Sunday, January 19, 2014

Whiskey Nights, an award-winning short story by Phyllis Humby

Broderick Taylor clutched his gun waist high and peered into the darkness. The ominous silhouettes could be small trees−or approaching men. Moisture crawled from beneath his arms to trail the contours of a body gone soft with age and excess.
“Gary! Trevor! Stay away from here. You hear me? Stay away!” Taylor’s hoarse bellow echoed in the stillness. The rapid thud of his heart pounded against his chest. It was another whiskey night.
Back in the cabin, he slammed the door and slid the bolt lock into place. With the pistol firmly in his grasp, he slumped in his chair, the collar of his heavy jacket still up around his ears. Heat blasted from the kerosene oil stove until a film of sweat covered the fringed surface of his scalp, and his head nodded towards his chest until eventually a grey-bristled cheek came to rest on the scarred surface of the old pine table.
At times like this he was no longer Broderick Carowag Taylor. On whiskey nights he was simply Bo − Bo Taylor from Slave Lake. He’d never mentioned the hideaway. Especially not to his college-age daughters. Overgrowth had swallowed the narrow road to the cabin and it was Bo’s habit to conceal his vehicle in the trees and use an ATV to cover the last few miles to the desolate spot, so the cabin’s existence remained secret even from local hunters.
Though terrified to be here, he couldn’t stay away. Amber courage from these bottles allowed him to remain with her. Protect her. And he owed her that much.
Passed out in a whiskey-induced stupor, his deep rhythmic snoring, which only those in a dead sleep or dead drunk were capable of, wavered for the occasional moan. Awake or asleep, it didn’t matter. Remorse gnawed at his gut.
Donations to the women’s shelter did nothing to ease the ache. No matter how many fundraisers he spearheaded, the guilt continued to fester like a boil on his ass. Whiskey burned its way up the esophagus, splashing the back of his throat. Bo gagged, though in truth, it was the phantom smell of blood and vomit that finally jerked him awake.
A coyote yipped in the distance. Bo cocked his head. In one fluid motion − one smooth and rapid action that belied his drunken state − his boots scraped the gritty surface of the plank floor and the bleary-eyed executive was on his feet, drool trickling along his whiskered chin. With both hands steadying the gun, he blinked against the stinging sweat in his eyes and positioned himself in front of the door.
Bo had never actually seen Trevor and Gary in the woods, but he knew they were there. On whiskey nights he’d heard them taunting, laughing, threatening. He eyed the barricaded window and, gulping for air, pulled open the top snap of his jacket. Other than Bo’s ragged breathing, the cabin was deathly quiet as he shuffled a 360-degree turn.
“It’s okay,” he whispered.
Except for the two of them, the cabin was empty.
His pinstriped suit lay in a heap on the floor, the soft folds of a creamy silk shirt nestled against the sharp crease of his pants. The toe of his Italian loafers – soft as kid − edged from beneath the pile.
He didn’t know how much longer he could protect her. The years had taken their toll. After circling once more, he confirmed the all clear.
Two boot-steps away from the bed, Bo lowered his weapon and wiped the perspiration off his face. “I scared them away,” he said. For now, he thought.
A few feeble tugs on the snaps and his jacket opened. Dust bunnies scattered when it dropped to the floor. Sinking onto the grey and white tick mattress, he rested his head against a corner of the feather pillow − its sickly-sweet smell hauntingly familiar.
After his grandpa passed away, he and his buddies had come here to smoke grass and drink beer. It was a cool place to hang out.
All of that changed in August of ’81.
Now the fishing rods stayed in the rack behind the door. A dust-covered tackle box lay nearby. Two-burner Coleman stove. Styrofoam cooler. All untouched.
Bo shivered. In a cold sweat, he reached for the wool blanket and eased a portion of it across his body.
Turned onto his side, he gripped the edge of the mattress, his pistol wedged against his soft belly. His old Rolling Stones t-shirt, marked with faded spatters and stains, stretched taut across his chest. The filthy, frayed jeans that hung from his hips years ago, were now uncomfortably snug.
Dampness under his arms spread in darkening circles. Beneath his lids, his eyes roamed back and forth as if watching an action movie.
They were doing doughnuts in the parking lot of the vacant Safeway store when they noticed her walking across the cracked concrete in their direction. A pouch purse hung from the edge of her shoulder by a skinny leather strap and skimmed the bottom of her denim shorts. Bo watched her approach, admiring her long, bare arms and legs.
Trevor revved the engine and the car jerked forward, black rubber marking the pavement. The two-door Impala circled the lone girl and then rocked to a stop directly in her path.
