Struggling from a broken childhood, Dax Sheppard and Chris Lonestine witness an act so terrible, their impending lives can never veer from. To Chris’s most demanding opposition, Dax enters the home of a murderer to confront him to where he finds letters written by a loving hand.
As the two grow apart, Chris pairs up with US Marshal Melissa Easton and Dax moves about in a psychological delusion, powered by the words from the murderer’s wife. After a bank robbery, the three are forced to confront their past as their normal, present lives come crashing to a halt when they realize they are chasing the one man of who is committing those insane acts, Dax Sheppard.
LETTERS TO A DANDELION
“They need to be killed. This is your calling, reader, to rid this world of those who dilute it. Take care of them; kill them off. I rest my death in your will; it is your duty to do so.”
Moving on from the death of a loved one is difficult, even more so for Aaron Eckers as he mulled over his wife’s belongings two weeks after her death. He hadn’t thought he would find anything interesting until he came across a box labeled “My Dandelion”.
Light spilled across the contents that now scattered his desk, shadows forming and splaying in array. Aaron poured himself a scotch, breathed in the muggy scent of rain that gust through the den’s window, and began to read:
25, August, 1996
I have been diagnosed with lung cancer and my health is steadily declining. My doctor told me that if I came earlier for treatment, I could have had a better chance at beating it. Thanks for that info doc, I can sleep better tonight. Fact of the matter is I never smoked once in my life. How ironic it is, I always wanted to and now regret the decision today. What would it have changed? Hellfire, not a whole damn lot, would it have?
I am writing as much as I can, arthritis has taken its toll on me. Forget that, I’ll fill these pages as they come to me, because this needs to be said. My marriage with my husband has been impossible. He gives me the space and privacy I need at all the times I don’t need it. He is never around enough to know how I felt about a certain thing and when he was, he was drunk. He is a womanizer and I am a feminist. He beat me and I accepted it. He threatened my life and I offered the bullet. Our sex life was damn near non-existent and when it was there, it was damn near rape.
You see, my husband came from a long line of drunken womanizers. That’s the way he was raised. Suffice to say, I didn’t meet his parents before we decided to get married. He was never close with them. Whenever I asked, he shoved me aside and deterred the answer. One night, though, he was drunk enough to spill his beans, and when he did, it was ugly. I learned all these things I didn’t need to know. I assumed, from that point on, that his present actions were of no control of his own but that of his past. Bad as it is, each person has their own control of their present and future.
One day I wasn’t feeling well. I knew that something was a bit off. I let it go for some days until I couldn’t stop vomiting. My husband was gone, again, so he was of no help. I took myself to the doctor and found out I was pregnant. When I told my husband I was pregnant, he smacked me and threw his beer bottle at my face. Then, he smacked me again for breaking his beer bottle.
Through the next months I took myself to the doctor on a regular basis. I feared the worst but was optimistic that our baby would bring us together; how woman of me, I know. Having a baby was never a fantasy of mine but I can’t say it never crossed my mind.
I found that we were having a girl. It was a relief, I must say. I didn’t need another male chauvinist parading around demeaning me and telling how fat I look. However, as happy as I was that I wasn’t having a boy, I still wasn’t excited to have a girl either. Maybe it was our relationship, maybe I grew up and came to the understanding that no matter how you try, a baby deals no better than it does bad to heal a broken home. This broken home is where the baby will grow up.
As my daughter grew, I had troubles of my own. Not that I like to place the weight on my husband, as right as it feels, I had mental problems. I have never spoken this before, but some days I would watch my daughter play and fantasize what it would be like to suffocate her, or drop her on her head, or punt her like a football. Of course, I never acted on those severe impulses, but what does that say about me? Am I terrible mother? My daughter did nothing to deserve being dropped on her head, however piercing her cry can be.
Those impulses were much the same as a person is addicted to tobacco, they never stop coming back. The difference is a person who is addicted to tobacco can succumb to their addiction. I, on the other hand, could not. And I held that against my daughter. She did not allow me to do a lot with my own life. I missed the closeness because my conscience feared me away from my impulsive needs.
Over time the feeling for murdering my own spawn ceased. Through her early childhood, though, I lost a lot. I didn’t ever really get to know her because of the murderous thoughts and resentment. But, as she grew, I grew. Our pair was nothing short of a chimpanzee and its offspring; throwing shit from tree to tree.
We fought, we made up, we fought, we broke things, we made up, and fought some more. My husband never had my back, mainly because he wasn’t there and if he was, he wouldn’t give a shit anyhow. Until one day, one day I was utterly sick to my stomach of how our life had come. I wanted to know, I needed to know what he was doing when he was gone for so many hours through the day and well into the night. So, I did research, I followed him, I regretted it, but I followed him and found out what he really did.
