The air was thick with humidity and the fireflies began their nightly cotillion, dancing elegantly along the roadside; common for this time of year in southern Georgia. The sweet and pungent smell of jasmine perfumed the air as Richie sped through the on his way to the barn. His eyes were red and swollen from tears which matched his Western Flyer bike. He pushed hard on those pedals, punishing them as he himself had just been. Fourteen years old and almost a man in spite of what his father said. Well, he showed him good. So, Richie pushed hard on those pedals. So fast, so fast he almost felt like he was outrunning life.
He got to the barn just as dusk fell and gave way to night. The stars begin their slow takeover of the growing darkness as the sun was king no more of the canopy. This is where he and his friends would escape. In their sanctuary, they were gods, kings, arch villains, anything they desired. It had been abandoned sometime but it was the perfect castle for all of their dreams. A couple bushels of old hay served as props in their daydreams. Richie wheeled up, jumped off his bike. He let it coast to hit the barn and settle next to the others piled together. With a quick swab of his forearm, he erased any indication of tears.
He pulled the great doors aside and was greeted by warm light from within. Turning, he found the owners of the three bikes outside: There was Jimmy, Howie, and Stanley “Buddy” Boudreaux. His best friends in all the world. It was Buddy who first spoke noting Richie’s shiner, “holy cow! What did you…” Jimmy reached over and put a hand on Buddy's shoulder to quiet him. Buddy was a little slower than the other two boys to notice not only the black eye on Ritchie but also the blood on his hands. The boys parted as Richie walked through the group. He moved oddly, silently and absent.
“Richie are you OK?” Jimmy squeaked the question in his changing voice.
Richie looked fondly at them all and answered whimsically, “of course! Why wouldn't I be?”
Howie stammered, “but what about the blood on your hands?” his pimpled face concerned, and eyebrows furrowed.
“Oh, don't be such a worrywart!” said Richie. He stared down at his hands for a moment but then casually tried to wipe them off on his shirt. Richie stood up determined, and preceded to announce, “let's explore this place!” and with that set off just like Vasco de Gama searching for the fountain of youth.
The other boys were confused because this barn was fairly typical in size and style and there was nowhere that the quartet had not already searched. But they weren't looking through Richie’s eyes. In his trauma he saw an endless and happy space filled with laughs and light and ripe for exploration. The boys followed Richie as he made his way toward the ladder which led to the second landing of the barn. With a sly smile, Richie ambled up the ladder deftly. Once all the gang got to the top of the ladder Richie said, “alright, who is going to be the brave knight?”
Brave knight was a game that they had often played before however, tonight it sounded ominous and dangerous.
It was Jimmy who spoke up, breaking the heavy air. “Richie what is going on? Are you alright? Did something happen? I…I mean I can see your dad probably lit into you but the blood… whose blood is that, is that yours?”
Richie turned suddenly, and the boys sprung back when they saw him wielding a pitchfork. “Nothing is wrong guys. In fact, everything is great,” Richie said with a wide grin holding the pitchfork in front of him.
The boys all screamed and leaped from the landing to the barn floor beneath them. They ran to the large doors and pulled them apart to be greeted by the flashing lights of two police cars. The lights bathed everything in red and made Richie look even more sinister as he made his way out of the barn. The police yelled at him to drop the pitchfork, but he brandished it and ran towards the group. He was greeted with gunfire. Several bullets struck Richie but critically one pierced his spine.
“It was then that Richie was arrested for the murder of his father. His father's drunken rage had started by choking his mother to death and he couldn't handle the guilt in his daughters cries so he silenced her forever with the back of his hand. When Richie got home, he took it upon himself to exact revenge for the horrors that his father had laid out, almost ceremoniously in the living room. He came upon his father upstairs packing a suitcase. Armed with a butcher knife taken from the kitchen and washed with anger, he showed his father that he was a man. According to the coroner that little boy stabbed his father some 20 plus times.”
The new intern drew a sharp breath. “My God, this poor man.”
The senior resident placed a hand on the young lady's shoulder. “it's OK. Richie has never left that barn. That barn is his safe and beautiful haven. So, he endlessly explores it, his never-ending barn. He still thinks he's 14 years old in that barn; time hasn't passed at all for him over the last 30 years.”
It was then the senior resident turned to address Richie, “alright big guy are you ready to go for a bike ride?”
That's what Richie loved: riding his bike. He grinned widely and nodded yes. With that they took off together. The resident pushed him along in his red wheelchair but in Richie’s mind, it was his flyer and he was on his way back to the barn.