STORY: The Homecoming by MJ Newman

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MJ Newman is a UK based Crime/Thriller writer. He lives in the Midlands and enjoys taking his dogs for long walks, allowing his mind to wander to the dark side, dreaming up gritty crime thrillers for readers to enjoy.

He uses his own and others experiences to help craft his stories. Having previously worked as a police photographer and a prison tutor he has a tome of stories just waiting to put out there.

His stories are a successful mixture, combining fact and fiction, allowing Newman to delve in to the world of both the investigator and the perpetrator.

Find out more:

Facebook @markjnewmanauthor
Twitter @marknewmanwrit1

The Homecoming by MJ Newman

Fourteen years passed. Lot of changes in that time. And here I am, making my return. I tell myself it’ll be different this time round, convincing myself I’m different, in every way. They all have their backs to me. Hunched and crowded, collective of brothers staring down, a uniform sea of black. 

I’m the uninvited guest, the bad penny, the prodigal son. 

I’ve thought about this day a thousand times over. How I’d approach, announce my arrival. How they’d react. Then, wait for the shit-storm. Inevitable, as day follows night. Judgement will come to pass.

I keep my distance, respectful is what I am, standing in the shade. On a day like this, no point me frying out in the sun too long. It doesn’t agree with me. It never did. My alabaster skin, freckles, and flame hair, tinder for the UV rays of the Arizona sun.  

I got choices. I could walk right up; tap any of them on the shoulder. They’d kill me in an instant, if they recognised me that is. I’m not disguised, least not in the conventional sense. Ain’t got no props or stage make-up. Age and experience my only cover. I’m thirty pounds heavier with scarring to my face and neck and an eye for trouble. 

Prison can do that to a man.

For now, I’m content, just a stranger lingering in the distance, shading from the midday heat. 

Of the five, it’s only me who made it out. I swapped one form of incarceration for another. Choices. If I had my time again, would I choose different? Doubt it. Stubborn is what I am. See, I chose to abandon the family unit. Way they see it, I betrayed them all. Never go against the family, no matter the reason. If you turn your back, like I did, same as excommunication. Banished. No coming back from that. I did what needed doing. They don’t see it that way. Truth don’t come into it. Content to wallow in their half-truths and lies. The passing of time been so long not one of ’em able to separate truth from fiction. 

It comes down to this. I did what none of them had the balls to do and that scares them shitless. Why? Because I survived and I’m here. I came back to finish it. To put an end to it. You could say I came to get closure. I got to do this to move on. Lord knows I got to find peace. Cathartic is what those counsellors spoke of. Finding inner peace, healing the soul. I could sure do with some of that in my life right now.

I’m looking out from the shade of the canopy; the figure to my far left is turning, talking to the guy next to him. I’d recognise him anywhere, even after all this time. A little thicker set than I recall, all the same I can see that it’s Joe. He catches me in his peripheral vision, stares straight through me, no recognition. Not even a flicker. He puts an arm around the figure next to him. Those large, round shoulders, no mistaking Mike. He’s got the same stature and bulk as the old man. The way Bernie tells it in those letters of hers seems Mike inherited his temper too. He likes to beat up on his wife when the mood takes him. Next to him, there’s Finn, stooped and gangly, sucking on a cigarette. The eldest and meanest of the brood.  

Twenty paces back, the cracked slur of voices travel on the wind. I can’t get my head round it, why all the tears? If things were different, if I was graveside, I’d be rejoicing, doing a jig, taking a piss on his casket. Then I’d shout it from the rooftops Patrick Mahoney, the drunk, wife beater, abuser is gone—dead. Now that would be the way to do it. Get it done right; celebrate. Had I known before I came out this way, I’d have brought the bourbon. 

I can see the priest there now, taking the time to shake their hands. Each one in turn dropping him a twenty-dollar bill. No doubt, they’ll be thanking him for a great service and messages of condolence. Forget about the truth, the myth surrounding Patrick Mahoney is all anyone’s interested in. Least that’s the way it is for these folks, my kin. Not anymore. 

Ceremony over, I wait, knowing they’ll be heading off back in to town to continue the wake. The gotta give him the obligatory Irish send off, just like in the old country. I let them pass, doff my hat in mock respect for their loss. A couple of glances in my direction, nods of the head, nothing more. 

