Invisible Fences

Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss

Book: Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss Read Free Book Online
Authors: Norman Prentiss
someone’s stomach. 
    Once I’d finished, I briefly considered the idea of dragging all the bags back toward the house to prevent further mischief, then decided it was too much effort. Easier to simply get some packing tape from inside and return to patch the hole.  
    I bent down and retrieved the flashlight. 
    That’s when I noticed the wedge-shaped chip where the street met the concrete gutter. 
    “Not too close, now, Nathan.” 
    Cracks in the asphalt, and a missing chunk like someone had taken a bite out of the road. A niche to link with the interlocking tip of a child’s tennis shoe. 
    An exact match to a visual aid from my past, the obstacle that tripped an unwary boy to his death in Dad’s version of “The Big Street.”  
    That image was burned so clearly into my childhood memory, and I’d swear this was the same shape. It wasn’t a mark that would occur naturally, like a pothole that cracks and expands with the change in season. It formed more of a smooth, clean break—as if my father had cut it with some secret tool he’d kept all these years. Did he make this sign out of habit, as a territorial marking for any dangerous crossings near his home? Or through foresight, to have everything in place for future tellings of the story, ready to warn and delight the grandchildren he never had? Maybe he’d hidden this scary image in hopes I’d discover it, a kind of final farewell. He knew I loved his stories when I was little, and he’d never fully accepted that I’d grown up.  
    I placed my adult foot next to the curved niche, as if to follow that fictional boy in his foolhardy dash across the street. I thought of the sounds I’d heard while inside. The screech of tires on asphalt, followed by a scrape of metal. 
    Then a thump. Like a body hitting the road. 
    Was it possible, beneath the high-pitched squeal of tires…Was it possible I’d heard a child scream? 
    I could smell it now, stronger than the spoiled food from the opened garbage bag: the bitter, smoky reek of burnt rubber.  
    I aimed the flashlight over the road. No tire marks, that I could notice. But a stain of faded liquid darkened part of the street. The stain appeared at a familiar angle and distance from the niche near my foot. Years ago, my younger self observed the exact same shape in a road many miles away.  
    The outline of a boy. 
    My body shook at the thought, maybe a suppressed shiver from the November chill. I imagined an answering vibration from the street, the rumble of an approaching vehicle.  
    Nothing was there, in either direction, but I hesitated to step closer. The warning of my father’s story held me back, just as his raised arm had once blocked my path into the road. I swept the flashlight’s beam over the stain. Had my father painted it there, dripped oil to soak into the asphalt, outlining the shape I remembered: splayed legs, head twisted flat against the right shoulder? 
    A tremor went through me again, and the flashlight rattled in my hand. Its beam faded to a dim glow. 
    And the dark shape in the road started to move. 
    An arm first, unbending at the elbow then reaching up. Then the head, an inky smear that bubbled up over the flattened body. The other arm broke from the surface and swelled like a flexed muscle. Both arms pressed flat against the street, pulling the torso up with the faint wet sound of a scab peeled too early from a wound.  
    The shadow crawled forward on its hands, dragging the legs out of the road behind it. 
    Crawling toward me.  
    It paused about a body’s length away. I stood there, transfixed and terrified. I could smell it: an awful mix of tar and burnt rubber, oil and blood. 
    Its head swung from one shoulder to the other with the click of a cracked neck, and it struggled to stand. The shadow’s legs shifted, unsteady, and its arms swayed to maintain balance. Ripples flowed over its surface as it moved, a shaken mass of black gelatin.  
    When the motions settled, I

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