"Charlie Ain't So Bad - Part I"
Charlie awakened to the sight of a girl in a white dress, with a white theatre mask, clenching a monkey wrench tightly. Charlie reflexively backed into the nearby chicken coop, defenseless. The girl ambled up to him, hypnotically, and raised the wrench.
"Charlie! Who's your friend? I thought you weren't doing anything for Halloween!" his adoptive mother interrupted from a distance. She waved her plump, white arms.
Charlie stuttered and stammered gibberish, unable to verbalize his tremors. It was the Middle of Nowhere, USA . The October orange heat of the setting sun grazed over the farm and ranch of Maribelle and Eugene Bates.
Charlie's ebony skin glistened under the sun's rays, and his heart pummeled inside him. He looked at the stranger, unable to gauge any facial context clues behind the eerie mask. The mask was clearly humanoid, with the features of a beautiful woman. In its perfect emergence, was something ineffably deformed, ugly, and bothersome. The wrench came down in a mighty and swift swoop, striking Charlie in the cheek, and dissipated blood and anguish.
"You're all the same," she said.
Maribelle approached, sweat beading down her hoary hair. Her face was red and moist, typical results after a day of toil and labor. The stranger was motionless and still, wrench still in hand; Charlie was tremulous and quivering, wiping the sweat from his brow and concealing his fresh wound.
"Charlie doesn't make many friends--maybe it's because we don't get many visitors. At any rate, you are welcomed to stay for dinner, if ya like" Maribelle offered, mannerly. Charlie began "But Ma!" and clenched his aching cheek tightly, wincing.
"Charlie! Don't be rude!" She reprimanded. "I insist our guest stays. Well, now, see you later, in the house!" She trotted off, whistling a tune, blissfully naïve.
The stranger's beautiful dress flowed freely along her contours in the dancing front as she strolled towards the Bates' house and Charlie slumped to the ground, wondering what was happening, tending to his injury.
Charlie, the stranger, Maribelle and Eugene, quickly and discreetly sat at the kitchen table for an early dinner. The stranger was still in costume as the locusts buzzed outside.
"So, what is your story? Are you dressing up for Halloween? Such a lovely outfit" Maribelle commented.
Eugene countered, "Eh-that mask's creepy-take that thing off at the table, will ya!"
"My name is Katherine, and I am looking for a place to rest. I have been through terribly tough times-"
"But, M-ma! Pa!" Charlie sputtered. Maribelle turned to Charlie. "Let her finish her story, Charlie," she scolded. "Yeah," Eugene joined, "Don't interrupt, boy!"
"He's just like them," Katherine said.
"Like who?," Maribelle asked.
Katherine began: "Just like those damned gangsters....
"I am from the poor neighborhood several miles down the road. I held many small, mundane jobs, trying to avoid the ugly scum roaming the streets. I shared a room with my best and only friend, Beth; the room was small and empty, but I was happy living with her. I supported her and provided for her.
"But then, she started dating a no-good gangster, known as 'Loc Boy'. He was involved in many dirty deeds: drugs, pimping, guns, you name it. Every day was a torment of misery and abuse. Beth always came home sobbing, with bruises covering her arms and neck. I tried to console her and convince her to leave that f-damned mutt. But she stayed with that dirty miscreant. I knew, I just knew she was scared of him, so I told her about my plan to run away from that godforsaken jungle. But she stayed with him.
"So I confronted Loc Boy, wielding a switchblade I had. I demanded he leave Beth alone, and to stop bothering her. But, he didn't like that, so he quickly caught me off-guard and forced me to the ground. He pulled out his gun, and threatened my life!"
Maribelle dropped her fork, and lost all the rose in her cheeks. "Oh, my...."
Katherine rested her arms on the table, sniffling very quietly. Charlie bowed his head, and tried to gaze through the mask. Maribelle chimed in, "You're welcomed to stay the night. I'll set the guest room upstairs."
Charlie squirmed in his seat. Maribelle hummed loudly while chewing her food; Eugene snarled quietly as he ate. The stranger cut a piece of turkey from her plate, and brought it to her face, however, the mask was in the way. She tried to lift the chin and sneak the morsel in, to no avail.
"Take that damned mask off, so ya can eat!" He yelled, "Whatcha hiding, anyway?"
Katherine slammed her fist against the table, rattling the dishes and silverware. "You think I'm hiding something? I'm not hiding anything!"
She stormed off, navigating through the quaint living room, and finding her way to the disheveled guest room. Her plate remained full. The family was dumbstruck, and sat motionless.
" Eugene , I reckon we don't say anything about her mask?" Maribelle's distressing wrinkled features became apparent in the dusk's light. Eugene retorted, "It's my house, I'll ask about anything I damn please." Charlie moaned softly.
After the ordeal, Charlie helped Maribelle clean the dishes and retreated to the living room, resting his body on the sofa. His anxiety faded somewhat, but he turned on the rustic television and watched old cartoons. The black and white static covered the screen, with dim images frolicking about, in childish and asinine splendor. He didn't notice Katherine's faint footsteps falling down the stairs.
She approached him from behind, and wrapped her arm around his neck in a chokehold. The young man frenetically writhed in her grasp, overpowering her and sending her reeling backward, as he stumbled forward simultaneously. Charlie stood up, rubbing his neck. Katherine, too, rose to her feet, grabbing a lamp.
Maribelle entered the room. "What's the raucous, children? Supper's ready! Let's eat!" And she departed, humming a familiar tune. Charlie began, "Ma!" before Katherine's fist came upon his face. Before Charlie could even ponder retaliation, she stomped away.
The strike didn't hurt, even though Charlie took the brunt of the blow. He composed himself, and warily entered the dining room.
The family and the girl rendezvoused at the dining room table. A thick aroma filled the room, indicative of the pleasant meal. "Pass the mashed potatoes, please, Charlie,"
Charlie obeyed and handed the mashed potatoes to his mother. Eugene posed the same question: "What are ya hiding from? Ya can't eat with that stupid mask on!"
He received a familiar response: "I'm not hiding from anything. I don't want to accept the fact that I'll never see my best friend again. But are you so different, Mr. Tough-Old-Man? When people don't think you're watching, they show their true selves, isn't that right, Mrs. Bates? I mean, how much food do you need to gobble after skipping your work on the farm?" Maribelle was silent. "Yeah, Mr. Bates, do you think that no one would catch you looking at dirty magazines while you were supposed to be fixing things 'round the house?"
"Why, you ... I'm off to bed. Good night!" Eugene brought his plate down with authority and promptly exited. Maribelle stared at her plate. "I think I've had enough as well, good night." She followed her husband. Charlie sat nervously across the stranger, her menacing stare urging him to finish putting away the plates quickly before retreating to his room. He heard a tinkling of forks and plates as he made his way upstairs.