Gary V. Powell
When the glass shatters I feel the sound in my heart like those Fourth of July fireworks that burst with a dull thud but leave no streamers. Most of my little brother Connor’s attempts fall short, barely clearing the barbed-wire fence. Me, I’m fourteen and used to play Little League. I’m able to break windows as high as the third floor. The vacant factory fills two city blocks, windows all around. Connor and I have been throwing rocks for an hour, but it will take days to finish the job.
“Hear that siren?” he says. “They’re probably coming for us.”
“They don’t care about us.”
Some of the windows are already broken. I guess a lot of people have it in for this place. Our old man worked here once, when he still lived at home. It was our old man taught me to play ball.
“They’ll still be at it,” Connor says, referring to our mom and her new boyfriend, Ray.
“No they won’t. It’s Friday night. They’ll go to a movie or a restaurant.”
“If they go for pizza, I hope they bring some home.”
I work a pattern. Starting at the top, I take out three windows, twelve panes, then move down to the second floor. If it’s a really good throw, the glass explodes, leaving empty space while filling the empty I feel inside. Most of the time, though, jagged shards remain, and I try for those without much success. I’m a shortstop, not a pitcher.
Connor sits, knees close to his chest, chin resting on his knees. “That sonofabitch will stay the night.”
“Most likely.” They all stay the night, except for the ones that leave at first light.
For a while, after the factory closed, they kept a security guard, but now that the place has been gutted of its copper wiring and plumbing, there’s no point. They put a lock on the gate and posted No Trespassing signs. If they don’t replace the broken glass, snow and ice will fill the deserted work space. Come spring, black mold will infiltrate, and they might as well bulldoze.
“He smells like onions,” Connor says.
“He’s not as bad as the last one.” The last boyfriend used his belt on us, but he stopped coming around after I put bleach in his spaghetti.
Connor stands and brushes dirt from his jeans. That siren is getting closer, only a few blocks away. The factory backs up to railroad tracks. Other abandoned factories stand adjacent. There used to be a farm across the street. Sad-eyed cows still wander the pastures, but the house is deserted.
“We better get going, Graham,” Connor says. He’s already running for his bike. I take out two more panes before hopping on my own bike. The siren whoops as the squad pulls up, rollers flashing. I can hear tires crunching on gravel when the car turns off the main road and heads our way.
“Leave the bikes,” I tell Connor. We can always steal new bikes.
We run for the railroad tracks, along the fence line. There’s a ditch with weeds and bull thorn this side of the tracks. On the other side, there’s a woods that leads to a creek that empties into the river.
The cops follow us as far as the ditch. One of them calls out, saying they just want to talk. Connor’s face is bleeding and thorns are thick on his shirtsleeves.
“I told you they were coming,” he says. “We must have set off an alarm.”
“They won’t follow us here.”
“I liked that bike.”
I slap at a mosquito. It’s getting dark. Once the sun sets it’ll get cold. Connor’s not far from tears, and I’ll have to deal with that, too.
“We’ll get another bike. Come on, this way.”
If we reach the creek before dark, we can follow it to the bridge and climb the rocks. Once we’re on the road, we’re home free.
“Are there bums living here?”
“I don’t think so. What do you know about bums?”
Older, bigger kids would be more like it. They roam the streets in packs like wild dogs. It’s getting hard to see, and Connor trips on a discarded mattress. Up ahead is the creek. I can smell it and see lights on the other side.
“Mom said Dad’s a bum. Does he live here?”
“Who knows? Maybe.”
Across the creek, they’re grilling hamburgers. I’m hungry, because I haven’t eaten since lunch at school. When he still lived with us our old man liked to cook. He’d grill burgers and tell our mom about his day at the factory. They’d smoke cigarettes and drink whisky while Connor and I played in the yard.
It takes about an hour, but we make it to the bridge and hike along the road. We live next to the train tracks. When trains go by, it’s like they’re running through our house.
“See, I knew he’d be here,” Connor says.
Sure enough, Ray’s Ford pickup is parked out front. It’s the second time I’ve been wrong this evening. “I guess they decided to stay in.”
“I don’t want to go in while he’s here.”
“I’m really hungry.”
“They’re probably kissing on the sofa.”
“So, who cares?”
We go around back and slip through the door. There’s leftover pizza and empty beer cans on the kitchen table. The lights are out in the living room, but the TV is on. I grab for pizza and lift a six pack from the refrigerator. When I turn around, Connor’s grinning, a little wild-eyed. He’s discovered Ray’s car keys and wallet on the counter. I grab for both.
Connor’s right behind me when we tiptoe through the yard. I’ve got ideas about where we could go, but the first place is the factory. The cops will be gone by now, and I want to hear and feel what it’s like when a full can of beer goes through a window.
Gary V. Powell’s stories have appeared in several literary journals including The Briar Cliff Review, Amarillo Bay, moonShine Review, The Thomas Wolfe Review, and Dogzplot Flash Fiction. In addition, several of his stories have placed or been selected as finalists in national contests. In 2012, he has work forthcoming at Main Street Rag and Blue Lake Review. His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is due out later this year with Main Street Rag Press. He lives near the shores of Lake Norman with his beautiful wife and amazing son.