Human Blood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
School was out. Arlene Buck walked home by herself through the quiet streets of the town. It was a cloudy, warm day in late October. Leaves and debris swirled along the sidewalk in the wind. Arlene turned her head to the side to keep the wind from whipping her in the face.
When she got home, her mother and sister weren’t there. She didn’t like being the first one home with nobody there. She went into the kitchen and had a chocolate chip cookie and a drink of cold water and then left again. She would walk down to Jesus Saves and when she came back her mother and sister would be there.
Jesus Saves was at the bottom of a hill, where the street dead-ended. It was an easy walk down and a harder walk back up. Anybody in the neighborhood who went out for a walk went down to Jesus Saves and back. There weren’t many other places to walk, unless you wanted to go a lot farther.
Since Jesus Saves was where the street ended, people were always using the parking lot there for turning around because they didn’t know until they got to the bottom of the hill that they couldn’t go any farther. Today it was deserted, though, with nobody turning around and no cars parked on the lot. That meant nobody would be getting saved from their sins tonight.
Arlene was superstitious and believed that when she walked down to Jesus Saves, Jesus wouldn’t save her until she touched the low wall on the far side of the parking lot with her foot. She did this and whirled around, when a dark spot on the asphalt caught her eye, glistening and wet as if somebody had spilled a bucket of paint and gone off and left it. She approached the spot to see what it was. She was studying it when the door of Jesus Saves opened and a man came running out. He approached her at a run and for an instant she thought he was going to tackle her like in a football game.
“Hey, you there! What do you think you’re doing? Get away from there!” the man said.
She looked from the spot on the asphalt to the man and back at the spot. “What is this?” she asked. “Did a dog get run over by a car?”
“No, no, no!” he said. “It’s nothing for you to worry about!”
It was Reverend Pearl, a fussy little man in black who preached at funerals and saved souls from going to hell. He wore glasses on a string around his neck. He was no bigger than a thirteen-year-old child but he had broad hips and the mannerisms of a woman.
“I want to know what this is,” she said. “It looks like blood.”
“You go on home, now!” Reverend Pearl said. “You have no business here!”
“I can be here if I want to be. You don’t own the world.”
The door of Jesus Saves opened again and two Sisters of the Church came out, lugging buckets of water and mops. They were large, homely women, wearing loose sack-like dresses and diapers on their heads.
“Over here!” Reverend Pearl called to the women. “Here’s where the mess is!”
The Sisters of the Church went to work, dipping their mops in the water and then swabbing at the spot. They moved the blood around until they had a sloppy pink mess. The water in the buckets, after they had dipped the mops a couple of times, looked like blood.
“We need something to soak it up,” Reverend Pearl said. “You’re just making it worse. Dump this water out and go inside and get some fresh. Jesus! I never saw so much blood in my life! The police left the mess for us to clean up! How do you like that?”
Arlene stood back a few feet and watched as the Sisters of the Church worked over the blood. Reverend Pearl forgot about her for the time being, but when he saw she was still there he advanced on her again.
“Didn’t I tell you to go on home?” he said. “There’s nothing here for you to see! Didn’t your mother ever teach you to obey your elders?”
“You’re not my elder,” Arlene said.
One of the Sisters of the Church stopped mopping and leaned over and whispered into Reverend Pearl’s ear, holding her hand over her mouth.
“Oh!” Reverend Pearl said. “Oh, I didn’t know. Oh, my!”
“What did that woman say?” Arlene asked. “She whispered something in your ear about me, didn’t she?”
Reverend Pearl changed his tone now; he even attempted a smile. “I’m sorry if I was cross with you, little girl. A very bad thing happened here last night and it has my nerves on edge.”
“What bad thing?”
“It isn’t my place to tell you,” he said. “You run on home now and I’m sure you’ll hear about it soon enough.”
As she began walking up the hill toward home, her heart beat in a funny way and she felt sick like when she had to go to the doctor. She knew something was wrong. Momma didn’t come home last night. Could the blood on the Jesus Saves parking lot having anything to do with that? What had the Sister of the Church whispered in Reverend Pearl’s ear?