An unexpected rage washed over Aaron. He downed his scotch, poured another, and fished for his cigarettes in the side drawer of the study’s desk. The days previous, a shuffle of fake mourning from neighbors and an empty bank account, lead him to loathe his wife. Even in the afterlife, Aaron thought, she haunts me.
Aaron and his wife had a daughter. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and petite; all the attributes Aaron hated the most. Being a father, to him, was like being a ring leader – watch out for that corner, don’t play in the toilet, get that out of your mouth, don’t pee on the carpet – and he hated that too. He didn’t know where she was, selling herself for money he hoped, and he didn’t much care anyhow. She had tried to help with the dilly’s and dally’s that came along after her mother’s death, and those days leading up to it, but to no avail.
Aaron had been faithful to her through their marriage, except for one time; one mindless fuck from a woman that meant no difference to him than trash along the street. You can only beat a dead horse so many times, he thought. After so many years his wife clammed up. Aaron would pry and pry and pry and when he finally opened her up, no pearl was waiting inside. Old sand, muck, and slime took its place.
Glass shattered on the opposite side of the room and Aaron looked at his empty palm. How his glass got from the palm of his hand to the other side of the room was a mystery to him. He snagged the bottle from the edge of the table and took a swig. Flames erupted in his esophagus that churned its way to his stomach. What a delight, he thought. How great it is.
Aaron lit his cigarette and inhaled the poison deep. He held the still burning match above his desk and thought, for the first time in his life, how great it would be to let it go; drop the match and watch it alight – burn, baby, burn. He suddenly saw each leaf of paper as a memory. And each memory lay in disarray, uncontrolled and violable, ready to disappear from all existence. Laughter carried from his front lawn through his window and he blew the match out. Aaron paused, listened intently, and then slammed his fist on the desk. He had enough of kids in this neighborhood. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why his house was so popular. He did everything he could to deem himself an unacceptable approach; the pedophile, the murderer, or The Scariest Guy on the Block You Never Converse With. Leave me alone, he thought, just leave me the hell alone. The laughter and giggling continued.
Aaron stood up, knocking his wooden chair over behind him, bottle of liquor still in hand, and stomped his way to the kitchen. He ruffled through drawers – opening and slamming, opening and slamming – until he came across what he was looking for. Aaron stepped to his front window, off-white blind hanging as an added illusion and he ripped it off its hooks. There, he saw the boy, trekking to and fro on the sidewalk in front of his house. He was enraged. This is the last time those goddamn kids step on my lawn.
A boy paced on the sidewalk in front of Aaron Eckers’ house; the Aaron Eckers’ house. This is just a stupid initiation into a stupid tree house club to impress a stupid boy that he didn’t even like. But, he had to be a “man” and every “boy” must initiate and prove he is a “man” in front a murderers house; whatever. A man stomped through the yard, knife in hand, and the boy hadn’t seen him until he was towering over him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Um, I, um…”
“This is the last time, you little fuck.”
Aaron Eckers snagged Richard Platt by his curly brown hair and drug him into his house.
Life is a cliché of redundant normalcy. Well, maybe not for Dax Sheppard, as he is driving through the rabid heat waves baking on the pavement, thinking and not thinking at the same time if his life is in fact, a mirage. Better off a mirage, in his case, but he intends on changing that.
“Your move, dude,” Chris said. He pushed his oval spectacles further up his narrow nose, addressing the game board.
“Shut up.” Dax Sheppard, fourteen years old, licked a cigarette he stole from his father’s garage, placed it behind his ear, and studied the floor. Chris Lonestine, thirteen years and nine months old, took his best friend’s verbal abuse in stride, learning over the past few years of their friendship not to take anything he says personally. Instead, Chris looked at Dax with an apathetic admiration.
Dax concentrated on his move. The die displayed four dot indentions with their inner black paint worn and aged away. There were several moves to make, with serious rewards – Cheetos, half of Chris’s turkey sandwich his mom had made, a baseball, a stack of quarters, and a crumpled pack of Pall Mall menthols. There were also the consequences to think about; the Fiery Pit, the Ancient Tomb of Mummies, and the possibility of losing out on the pack of menthols. Damn if Dax didn’t want them. His mouth watered for the delectable mint bite.
Dax ran a hand over his shaved head deep in thought. There was a lot to Dax, Chris thought as he watched. If he were to look directly in his eyes, which he rarely did, he would see pain, heartache, confusion, love, and hope all rolled into one black hole. The inner workings of this boy, one who has gone through much as he, are a cobweb of lies, deceit, and cigarettes; his only protection and his only vices. Chris could do nothing but stare on the verge of tears in frightened compassion.