I stay rooted to the spot in the shade, watching them make their way to the trucks before driving off down the gravel track. I wait another five minutes, just in case they wander back and take a second peek at the stranger standing under the tree. I can’t be too careful. This has to be done right. My presence could have triggered a latent memory, a feeling, even an instinct. 

Checking my watch, 3:30pm. I step out in to the blistering heat, moving toward the open grave. 

The sweat perspiring down my face as I reach the graveside, I wipe it from stinging my eyes with my neckerchief. The priest is still there, counting up those dollar bills and packing away his robes ready for the drive back in to town to join the drunken revelry.

He sees me, and begins to make his way over. Dollar signs in his eyes. He must be thinking I’m a late arrival, got lost from the funeral cortege along the way. Now he’s looking to make another twenty. Inclined to perform some bullshit blessing for the stranger’s benefit.

I let him approach, bend my knee like I’m genuflecting in church, take a handful of dry terracotta dirt, throw it down in to the grave amongst the scattered roses that adorn the casket. I put my hand to the shovel as if I’m using it to steady myself as I rise to my feet. I let the priest get within three paces before grabbing it in both hands and wield it in a perfect arc. The sledgehammer blow opens the side of his head up like a zipper spilling its contents. He falls to his knees. Now he’s looking up at me. Confusion, panic on his face.

He doesn’t know who I am, he can’t figure why this is happening. I’m a ghost from a past he buried long ago. I stand and stare, savouring the moment. My first kill since getting out, it won’t be my last. 

‘Been a long time, Father,’ I say.

He hears my voice, disbelief blends to recognition before turning to fear. I bring the shovel blade down hard cracking his skull wide open. His eyes bulge, leaving his mouth a gaping cavern. He falls forward, twitching and jerking as his body spasms toward death. I’m lost, mesmerised in the serenity of the moment, his blood mixes with the parched grass before seeping into the dust. 

I jump down in to the grave, using the shovel to smash through the casket. Three hefty blows are enough to obliterate it, reducing it to shattered fragments of veneer cedar wood. Snarling, I tear them loose with my bare hands. The exertion forcing me to pant, hands against knees to catch my breath. I wipe the sweat from my brow.  

Fourteen long years I’ve waited for this moment and I feel nothing. All I see is a face, waxy, gaunt, and hollow. No amount of embalmers mastery could ever make that pock marked abomination look any better. But it’s him. 

When I pulled the trigger, I was no more than a boy, sixteen years old with my whole life ahead of me. What choice did I have? He was beating up on mom again, I couldn’t stand and watch. Not like them. They’d watched for years, the torment, the hell. None of ’em man enough to step in or speak out. So I learned to hate from being a young un. I hated them almost as much as him. 

I was different. The youngest, the mistake, the runt of the litter. I was teased and bullied the whole way through school, mostly by my own kin. Sure, I heard the rumours, the stories and gossip same as the other folks. I saw that look in mom’s eye. Saw the pain, the lost hope. Flickers of joy transient like feathers floating on a summer’s breeze.

Guess that’s why the old man never took to me. Knew I wasn’t his from the get go. Born to suffer is what mom said. Evil son of a bitch hated me from the womb. Come to think of it, I never did stand a chance. All I was to him, a constant reminder of his wife’s tryst with a stranger. Ate him up from the inside out. He beat the shit out of mom six months in, tried to kill me before I was born. From the time I could crawl, my brothers’ beat up on me, all with his blessing. He said it was the good Lord’s retribution. Not that they ever needed much encouragement.

See, the old man was a tyrant to the core. He hid behind his bible and liquor haze all his life. Back then, we all lived in fear, day in day out. Being the youngest of the brood, between schooling and home, least I got to stay out of his way for the most part. Joe, Mike, and Finn, older than me by four, seven and nine years respective, they got caught with his wrath. I sure as hell didn’t envy them stuck with the old man six days a week, working twelve sometimes fourteen hour shifts in Cornell’s abattoir. Then they got to come home with him too, rewind and start over. 

