All they were looking for was a good time.
Four boys in Maracarsa, Mississippi on a Saturday night. All were
white: two had crew cuts and two had long brown hair that hung
straight & stringy down to the middle of their backs. They
wore red flannel shirts loosely over white t-shirts that were
tucked into their blue jeans ripped over the left knee, like some
sort of uniform for troublemakers. Their shoes reflected the personality
of each of the boys, of course: after all, no one wanted to stifle
Cigarettes flew as they walked along the worn path in the woods.
It was nine o'clock at night, and all they were doing was walkin',
talkin', and smokin' drags. Walkin', talkin', and smokin' drags.
Even a complete ho-bag like Martin Chesterquat knew that was no
way to spend a Saturday night in July, even in Maracarsa.
Jimmy Davis was the youngest of the group, even if it was only
by three months. Fidgety, edgy and immature, he knew the only
reason he was one of the gang was 'cause he looked about ten years
older than he was and could go in and buy a box a' drags without
ever being asked for ID. He would button up the flannel shirt
he always wore, run a brush through his long brown hair, put it
into a ponytail, stuff the ponytail down the back of his shirt,
and just walk in the door. 'Course, he'd have to change stores
every couple 'a weeks or so to make sure no one found out he was
only 14. He was way tall and big for his age, though, and he could
get away with pretty much anything he wanted, including beatin'
on the other guys, which he always did when he was really bored.
He wasn't that bored yet, but he was gettin' there. He asked one
of the crew-cut boys, "Hey, Doc, we got a plan tonight?"
Doc was Robert Broward (pronounced "Bro-ward", as he
would constantly remind everyone he ever met), the oldest, shortest,
and undoubtedly the smartest guy in the group. He wore a crew
cut to please his old man, who was brought up under "strict
military discipline" and took way too much of a liking to
it. He was 18, a senior in high school. He knew he was probably
the only one of this bunch who would ever graduate high school,
and he only had one year left until he actually did it. He took
one last drag on his cigarette, then stomped it into the ground.
One more year, he thought, one more and then I am gone. Then I'll
head straight for Jackson where I might actually be able to make
a name for myself, instead of ending up an old blind drunk like
these guys are gonna be. He wasn't sure anymore why he hung out
with these guys, he just knew he always had. He saw the look in
Jimmy's eye, and knew he was going to go home with a black eye,
which meant his old man would make them a matching set, if he
didn't come up with something, quick. Problem was, he couldn't
think of anything. He decided to take a chance and actually be
honest. "I hadn't thought of anything. You?"
Duke tossed his hair back from the front of his face and held
up the cigarette lighter so Doc could light up his next smoke.
Duke was Christopher Duke, a 16 year old who knew how to do only
one thing well: cause trouble. The others let him hang out with
them for one main reason: the youngest son of the wealthiest family
in town, he was given a car on his birthday. Granted, it was a
'77 Suburban with 200,000 miles on it, but it was a hell of a
lot better than walking for hours. Just like they were doing tonight.
He glanced quickly at Jimmy, then whispered to Doc, "I don't
know either, but we better think of som'in quick."
Rick tapped Doc on the arm, and pointed to a clearing that was
just a few feet ahead. He idolized Doc, and would do anything
to make the older boy notice him. He copied Doc's look down to
the crew cut, talked like him, even used his talents on the computers
at school to make the four of them fake IDs so they could buy
drags and beer. Tonight, Doc needed entertainment, and Rick was
more than happy to oblige. "What d'you think's in there?"
The last thing any of them expected to see in the middle of the
woods was this old shack. Moss clung to the roof and walls of
the building like mold on an orange. The branches of a nearby
weeping willow tree hung around the doorframe, like it was mourning
the loss of one of its children. It was too dark to see a lot
of the building, but you could just barely make out a rickety
wooden staircase that led up to a pair of closed, whitewashed
Three of the boys looked at the shack and saw nothing special.
Jimmy, though, saw fireworks. Yeah, this was gonna be fun. "Hey
guys," he declared, "you ever see a real house on fire?"
All three shook their heads. The only place anything exciting
ever happened in Maracarsa was on television. Jimmy bragged, "I
heard that a fire can go from one little spark to bringing a whole
house down in five minutes. Wanna see if it's true?"
The three boys nodded. They all heard all the stories about kids
in big cities like Detroit who went out and set fires day 'fore
Halloween. They always thought it sounded kinda fun. Now they
were going to get their chance to see.
Duke threw Jimmy the matches, and Doc handed him one of the beers
from their stash. Doc told Jimmy, "Your idea - you do it."
Jimmy took in a deep breath. He wanted to try it, and the idea
was exciting to him, but he never thought he would have to do
it on his own. He then looked back at the other three guys, who
were waving and edging him on. He went up to the building, cracked
open the beer, poured it down the wooden steps of the stair case,
and lit a match. Dropping the match on the first step, he stepped
back to watch his work.
The alcohol in the beer started to burn immediately, engulfing
the steps in flames, to the excited cheers of the four boys standing
off to the side. The fire quickly spread in the all-wood structure,
engulfing the doors and the banisters of the staircase. It climbed
to the roof of the building and spread out to consume the walls
in a destructive embrace. The wind picked up, fanning the flames
higher, and sending a tongue of flame out to touch one of the
branches of the willow tree. The small leaves burned quickly,
and soon the building and it's guardian protector succumbed to
the power of the flames.
The four boys cheered and high-fived each other. Then, noticing
they were on top of a fairly high hill, Doc called out to the
others, "Come on, let's get out of here before someone sees
us." The group ran down the hill in an excited frenzy to
get back to Duke's car and really get their evening going.
As the roof of the building caved in, they had never even noticed
the steel cross that had graced the top of the building since
the days when slaves escaped the plantation for a few hours to
worship here in the woods.
All they were looking for was a good time.
End Prologue...[Back to Fiction Page]