When you cheat Death, somebody's got to die.
|Throughout time, there have been many accounts of people who claimed to have cheated Death. Yet, is it really possible to outsmart the Grim Reaper? I present, for your entertainment, a story of just such an account. It's about a boy, that should have, by all rights and purposes, died on a beautiful Sunday morning in Omaha, Nebraska. Yet, amazingly escaped his Fate. Or does he? It will be for you to decide in a story I call...
Ol' Fat Charlie
Jack hated dogs.
When he was four, a pit-bull attacked him, latched onto the back of his head, and then dragged him around the yard like an old bone. But Jack was lucky. A fat man pushing a shopping cart full of bulging plastic bags saw what was happening and came running. The dog bit two fingers off the man’s hand before it quit and ran off. There was blood everywhere, but Jack got the worst of it: a large flap of scalp was ripped from the side of his head like a piece of carpet, he suffered deep puncture wounds, and completely lost his left ear.
The man carried him to the house and Jack remembered him telling his momma, “He’ll be all right, but you better keep him away from dogs from now on. He’s been marked. Ain’t no animal alive that’ll ever take kindly to him after this.”
Jack and his momma were poor, and welfare just would not pay for cosmetic surgery. So, Jack grew up like that: teased and made fun of his whole life because his head wouldn’t grow hair on one side, and his poor mangled ear stuck out like a piece of chewed gum. Jack’s momma shaved his head and gave him a baseball cap which he wore sideways with the brim pulled down over his bad ear. But kids can be cruel, and Jack was left with scars that hurt a whole lot more than any of the ones on his head.
When he was eighteen, his momma died, and Jack pulled together enough money to buy a used car, packed his bags, and drove the hell out of town for good.
About ten miles out, the car heated up, the cooler quit on him, and then the temperature gage pegged all the way into the red. “Geez, now what?” As if in answer to his question, the radiator hose blew and showered the windshield in antifreeze. “Damn!” Jack punched the dashboard, and then pulled over to the side of the road just as the engine burped and lunged to a halt. There was an old burnt-out farmhouse off to the left, and he cranked the wheel hard and coasted part way down the dirt driveway.
The car rolled to a dead stop.
Jack wiped the beads of perspiration from his bald head and scratched at his tuft of ear. “Damn!” He climbed out of the car and popped the hood. Scalding steam shot up into his face and Jack let out a yell as he jumped back out of the way. “You piece of crap!” he said, kicking the car as hard as he could and cussing again. “Damn!” Then he hobbled down the driveway toward the farmhouse.
The place was nothing more than a shack with a burnt-out barn that was as black as night. There were piles of aluminum cans and bottles littered about the front yard. Jack never saw so much junk in all his life. An old fat fella sat on the front porch with a handful of dogs lying around him. Jack stopped short when he saw the dogs.
“Don’t worry none, boy,” the ol’ geezer hollered. “They’re too tired in the afternoons to come a’chasing after ya.”
It was true. The dogs hadn’t moved. They didn’t even lift their heads to take a look at him. They acted like they were dead. “My car broke down,” Jack said lamely.
The old man spit, and then smiled showing teeth the color of bark and honey. “You don’t say.” He spit again, barely clearing the porch. “There ain’t no phone ‘round here, if’n that’s whatcha was lookin’ for.”
“No, I ain’t got no one to call no how. I’m on my own,” Jack said, feeling as if he could tell this fat old man just about anything. “But I was hoping you’d let me borrow some water.”
“Now, water I got,” the fat man said, smiling and slapping a knee. “There’s a bucket over there by the hand pump, but if I was you, I’d let that engine cool down a bit ‘fore I tried pouring water on it--you’re liable to bust the heads.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Thanks.”
“Why don’t ya sit down here and get outta the sun. We can talk a bit while your car cools down. Hell, I ain’t had no visitors for darn near forever. What’s yer name, boy?”
“Jackie . . . uh, Jack Green,” he said and plopped down on the bench next to the old man trying to act full-grown.
“Jackie Green, huh . . . well now, that name do sound familiar. You live in town?”
“I used to, but not no more. I’m outta that dump. All’s those people wanna do back there is rub my face in the dirt.”
“Yeah, I know whatcha mean. I’ve been trying to get outta here for years,” he said, then let out a laugh. “But this is as far as I ever got. My name’s Charlie,” he said reaching for Jack’s hand. “But folks just call me, Fat Charlie.”
Fat Charlie’s handshake was warm and friendly. Jack didn’t know why, but for some reason he liked this big old guy. He noticed that two of his fingers were missing.
“Oh, don’t worry none ‘bout that, Jack, I won’t bleed on ya. I lost those a long time ago.” He studied Jack for awhile. “You look like you mighta lost some parts yerself.”
Jack didn’t want to talk about it. He looked out at all the piles of garbage. “So, what duya do with all that stuff?”
“Ha!” he slapped his leg again. “I collect it! Hell, you’d be surprised how much money I got stacked out there--it’s darn near a small fortune in aluminum, glass, copper, and steel. They pay good money for stuff you know.”
Jack’s attention was drawn to the barn. It looked like it had been through a terrible fire and the roof had fallen in on itself. “What happened there?”
“Oh, that. Well, that there is what I call the inevitable,” the old man said spitting again. “Some time back, me and the dogs got stuck in that barn when it caught all on fire. In fact, I’m the darn fool that started it. I just didn’t have a good enough grip on that old lantern of mine. It slipped right outta my bad hand. The next thing I know, there’s a wall of flames in front of the door, and me and all the dogs got trapped inside.”
He spit and wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “All because I tried to save somebody’s life--that’s the inevitable part, see. What most folks don’t know is that when you save somebody’s life, Ol’ Mr. Death starts following you around. He don’t much like showing up to claim someone and then have the darn fool up and get saved. Of course, I didn’t know that ‘til it was too late.”
“What duya mean, too late?”
“Well, that was the same day I walked into town collecting cans. You’d be amazed at the number of cans people just throw right out on the street, Jack. Anyways, I heard a horrible growling noise and I came up on this dog trying to bite a little boy’s head clean off.”
Jack’s mouth dropped open and he automatically reached for his missing ear.
“So, I run right over there. But that dog was a mean ‘un, and I guess he thought ol’ Fat Charlie was trying to steal his food or sumtin’, ‘cause he bit my hand so hard he plum took these two fingers right off.”
It was starting to get dark and the dogs began to stir. It was like the more Fat Charlie talked, the more they came alive.
“But I saved that boy, yes I did, and then I walked on home. By the time I got here the bleeding had nearly stopped. I guess I had no business holding that lantern with my bad hand. It was my own darn fault.” He stopped talking and looked out at the darkening sky and smiled. Then he stared real hard at Jack. “But all that don’t matter none now that you’re here.”
The dogs growled as they circled the bench; their eyes shone red as blood.
“What are ya talking about?”
“Come on, you know, Jackie. I told your momma to keep you away from dogs--that you were marked.” He stood and backed away as the dogs moved in. “But here ya are. Come to set ol’ Fat Charlie and his hounds free at last. Thank you, son.”
“You’re crazy! Call your dogs off!”
“We died for you that day, boy. Now it’s your turn to return the favor.”
The dogs were all over Jack even before he could stand. They dragged him down to the ground and ripped his throat out. Then they started in on his soft belly.
Fat Charlie spit, and then joined in.