We weren’t rich, and I guess to others we weren’t poor. But the old man was always pissed at someone or something. Whoever happened to be closest to him got the brunt of it. I counted myself lucky to escape with a slap most times. With a drink in him, things could get a whole lot worse real quick. 

I don’t recall the events too well. One minute I was watching from the stairs, fighting back the tears. I could see he had mom’s hair wound tight in his fist, using the back of his right hand to slap her back and forth like a ragdoll. What I do remember is seeing Finn watching from the other side of the room, fascination etched on his face as if he were in awe of the old man’s power. I was pleading with Mike to step in, to call a halt to it. He looked at me, scornful. Said it was between them. Man and wife stuff. Wasn’t our business. Then he slunk off some place out of the way, content to console himself with a reefer hit. So I turned to Joe, all he did was put his head down and walk away. Guess his reckoning was, if he couldn’t see it, wasn’t happening. Bernie tried to pull me away, said it was for the best. Not to get involved, not to make it worse for mom. 

I just couldn’t take it no more. Something deep inside me snapped. I raced upstairs two at a time, found his .45 in the closet, loaded it, ran back down and straight to him. He had his back to me, so I jabbed the .45 hard in to his side, he turned and looked at me. I could see the spittle hanging from the side of his mouth, malice in his eyes. I stood, unwavering, gun pointed straight at his chest. 

He goaded me, said a little weasel runt good for nothing like me didn’t have it in him. I still remember the shock on his face as he fell to the floor. The bullet taking his leg from under him. I never meant to catch him there, high up by the crotch like that. I wanted to kill the bastard; then again, I never was much of a shot. 

All I recall is mom screaming and the blood. Lots of blood, like a darkness spreading across the floor, seeping in to every pore. I still don’t get that. I saved her. Yet there she is, screaming and hollering at me, then she starts hitting down on me. I panicked. In the confusion, I fled. I ran out of there. Didn’t stop. Ended up riding the rails. Took in a whole chunk of country. That’s how it was for a year, travelling state to state. I got to see the open plains, land of the big skies. Did what I had to do in order to survive. Anything to keep me from going back home. The cops’ finally caught up with me in Oklahoma City. I got busted leaving the 7-Eleven store. Already a wanted felon. Outstanding warrants for robbery, assault and attempted murder, the sentence ratcheted up to fourteen years.

Aunt Bernie wrote me the whole time. Kept me in the loop. Even managed the bi-annual phone call. The promise of face-to-face visits never materialised though. I don’t blame her for that. Be kind of hard for her to disappear a couple days at a time, crossing the state line. Having to go back and explain herself like that. Thankful is what I am. Those little things kept me going, renewed my hope through my incarceration.  

Then, just last week, she writes me telling me mom got sick. Real sick. Kind of sickness there ain’t no long-term recovery from. At this point, I got less than three months remaining. It all comes back to choices, ’cept this was more a necessity. So I broke out. That was two days ago. That’s why I came, wanted to see her one last time before it was too late. Didn’t know then I’d be standing graveside looking in to the dead eyes of the old man.

Standing in the hallway, it’s like yesterday. Few more cracks, scrapes and dents to the walls. The place could sure do with a lick of paint. As far as I remember, the colour scheme’s identical to the one I left behind all those years ago. An assortment of broken and faded pictures following the stair leg as it twists and turns up two flights. All that remains of me, a grimy oval outline where the picture frame once adorned flock wallpaper. My existence erased—sanitised. Scrubbed from memory. It’s like I never happened. 

They wouldn’t recognise that boy now. I sure don’t. Time moves on, ’cept for me, part of me lives in the past. Locked in, unable to go forward. Same part that still craves acceptance. 

Female voices from the kitchen cut through the melancholic nostalgia. I move toward it. My heartbeat quickens. Pushing the panelled door ajar, I see the pot bubbling away on the stove, just like the old days. Cooking smells infuse with the other half dozen lived in odours forever present.

All I want is a hot shower and a change of clothes. Maybe grab me bowl of that stew before… Well who knows how this is gonna end? Ever since I hiked the half-mile of track from the highway, watching the Greyhound melt into the shimmering asphalt, I’ve being expecting the sheriff to come a calling. Old Calhoun must have got the word by now, there’s a killer on the loose.


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