The self-created game the two currently played about fifteen feet high in their tree house – the two was too old for such names as fort or clubhouse or ‘No Girls Allowed’ – was dubbed “Fiery Crotch”. “Fiery Crotch” is a crude combination of Sorry, Chance, Chess, and Checkers. Each participant wielded five green army men that served as the game’s moving pieces, which through each of Chris and Dax’s childhood obtained over three hundred. Drawn atop of the tree house’s ever-decaying wooden floor were twenty boxes in chalk; aside from the Fiery Pit and the Ancient Tomb of Mummies.
The object of the game is to move your army men to the opponent’s side to capture and return the Queen, who was a naked Barbie from the waist up. One third of the chalk drawn boxes were the Gates to Hell; or in their case, the Gates to the Fiery Pit where their army would burn for all eternity. Each participant rolled one die and moved their pieces according to their will. If and when each player landed on the same box, both pieces fell through the gate and both perished.
Dax rolled a three. He had two choices here. He could release another man, which game rules stated that was the only number in which to free a man, or he could sacrifice one to take out Chris’s who were approaching fast; a Suicide Squeeze. He chose the latter, dropping both men to their fate, and was temporarily mesmerized by the short ball of flames that shot from the can of coffee which doubly served as Hell and a makeshift lantern.
The small flicker of yellow flame entranced Dax. He envisioned the objects in which could, would, and should burn at his hands. He saw his own home, as broken as it is, send sparks to the stars who rudely winked back. That would suffice Dax; cleanse his own tortured and haunted soul. He snapped out of it, looked up at Chris and said, “Hey, did you hold up yours for Titty Tuesday?”
Chris, deep within his own world as well, shook his head to gain focus. “Yeah, I did.”
Chris reached behind him, pulled out a Sears Catalog, dropped to the left of the game board, ruffled through the pages and slid it closer to Dax.
“You idiot! This is a fucking underwear catalog from Sears.” Dax chucked the massive block of tree-killing commerce over his shoulder. The magazine thumped against the wood wall, cracking the already decaying wood. “There’s nothing good about that! I thought you were going to bring something good; something naked.”
“Oh, well this is the best I could do. Look, their still showing a lot of skin, right?” Dax’s testosterone fueled early teen body obviously demanded more skin than that of a Sears catalog. Chris, on the other hand, still couldn’t understand his obsession with boobs. He guessed he was a late bloomer or something because he sure as hell didn’t share the same excitement for the opposite sex. And he sure as hell didn’t need any more complications in his life; his sister, school aspirations, and having Dax as a friend filled enough of his plate. Why add to it?
“Hey, have you talked to Richie. I thought he was joining us tonight,” Chris said. He stood up from his lawn chair, stolen from a neighbor by yours truly, and peered out of the crack of their tree house. The tree house was lofted in an old oak tree in a portion of woods squared neat inside their township. When building their nest, Chris nonchalantly inquired Dax as to why a perfectly squared portion of trees were spared in the middle of their community. “Because it’s a fucking Indian burial ground. If they were to disturb their peace, the entire town would be tortured and die horrible, lengthy deaths.” Of course he was joking, Chris thought – judging by the snort of aspirated laughter – he may be right and just wanted to scare the bejeezus out of him; which he was painfully excellent at.
Having been told this ghost story, Chris still couldn’t keep himself from scanning the forest line for any headless ghost-like features searching for havoc from angry soul-thirsty Indians. He shook it off, peered through the small slit of boards served as the tree house north wall in search for Richie. Chris suddenly felt a longing for the third wheel in their band. At least Richard was sane.
“Don’t bother looking for him,” Dax said. He pulled the cigarette from his ear and said, “He won’t be coming. He’s probably busy reading, or doing long division. You know his parents don’t like him hanging around us.” Us, Chris thought, more like you. And if his parents knew where he was and who he was with, they wouldn’t much like that either.
Dax Sheppard stuck the Pall Mall in his mouth, clipped it between his fingers, and lolled his tongue over the filter, savoring the heavenly mint. He watched Chris look out through the crack, standing on the Tree House Treasures locked trunk. There wasn’t much significant inside; booby magazines, a carton of cigarettes, a blanket, and half of a fifth of vodka. None of them drank it, but what tree house doesn’t have liquor stored? He held the still-opened pack out to Chris and said, “Dude, you’re wasting your time; sit, smoke, play.”
Chris Lonestine waved his hand at him, a gesture in which Dax took as a punch on the nose, and sat back on the lawn chair, studying the room. It had been a place of security, this tree house. A place to come with friends, talk about all of teenage life issues, occasionally girls – not much about the girls in their school, but more about super models and daydreams of what it would be like to be married to a porn star – a place to get away from parental nonsense and chores, a pirate ship in search for lost treasure and wenches, a submarine, and a place to enjoy each others summer company; every teenage boys dream palace. Until that day when Richie didn’t show, the brisk night air smelled of blood and evil, and the tree house changed forever when they witnessed an act that could never be unseen, nor veer their impending lives away from.