|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I dug my fingernails even deeper into Michael's arm when I heard my brother's bedroom door slam against the wall with a deafening thud. "Where are you, boy?" Dad hollered. He was after Michael, and I didn't know why. "Don't you dare be hidin' from me!"
My brother and I scurried from my bed like frightened mice and hid between the mattress and dresser. I frantically yanked my camouflage blanket from my bed, thinking it would hide us from Dad.
"What did I do, Phillip?" Michael whispered.
I started to say something, but ceased when unknown objects exploded against the walls in Michael's room. "You better answer me right now!" Dad shouted.
Seconds later, I heard his booming footsteps approaching my door. After he stormed into my room, he tore the blanket from us and hurled it through the air, knocking over several items from the top of my dresser. When Dad lurched toward us, Michael tightened his grip on my arm, while pressing his cheek forcefully against mine. His face was sticky from his sweat and tears.
"What did I do, Dad?" Michael cried.
Dad grabbed my brother's arm and violently snatched him away from me. Mucus was clinging to my hands, causing my fingers to lose their grip on Michael. I reached out for my brother's outstretched arms, but Dad thrust his finger into my face and demanded, "Stay right there! I mean it!"
I slid back into the corner and curled my legs up against my throbbing chest.
"I'll beat your —"
The ear-piercing screams of my brother forced me to press my clenched fists against my ears, blocking out Dad's threat. After he dragged Michael into the hallway, I started to get up, but after hearing Dad yelling at Michael to lift his feet, which must have been dragging across the floor, I quickly slid back into the corner beside my bed and wrapped my arms around my trembling legs. I rocked back and forth — hoping the chaos would end.
A determination to protect Michael forced me to accept no other option than to leave my room and go after him. Even with the warning of a beating still echoing in my ears, I tiptoed to my door and peered into the hallway. I could hear Mom hollering from downstairs, but her words were garbled, and I was unable to understand what she was saying.
"Let go of the railing!" Dad hollered.
Sickening slaps on bare skin were followed by even more shrieks from Michael. I crept down the hallway and looked around the corner just in time to see Dad latching onto my brother's shirt, which began to tear when he lifted him from the floor. Mom helplessly tried to free Michael, but Dad violently pushed her away, causing her to stumble into the living room and topple over the arm of the sofa. I immediately disappeared into the shadows at the top of the stairs. When I peered around the corner again, I saw Dad pull an envelope from his pocket and wave it in Mom's face.
"Stop this, Tony! You're going to break his arm!" Mom pleaded.
Dad's voice erupted with explosive anger, while his hand was still welded to Michael's elbow. "Tell me who this Samuel guy is, or I'll really break this little bastard's arm!" Michael whimpered, begging Dad to release him.
"You need to stop this, Tony! You're scaring him over nothing!" Mom latched onto Michael's other arm and yanked him toward her.
During their ruthless tug-of-war battle, my brother's head thrashed back and forth.
Dad raised a fist high into the air, while crumpling the letter in his other. Mom's shoulder and elbow jerked upward. "You never said nothing about no guy named Samuel before!"
"I don't remember anyone named Samuel!" Mom insisted, while lowering her arm.
"Don't lie to me!" He thrust the creased envelope into her face again. "This is a letter he wrote to you, ain't it?"
"Tony, I'm telling you that I don't know anyone named Samuel!"
Still grasping Michael's arm, Dad shoved my brother closer to Mom and shouted, "So, how do you explain this?" "Momma, I'm scared!" Michael cried.
Dad unexpectedly released my brother, and he fell to the floor, almost striking his head on a wooden end table. Michael sat up and massaged his arm before crawling over — like a wounded animal — and hiding behind a green swivel chair in the corner of the living room. I lurched forward, wanting desperately to rush down the stairs and save him, but I didn't dare let Dad know I had disobeyed him by leaving my room. When I heard muffled cries drifting out from behind the chair, a sickening, dull ache shot across my stomach, twisting it into knots. I covered my mouth quickly after realizing a loud gasp had escaped my lips.
When Dad stormed over toward my brother again, Mom jumped in front of him. "Don't you dare lay a hand on him! I mean it, Tony! He doesn't understand any of this!"
Dad took the envelope and pushed it forcefully into Mom's face again. "I wanna know who this Samuel guy is!" he demanded.
"If you'd just tell me where you got that letter, I'm sure I can explain," Mom reasoned.
"Don't act like you don't already know, Ellen!" He shoved Mom into a chair and snatched Michael up by his arm. More tears flowed from my disbelieving eyes when I witnessed Dad grabbing the back of Michael's neck and thrusting his head into Mom's face. He snatched a handful of Michael's hair and jerked his head upward. "So, who does this little bastard really belong to?"
Mom's mouth was sealed.
