhibits her movements. She loses one shoe on a grating, slips the other one off and flings it behind her, running on in her stocking feet. A blast of steam from a vent is the devil’s breath closing in. She screams…

Julie sits up in bed, wide awake now. Her long hair falls across her face as she bows her head, hoping to drive the images and fear in the dream away, her breath coming in gasps. They may be images in a dream, but the fear is all too real. The 17-year old’s Grandma Trudy used to tell her, “We die many times but there is only one death.” That is what Julie’s fear is to her, a thousand times dying but never a death, never an end. Growing up with her mother and father was tripping from one fearful day to the next.  Momma, emotionally unstable, married to a man who kept choosing drugs over his family. His restaurant foundered after all the high talk of making his mark on the world, providing a good life for his family. The escape that the drugs promised turned out to be a cruel mistress who demanded his time, attention, money, and love.

“You can love the devil, but you marry the man,” Grandma Trudy used to tell Julie’s mother. Outside her window, Julie saw a shower of leaves descending on the autumn wind, each one taking the promise of spring with it to the ground. Momma always believed Daddy’s promises to do better, try harder, curb the recklessness of seeking escape from everything. The fights grew louder and longer, even violent. Daddy said that if she ever tried to leave him, he would come after her, take the kids and she’d never see them again. Finally, Momma packed them up and left Daddy to his own devices. She moved them in with another guy and soon she was pregnant. Loving the devil is seeing someone who seems carefree, uninhibited, exciting with no limits but then discovering the man is a different reality altogether.

Daddy still came around, asking Momma for money, saying she was the reason the restaurant was failing, that if she loved him she would help him out. If she didn’t give him any, Daddy would sneak in when they weren’t home and take money or ‘borrow’ the television or computer to get cash for his drug habit. It was truly awful. Momma’s new boyfriend, Joe, would yell at her for letting the no good into her life. Julie hid in her room, listening to them fight. Finally, Joe forbade Momma to let Daddy ever come back to the house. When Daddy found out, he was furious. He threatened Joe, he threatened Momma, he swore he would get even and hurt her in the worst way.

And that is what he did. One Saturday, when Joe and Momma left her in charge of her half siblings, Daddy showed up, strung out on his best friend, acting strange, saying things that made no sense to Julie. Alarmed by the rough way he shoved her into his car, along with the younger kids, she realized that he was kidnapping them. Fearful at what a desperate man might do to get back at those who hurt him, she surreptitiously dialed 911. As Daddy drove wildly down the highway she kept up constant chatter to let the operator know what was going on. Her heart pounding, stomach in knots, yet wanting to cry, she kept talking: “Daddy, what do you want with us? This is the way to the new library. Daddy, I think the kids need something to drink. This is the old Main Street. The new WalMart would have stuff for these little ones. They’re scared and it might calm them. Daddy, let’s stop at the WalMart.”

He agreed and pulled into the parking lot. Making Julie promise to stay put, he ran into the store. The police surrounded the car, ending the fearful saga. But they could not find Daddy inside the store. He was nowhere to be found. The security cameras showed him going in, but then…nothing. Days and then weeks passed, but no sign of him. Julie started to have the dark dreams. She had saved the children, but she felt haunted, empty. Her heart broken by her love for Daddy. And it shattered when someone discovered, three months later, a body dangling from a noose. In the woods up behind the WalMart. Somehow, he slipped out the trash door with some rope and made his final decision…

Julie sits on a large rock in front of a few gathered souls at the potter’s field. Nobody looks like they want to be there, studiously ignoring the fresh turned earth. Julie’s head is bowed so that her hair falls in front of her face, as she begins to speak, very softly at first. “I know people don’t want to be here. Nobody wants to remember. But this is about family. This is my Daddy.” Above her the trees are in bud, promising to forget autumn. Her head comes up slowly. “We die many times, but there is only one death.” Then in a strong, clear voice, “You love the devil, but today we bury the man…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.