She looked at each of them, though Bo thought her gaze lingered on Trevor. He figured she recognized him as the high school quarterback. She rested her forearms on the window opening. Her breasts swelled above the vee of her halter-top and her stylish permed hair smelled of lemons when she leaned into the car. With her shiny pink lips pulled back in a smile, Bo noticed that her front teeth overlapped, but not by much.
“Don’t you guys have nothin’ better to do?” Her voice was casual and friendly.
“I can think of somethin’. How ’bout a beer?”
A nervous giggle. Then her eyes widened when Trevor slid his football jacket off the twelve-pack in the backseat. She looked over her shoulder across the empty lot. Her teeth raked the corner of her bottom lip.
Trevor laughed. “Come on. You know me. And I know you. I’ve seen you around.”
“You have?” Another giggle, as if she couldn’t believe that THE Trevor Davis actually remembered her from school.
Bo knew she wouldn’t resist Trevor. None of the girls did. His buddy was smooth and always in control. Something he never let Bo and Gary forget.
When she opened the car door, they all hooted with laughter. Gary, always game to follow Trevor’s lead, jumped out and tilted the seat. Bo smelled the heat of the pavement on her as she climbed into the back of the car. There was another scent, like sweet jasmine. Kind of a sickly sweet smell that made his stomach flutter. Gary and Trevor grinned and Bo swallowed hard as she folded her long slender body in beside his.
He didn’t catch her name. He thought she said it was Carlene, or Charlene, or maybe even Cheryl.
They drank it warm from the case, then stopped by Trevor’s place and scooped a few more beers from his old man’s fridge. By then they already had a buzz on.
It could have been Gary that said, “Let’s go to the cabin, man.”
They all knew he meant Bo’s cabin. It was on the lake. Smack in the middle of the woods. Smack in the middle of nowhere.
They drank enough beers that everything they said sounded funny. Laughter spilled from the cabin and trickled across the sun-shimmered waters of the lake. Trevor and Gary sat in the two beat-up chairs. She perched on the cooler for a while until Trevor, with his broad-shouldered good looks, coaxed the girl onto his lap. Bo leaned against the makeshift counter, his fingers drumming the chipped surface. He didn’t like what he was seeing. Even though his buddy promised that the last time was definitely the last time, Trevor could do crazy shit when he was drinking. Uneasy, Bo popped another cap.
Suggesting a dip in the lake, Gary started stripping off his clothes and soon they were all naked. All but the girl; she ran into the lake wearing her panties. Atop Trevor’s shoulders, her wet body glistened against the setting sun. She horsed around with each of them, grabbing Bo from behind. He could never forget her exuberant squeals or the feel of her pointy breasts pressed against his back as she clung to his neck, there in his grandfather’s favorite fishing hole.
After the swim, she wanted to go home. She had to babysit, she said. She needed to go. Bo didn’t want her to leave but was afraid for her to stay.
Trevor slurred his words when he told her to shut up. Even the chill of the lake couldn’t disguise the number of long-necks he’d consumed.
Bo’s gut clenched. The voice in his head screamed, Oh shit, this could get bad. He kept his eyes on the girl.
With a stubborn set to her jaw, she heaved one beer bottle after another against the bare walls of the cabin. “Take me home! NOW.”
Trevor’s laugh was ugly − his expression, the one normally reserved for trotting onto the football field, was determined and smug.
Defiance turned to fear. Her eyes shimmered and when she blinked, a tear dropped onto her flushed cheek. Her chin quivered and a tiny sound like the mewing of a kitten escaped her throat through clenched lips. She started to cry. Quiet sniffles at first. As the boys formed a circle around her, she began to sob. Big hiccupping sobs. Her shoulders shook until her entire body trembled.
Bo stared at the nipples spiking the thin material of her top. He cursed. He was pissed off with Trevor. Even as he grew hard, he wished this wasn’t happening.
“Teasing little bitch.” Trevor slapped her with an open hand.
Bo, paralyzed, watched as his buddy hit her again. She fell backwards onto the mattress, the metal springs groaning in protest. Trevor landed on top of her.
Bo’s breath caught. Beer boiled up in his stomach and he rubbed the ache in his groin.
She fought back. Her bony arms and legs flailed in all directions until her elbow connected with Trevor’s nose. Blood freckled her face and sprayed the wall.
“Hold her! Hold her!”
They swung into action at Trevor’s command. Bo jumped onto the bed and grabbed her thin wrists, her pulse racing beneath his fingers. The gag Gary shoved in her mouth muffled her screams for help, but didn’t quiet the terror in her eyes.
She looked directly at Bo – her eyebrows arched in a plea for mercy and continued to stare up at him as he knelt, one knee on either side of her head, her wrists pinned between his hands.