"Well?" he asked accusingly. "Now it's all making sense! You let me believe he was my kid all along, didn't you?" He smashed Michael's head violently into Mom's chest. "You made me look like nothin' but some pathetic joke all these years!"
"Dad, you're hurting me!" Michael pleaded. "I won't be bad no more! I promise!"
"I said to leave him out of this, Tony!" Mom struggled to lift Michael from her chest while crawling out of the chair. "He doesn't understand why you're doing this to him!" My brother fell backward onto the floor and curled into a ball. Mom stood and pointed down at him. "This has nothing to do with Michael!"
"Are you kiddin' me?" Dad yelled. "It's got everything to do with him!"
As the appalling memory swirled in my mind like leaves stirred up from a brisk, cool wind, I was unexpectedly startled by the blowing of a car horn behind me. I accelerated through the intersection, embarrassed I hadn't noticed that the traffic light had already turned green. Sweat was clinging to my forehead, and I quickly wiped it away with my shirtsleeve. I reached over and turned the air conditioning up and inhaled the cool, welcomed breeze, which quickly chilled my clammy skin. Those awful memories of Dad, the letter, and Michael's abuse were chiseled into my conscience like an engraving on a monument — a memorial to some tragic historic event never intended to be forgotten.
As I drove by somewhat familiar but aging landmarks, my thoughts continued to conspire against me, slowly robbing me of the courage I needed to carry on with my quest to visit my brother that day. I even began to doubt whether my love for Michael was strong enough to bury in my mind all of the inexcusable, evil things I had allowed Dad to do to him. I've always heard people say that love can endure anything, but I'd learned early on in my life that such an expression was nothing more than some false hope embraced by naïve people who had never experienced real pain like us. Michael and I had no choice but to learn that hatred was the most powerful weapon any human could ever use to eradicate others. I watched as Dad successfully used hatred against those he once cared about — including himself.
I shook my head vigorously as I turned slowly into the large, paved entryway to my remote destination. Almost with a sense of relief, my attention was immediately focused on how the ivy-covered stone walls and the huge wrought iron gates towered over my car. I hadn't noticed any of it several months ago when I had left Michael there in the care of strangers.
A small stone building, which looked like a guard shack, was positioned just off to the left of the gate, but I didn't see anyone inside. I wasn't exactly sure when visiting hours began and ended, but since the gate was already open, I assumed it was okay to drive onward. I was kindly motioned forward by a gentleman in a blanched gray uniform. I waved at him before squinting my eyes, trying to veil the late afternoon sunlight blinding me through the car's windshield.
Once I drove through a patch of shade, which darkened the interior of my car, I suddenly realized that I was only minutes away from confronting Michael — alone. A sudden, sharp pain jabbed against the wall of my stomach, causing my foot to lift slightly from the accelerator when I flinched. Regardless, I knew that I simply had to talk to him, even though I wasn't sure he would be able to fully grasp all that I had to say. Would he even acknowledge me? It had been months since I'd been close to my brother, and his current condition did not warrant such neglect, especially from me. Shamefully, I wasted most of the day battling myself over pathetic excuses as to why I shouldn't visit him.
I was able to examine many unfamiliar things along the way to my destination, especially the large red brick building sitting like a fortress on the lush, emerald hill in the center of the vast property. Mammoth trees stood as guards along the narrow, winding road, and dispersed throughout the freshly mowed lawns, several people walked about aimlessly as if they were in some sort of drug-induced trance. A few of them were in uniforms, which brought back the oppressive feelings I'd had moments earlier. Several stared at me as I drove by, but they soon went back to their activities as though I had never disturbed them in the first place. My fingers became a tourniquet around the steering wheel when I spotted one man who reminded me of my dad. His dark, disheveled hair, the withered, scrawny body, the gaunt cheeks, only reminded me of the man I hated more than anyone in the entire world. Thankfully, Michael and I had each other, and Dad vowed to get even with us if we ever joined forces and retaliated against him. Nothing would please him more than to see Michael in such a place, surrounded by iron bars. Dad pledged to ruin Michael's life no matter how long it took him, and shamefully, I almost let him do it.
I reached up and wiped my face, smearing a tear across one of my flushed cheeks. If only I had picked up the ax in the garage, and used it sooner to stop Dad, I might have spared Michael the agonizing nightmares that stalked him so often in the darkness of his room. I wondered how Michael would ever forgive me for abandoning him, especially after the murder that changed everything.
After arriving at the red brick building, I turned off the car. At first, I could only hear the clicking noises coming from the engine as it started to cool. Stalling again, I reached over and picked up the newspaper from the passenger's seat. As my heart rapidly pounded against the inside of my chest, I scanned the headline: "More Clues Leading to Possible Suspects in Westview Murder Case." I dropped it back onto the seat and leaned my head against the headrest. My sigh seemed to echo accusations all around me. With no further excuses left, I knew what I had to do, so I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door. My brother would be expecting me to show up sooner or later.
