Terrifying family secrets have plagued Hughie Decker for as long as he can remember. Now, just as his life and career have finally begun to make strides, a seemingly innocent story from his hometown newspaper leaves Decker with no choice.
Published: April 2018
The Offspring is a gripping narrative filled with convoluted schemes and a secret that destroyed so many lives.
Terrifying family secrets have plagued Hughie Decker for as long as he can remember. Now, just as his life and career have finally begun to make strides, a seemingly innocent story from his hometown newspaper leaves Decker with no choice. He must return to his boyhood home to confront the horrid truth that destroyed so many lives.
He could not bring himself to open the door. It felt much safer to remain inside, even though the air was oppressively warm and cloying. He glanced through the windshield to that spot, to where he knew he must go. He took a deep breath. Steeling his resolve, he opened the door and stepped down to the ground. He took another deep breath then forced himself to walk through the trees to near the water’s edge. He looked around. Considering the years that had passed since he last stood on this spot, some things obviously had changed, and yet there was an eerie sameness to the place. Despite the heat, a shiver ran up his spine. He did not belong here, but remain he must, even though he felt like an intruder. Sutter’s Pool looked the worse for wear. Some trees had toppled over and lay barren. Twists of bark peeled from the trunks and only desiccated brown leaves clung to splintered branches. He looked up at the one exception to the ravages of time and neglect, the one unfortunate constant: that magnificent giant elm, towering before him, more majestic than ever, and still rooted firmly to that spot in a contrasting effusion of glorious green splendor. High above, a burst of sunlight illuminated a short length of rope. It was secured to the limb by a large slipknot, its dangling end tattered and worn. As he stared at it, memories, or what he imagined to be memories (for he was not here when that most tragic of events happened) swirled in his head like a swarm of wasps bent on revenge. Slowly, as the wind picked up, the dangling rope flicked in lazy circles, gaining momentum in the frenzy of its own macabre dance.
The sky, only a moment before the essence of cerulean blue, clouded over, not in portentous gray but hazy-like, as if seen through the gauze of time. The breeze slowed, but its effect could still be heard through the gently rustling leaves of the elm. As the man lost him- self in the hypnotic swing of the threads of dangling rope, suddenly a voice rang out. No, two voices. Two male voices. Their laughter trilled through the afternoon air, joyous in abandon, epitomizing all that is carefree youth. The sounds swayed back and forth overhead, like that piece of rope, as if tethered to a giant pendulum. Suddenly there came a loud splash—kuh-thunk-kuh!—and the man turned toward the pond just as a boy’s torso broke the surface with a powerful thrust. How he managed to laugh without swallowing mouthfuls of water was a wonder. The boy swept the waves of hair from his eyes and pointed to his left. “I bet you can’t beat that somersault, little brother!” The man turned to see another boy, this one a few years younger than the valiant swimmer, standing near the water’s edge. The younger boy was trying in vain to grab hold of the swinging rope. The man looked up to see a rope swing knotted to that same limb high above where moments before had hung only a remnant. In a desperate attempt to catch the rope swing, the younger boy lunged too far and awkwardly cartwheeled into the pond. He clumsily pulled himself onto the bank, while the older brother effortlessly treaded water and was laughing hysterically. “Oh, yeah?” cried the younger boy, picking up a clod of dirt. “Incoming torpedo! Fire one!” he yelled, whipping it at the cackling swimmer. But the older one was too fast and jackknifed below as the dirt bomb splattered harmlessly on the surface. The boy picked up another clod and waited for his brother to come up for air. But he didn’t. The boy waited. The seconds ticked by. “Come on, Tommy, quit it. Here. I’m throwing the dirt bomb away.” And he did. “Game’s over, okay?” Still nothing. He knew his brother was a strong swimmer, but the boy grew worried. “Tommy!”
Then, as if driven by a monstrous clap of thunder, the sky grew dark. Only there was no thunder, for it had become eerily quiet. The man called out to the young boy, who seemed not to hear. Suddenly, as if someone had opened a door to a wind tunnel, a mighty gust began to race around the perimeter of the pond. The man looked to the water’s surface, but still no sign of the swimmer. Fearing the worst, he called out again to the other boy. “Don’t worry, son, I’ll save your brother!” The man turned quickly toward the boy, but he had vanished. He was nowhere to be found. Just then, the water broke and the swimmer surfaced, desperately gasping for air. The man called to the swimmer, who, like his younger brother, seemed oblivious of the man. In a frightening instant, the entire pond began to churn, first swirling about in eddies then merging into a singular, violent whirlpool. The circle tightened around the struggling boy, closing ever so quickly in diameter as the rotation and froth gained momentum. It tightened further like the giant, unforgiving iris of a massive camera lens. The current escalated, engulfing the boy’s legs like so much quicksand, pulling him down, ever down. The man tried to run to the water’s edge to save the drowning boy, but he could not move. It was as if his feet were cemented into the soggy ground. He watched in sheer helplessness as the swimmer was sucked deep into the swirling abyss. The water closed over the brown curls of hair, swallowing its prey as the pond slowly returned to deceitful serenity.
And then he saw them, right where the younger boy had stood begging for his brother to break to the surface. The man’s mouth went dry as if filled with sand, his escalating pulse threatening to burst his throbbing heart. He squinted through the gauze of light to see lying on the ground a lifeless body—no, a dead body. A young black man knelt over the prostrate form, his hand cradling a rock splotched with gray pulp and dripping with blood. Both figures were drenched as if they had been tossed overboard into a turbulent sea or perhaps the raging pond that had swallowed the swimmer. Droplets of blood and gore fell from the rock onto the corpse as blotches of red spread over its clothes in a nightmarish version of a Jackson Pollock canvas. The black man slowly turned his head toward the intruder, his eyes seeming to glow like the fires of hell; he stood, never taking his eyes away yet tightening his hold on the bloody rock, which now resembled an oversize sticky softball. Slowly the black man (on closer look, was he merely a teenager?) began his approach, feet pulling from the ground’s suction in steady cadence. Stumbling backward, the intruder raised his hands in defense and croaked, “No, oh god, no. I couldn’t save him. I tried, but I couldn’t!” The man tripped, falling onto his back. He shut his eyes in an effort to escape the terror before him. There he lay, waiting for the rock to split his skull open when . . . nothing. No sound of approaching feet, no thudding of his own heartbeat. Nothing. He froze, afraid to open his eyes lest he see a hovering figure, the rock mercilessly poised to come crashing down. The smell of grass was unexpectedly sweet, powerfully sweet in fact, and oddly comforting. He slid a hand across his wet brow, fearing the moisture was his own blood. Slowly he opened his eyes. No blood. Lifting onto his elbows, he looked around. The black man (boy?) was gone. The dead body was gone. In its place the grass was dry, sparse blades waving gently in a reluctant breeze. Looking upward, the sky appeared to have returned to normal. Then he saw the dangling piece of rope lit softly once again by dappled sunlight. The man staggered to his feet.
“Well, there’s trouble,” he heard from behind. The startled man whirled to confront that voice from his past.
About the author:
While teaching in a university theatre department, Pinnell accumulated both local and national awards for teaching excellence. He was a theatre director, designer and scenic artist, and also authored three textbooks and two plays. THE OFFSPRING is his first novel.