After Gary’s turn, Bo did what was expected of him. The cheering of his friends spurred him on. With her gaze still locked on his, he squeezed his eyes shut and kept them closed. The sweet sickly smell of her perfume made his stomach churn. Hot beer sloshed against his throat. He rolled off her and leaned his head over the side of the bed, spewing an afternoon’s worth onto the dusty floor.
The other guys laughed. He stumbled from the bed, his bowels cramping as he continued to retch. He clung to the wall against the motion of the room. The nausea passed. He took a deep breath and wiped his mouth as Trevor approached the battered girl with a filleting knife. Bo, weak and swaying, grabbed his arm. “What the fuck, man. No, come on.” His voice broke knowing he could never change Trevor’s mind.
Teeth clenched and jaw muscles contracting, Trevor stared Bo down, his eyes narrow slits of intimidation. A bitterness rose in Bo’s throat. He hated Trevor as much as he hated himself.
“No? Is that what you said? You stupid fuck. You going to prison? Taking us with you?” Trevor’s hand shot out, hitting Bo in the chest and knocking him backwards. Gary stepped between them.
Out of the corner of his eye, Bo caught the movement. She was off the bed. With the top half of a broken bottle in her hand, she was limping towards the door. In a moment he’d always regret, he lunged at her, grabbing her long hair. The weapon flew from her hand and smashed against the leg of the table. His buddies were at his side by the time she collapsed like a rag doll to the floor.
Trevor straddled her in an instant. He raised the knife and brought it down again and again. He was breathing hard. He slid off her body, handing over the knife to Gary, and ultimately to Bo.
Bo squeezed the slippery handle. Blood and vomit cloaked him like a suffocating shroud. The ravaged remains of the girl with the crooked tooth and lemony hair lay in a puddled mass. His two best friends, their faces spattered, knelt next to her.
“Do it!” “Come on! Do it!” Spittle flew from their mouths as they shouted.
Bo raised the knife ...
Just then, something landed with a thump on the roof directly above his bed. Bo blasted two holes into the rafters. “Stay away, you bastards.”
With a throaty roar, he charged from the cabin in his thin t-shirt. Coughing as the icy dawn air burned his lungs he grabbed the gas can sitting at the edge of the open porch and jumped down on to the soft gravel.
Bo headed into the woods.
Surrounded by frost-glazed brush, the rusted Impala looked the same to him as it had when he parked it. He dumped the gasoline through the open window and lit the match. Blackbirds took flight as his keening wail sounded across the stark backwoods.
Overwhelmed by fumes, he reeled away from the car and ran towards the cabin. Broderick’s hysteria calmed as he crouched over the bed. His fingers stuttered across the wool blanket. He dropped to his knees. The gun lay on the stained mattress.
The Impala’s exploding gas tank smothered the blast of the Glock.
Fort McMurray Today reported that the remains discovered in the burned out Chevy near the Slave Lake community have been identified as Gary Crawford and Trevor Davis. The skeleton of a young girl found on the bed in the cabin was identified as Cheryl Stevens. All three local teens had been missing for more than thirty-two years. Officials remain tight-lipped about the possibility of more victims.
There is speculation that the well-respected Mr. Broderick Carowag Taylor, Fort McMurray’s most generous humanitarian and benefactor, and recent recipient of the Mayor’s Citizen of the Year award, was murdered when he unwittingly exposed a killer’s dumping ground during a nostalgic visit to the cabin built by his late grandfather.

Phyllis Humby lives in rural Camlachie, Ontario, where she indulges in her passion for writing suspense/thriller novels. Her stories, often scheming, twisted, or spooky, have been published in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. 
Whiskey Nights” won second place and $1,500 in the Your McMurray Magazine / NorthWord literary journal Short Story Contest, which Phyllis heard about on Quick Brown Fox (here). 
Phyllis also writes a humorous monthly opinion column, “Up Close and Personal” for First Monday magazine. She blogs here and her Facebook page is here.

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Barrie, Brampton, Bolton, Burlington, Caledon, Cambridge, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Stouffville, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Algoma, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.


  1. Very provocative, well written and entertaining.

  2. I just saw this now, and to close the circle Phylis, I am also a graduate of Brian's writing courses. I went to a couple in 2002-2003 in Oakville and Burlington, and since then have had half a dozen short stories published and been nominated six times for Arthur Ellis Awards.I'm also a founder member of the same Northword magazine you mentioned, and was the driving force behind the competition you came second in. Even better, when I started out I was a warehouse manager, and I am now the communications manager at the local college, so I had a career change to turn my hobby into my livelihood.
    And it all started in Brian Henry's class.