Today was that day.CHAPTER 2
I had a special gift in the trunk for Michael, which I needed for our visit. Its nostalgic value would be something familiar — something that would reconnect us, and hopefully ease the constant anxiety possessing my thoughts. My real fears were hidden behind a mask of contentment I tried to wear every day, and I was afraid that Michael would see through the disguise — easily discovering the guilt and grief I'd openly pretended never existed. My regrets had become a kind of disease that sought to destroy my body, and a full dose of my brother's forgiveness was about the only cure I thought I needed. In spite of my neglect at protecting him so many times, Michael always seemed to be able to say what I needed to hear — heroically relieving my anguish, while disregarding his own. My hope was that the gift would be the bridge that might span the deep chasm of regret separating us — at least in my mind.
As I nervously walked toward the front of the brick building, I couldn't help but wonder again what I would say to Michael. There were already too many times when I did nothing, especially when we were younger and practically held captive in our rooms. I still can't bear to look at striped wallpaper in a bedroom without thinking of the many nights I would lie on my bed, violently shaking from the sensation that I was languishing behind the bars of some secluded prison — sealed up with nowhere to go, and no way to get to Michael as he cried out into the suffocating darkness for any rescue from Dad's torment. Before I was eight years old, the lines embedded into my wallpaper were just that — lines — but when Dad came home with the letter, the lines forever became iron bars, much like the ones surrounding Michael's new home. When I did try to protect Michael, Dad would often force me back into my bedroom. He would then punish Michael even worse for my interference. Dad somehow interpreted my pathetic attempts at defending my brother as some sort of act of treason against him.
After setting my gift on the ground, not far from the building, I was overcome with disturbing images, which had somehow embedded themselves into my conscience like someone's handprints left to harden in cement. I squeezed my eyes shut and did everything I could to stay in the present, but with little resistance, the humiliation of the past ensnared me, briefly forcing me to resurrect the remembrance of being nothing more than a confused, naïve seventeen-year-old boy left alone with his dying brother in a melancholy hospital room years earlier.
Nearly paralyzed by the sudden memory, I quickly opened my eyes and gazed at several trees huddled closely together like frightened children in the dark. My lungs screamed for air, while I attempted to find any distraction that might rescue me from the carnage I was still hoarding in my mind from that night I watched my brother dying from his overdose in the hospital.
Thankfully, the color of the red brick building reminded me of my favorite crimson sweatshirt my grandmother had given to me during our last Christmas together with her. For several years, it was perfect for the chilly Alabama nights when Michael and I sat together and talked on the old fallen tree at the edge of our property. The soothing melody of the tree frogs helped to shield us from the hatred that sought to invade our thoughts and cheat us out of the few good memories we'd secretly hidden from our parents.
The tree frogs always reminded me of Grandma Gladys, (whom Michael often called Nana Gladie). She would take us outside at night onto her porch so that we could listen to those familiar creatures nestled in the forest behind her house. Grandma would even tell us how she could pick out specific tones coming from particular frogs, which she then began to name for us. Being a realist, I didn't really believe her, but Michael swore that he could identify certain voices as well. To our amusement one evening, Michael yelled out, "Nana! I can hear your favorite frog! It's gotta be Franklin! I know it's him!" Grandma chuckled and dotingly pulled Michael close to her chest and hugged him snugly. In the glow of the citronella candles, I watched my brother's face turn a darker shade from the force of her embrace. Grandma gave the best hugs! Her arms were a cozy security blanket — the only sense of real peace and comfort we'd known during our early childhood.
From her back porch, we would rock on the old metal glider while she sang some of her favorite church songs to us. The feel of the artificial green carpet sent tingling sensations across our bare feet as we pushed off with our toes in order to keep the glider moving in a kind of perpetual motion. While rocking endlessly together, Michael would burrow his bare shoulder into Grandma's abdomen and eventually collapse into a deep slumber — often using one of her breasts as a cushion. Meanwhile, Grandma and I would continue to listen to our nightly serenade. Maturity eventually taught me how important and sacred those special moments truly were with her. Like a priceless family heirloom, those moments with Grandma eventually become a kind of treasure that she had implanted into my memory — a kind of legacy she somehow knew I might need in the future.
One night, Grandma rested her cheek on the top of my head, while gently rubbing my arm. "You know, Phillip," she whispered, "Grandma loves both you boys, but there is something really special about you that I've been wanting to mention."
"What's that, Grandma?" I whispered.
"Well, it's about the way you look for details in things that no one else really sees."
"What do you mean?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Song of the Tree Frogs"
Copyright © 2018 J.W. Kitson.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.