I Found A Knife

A Story site from EldonHughes


By EldonHughes

It seemed reasonable that the head in my attic should belong to the body that crashed through the living room wall. It seemed reasonable that neither one was carried in by the little blond girl holding that bloody pulp of a head in her hands. That's when my brain announced that “reasonable” wasn’t going to get me through this, whatever this was. It wasn’t a nightmare. I wasn't asleep. I wasn’t curled up on my late wife's side of our empty bed.

Reasonable? Reasonable left the building about the same time the sky started raining dead people.

She couldn't have been more than five, she was strapped tight into an airplane seat, resting on its back on the attic floor, and she was screaming. The seat might’ve punched on through the ceiling below, but the fall was halted by the baby crib, stroller, and changing table that had never gotten to serve any other purpose. Old shattered dreams now just… shattered.

I took the head from her and placed it out of sight. It was warm and moist. There was a half empty box of old shirts nearby. I turned it over on the head. I could tell somebody about it later. I didn’t want to see it again, not even by accident.

Maybe it didn’t look like a head to her. It didn’t look much like a head, except for the single hazed eye and the charred remains of an ear. Maybe she didn’t know what it was. Maybe it wasn’t her mother or father. Maybe. God, I hoped not.

She grabbed my arm with both hands, still screaming. Gentle as I could, I pried her fingers apart and transferred their grip to my hands. I held them, soft, in her lap, and leaned down beside her. My ears rang and I could feel her screams careening around against the inside of my head.

I murmured as soft and steady as I could manage.

“There, there, angel. Shhh.  There, there.” I repeated it, over and over and fought to keep my voice from getting any louder. “There, there, angel.  There, there.” It took a bit, but her screams finally wound down into whimpers.

I stopped myself from saying “It'll be all right.”  How could it be?  Snow falling through the jagged hole in my roof hit my cheeks. They smelled like jet fuel and smoke. I could see huge snowflakes against the night sky. They flickered in odd flakes of red and blue.  Emergency lights.  As my ears stopped ringing I could hear sirens echoing against the walls of the neighborhood.

“People are coming to help, angel.  Let’s see if we can find you a blanket.”

I wasn't planning to move her, but when I pulled away she unlatched her seat belt and hurled herself against me. Her arms went around my neck and tiny fingers clenched tight to the back of my shirt collar.

“Ok, angel.  How about we try and get out of here then?”

I stopped long enough at the bottom of the stairs to grab the promised blanket and wrap it around us. Then, more stairs, we went down and into the living room. 

“Eyes closed tight, angel.  Nothing you should see here.”  I don't know if she heard me, but her head didn’t move.

The body had thudded to a stop near the fireplace, right where the special hospital recliner chair used to sit. If I hadn’t dragged that chair to the dump the year before, the body might even have landed in it. Sally would have loved the irony.

No, she wouldn’t.

Oh God, she hated that chair. She’d spent the last three months of her pregnancy either in that chair or flat on her back in bed, being so still.  So still.  All for nothing. First we lost the baby, and then I lost her. I buried them together under an oak tree.

I wonder where this guy is gonna wind up?

Through the front door and our quiet little cul-de-sac looked like something from the Green Zone in Iraq.  Houses all around me were on fire. The next door neighbor’s Buick had been cut in half by a jet engine that smashed the rear end into the pavement like a paper cup. It must have caught the water main because water fountained up through the shattered windshield. The water turned into an icy mist at the top of its arc and then shrieked instantly into steam as it hit the glowing metal of the mangled engine below.

County snow plows cleared the roads regularly, and they’d pushed all the snow into a pile down the street. Their pile was on fire. Jet fuel had burned down through the center of the snow and the whole thing pulsed in random patterns of yellow and orange.

Now that’s a snow globe.

I heard a giggle and realized it was me. I clamped my teeth together, hard and promised myself a long ride on the hysteria train later.

“There there, angel.”  

The nuns back in grade school drilled us over and over again on each of the mortal sins.  We were never to partake of them, even if they had made sure we knew each one like the back of our hands.  But they missed a biggie. “Thou shalt not give false hope to a child.”  That night I was a sinner.

“There there, angel.  Let's go see if we can find Mommy and Daddy.”  Her face looked up at mine, and I saw that tiny spark of hope.  The tears that fell later, when that hope was yanked away, hammered against my heart for years.

We didn't find her Mom and Dad.  Of course we didn't.  In the coming weeks angel became “The Miracle of Flight 505”. A hundred and sixty eight people, dead and littered across the south end of the county, a hundred and sixty nine if you count the fool in a single engine Cessna, flying blind into the path of a 737. All that death and debris, and one angel, safe and sound in my attic.  TV crews from all over the state wanted to tramp mud and jet fuel up and down my stairs in order to get pictures of my attic.  A-holes.  The neighbors offered to chase them off with the hose, but we didn’t get water back for a week.

Search teams found what might have been angel’s parents in a pond over by the city park.  They said dental records said so, anyway.

Eighteen years later and I can still see places where roof shingles don’t match, where permanently scarred trees grow at weird angles. Every hard winter leaves a pothole the shape of a Buick in front of the house next door.

Small children can forgive and forget.  Old fools, not so much.  And damn fools?  We never do. These days I’m grateful for that.

“Angel” turned out to be named April.  April Reynolds.  She has an aunt and uncle in Ohio. It took them two days to get to us through the weather.  April stayed against my shoulder the whole time. They have a dairy farm and a flock of kids of their own.  April grew up loved and only sometimes lonely.  I never got to be “Dad” to anyone, but I got to be “Uncle Mike”.

We exchange small gifts, phone calls at birthdays and holidays, and she sends me the occasional card.

They’re always signed, “Love, Angel”.

 Poison And Wine covers

Book One of the Poison and Wine series by C.H. Valentino and Eldon Hughes.

Dust To Dust -Book Two in the Series. 

Coming Spring, 2015 - Book Three! 



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I Found a Knife

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