She ran up the hill and when she got home, out of breath, her sister Camille was waiting for her.
“Where were you?” Camille asked.
“I’m afraid a very bad thing has happened,” Arlene said.
“Don’t be silly,” Camille said. “Nothing bad has happened.”
They waited all evening for momma to come home or at least to call them and let them know where she was. Camille fixed fish sticks and macaroni and cheese for dinner and while they were eating Arlene told her about the blood on the parking lot at Jesus Saves and what Reverend Pearl said and how he acted mad at first and then sympathetic.
“The blood of Jesus cleanses us of our sins,” Camille said.
“It wasn’t that kind of blood,” Arlene said. “Something bad has happened. I just know it.”
“You worry too much,” Camille said. “Everything will be fine.”
“I think we should call the police and tell them momma didn’t come home last night.”
“She’s stayed out all night before. She likes to have a good time.”
“But she always came home the next morning,” Arlene said. “Here it is night again and we haven’t heard a word from her.”
“We’ll wait until nine o’clock,” Camille said. “If she hasn’t come home by then we’ll call the police.”
They washed the supper dishes and were watching TV when there was a loud knock on the door. Arlene got up off the couch and went to the front door and, opening it, was not very surprised to see her grandma standing there.
“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” Arlene said, standing aside to let grandma come inside.
“I’m afraid I got some bad news for you,” grandma said, crying and wringing a handkerchief. “Your momma this day has joined the angels.”
“What?” Camille said.
“She fell prey to the ravening beast and the beast hath slain her. Oh, Satan! Ruler of the world! What is going to become of us?”
“She was killed?” Camille asked, disbelieving. “By a beast?”
It was worse even than Arlene imagined. It was ironic (although she wouldn’t have known that word) that she just happened to be the one to walk down to Jesus Saves on that day of all days and see the blood. It was as if God or somebody had meant her to see it.
Grandma sat on the couch and wailed while Arlene and Camille packed overnight bags to go home with her. When they left the house, strangers were outside gawking at them.
“What do they want?” Arlene asked.
“There ain’t nothin’ here for you to see!” grandma called out to the strangers. “If you don’t beat it, I’m gonna call the sheriff! Leave us alone in our grief!”
At grandma’s house, the police came and talked to them. All Arlene and Camille could tell them was that momma had a lot of different boyfriends and had stayed out all night before on dates. She had always come home in the morning, though, almost always before Arlene and Camille left for school.
After the police were finished examining momma’s body, they released it to the Sutcliff Brothers’ Mortuary. Momma was laid out in her best navy-blue dress that she always saved for weddings and funerals. Now she was wearing it to her own funeral. She looked fine, as if nothing bad had happened to her. That would erase the terrible image, grandma said, of her being butchered by a savage killer.
Just about everybody momma ever knew came to the funeral home to see her off. Distant relations from other states. People she had grown up with that she hadn’t seen for twenty or thirty years. There were lots of strangers there, too. People who had read about the murder in the newspaper or seen it on TV and wanted to witness a little part of it themselves to be able to say they had been there and seen the grieving next of kin. And now it had the added attraction of being a murder mystery because police still didn’t know who did it or why.
At the funeral home a strange man with pale skin and tousled hair introduced himself to Arlene and Camille. They were sure they had never seen him before, but it so happened he was there father. He had left when Arlene was three and Camille six and neither of them remembered anything of him. All momma had ever said of him was that he was in prison and should be forgotten.
Now that momma was dead, this strange man, their father, wanted Camille and Arlene to come and live with him. He had a new wife, a baby son, and he was ready to be a real father to Camille and Arlene. He lived in a small town in a distant state and they would need to leave their school and all their friends and start over in a new place.
“I don’t want to go!” Arlene said. “Momma would want us to stay here!”
“We’ll talk about it later,” grandma said, putting her hand on Arlene’s arm.
On the day of the funeral it rained. Momma’s casket was removed, not to Jesus Saves, but to the Methodist church for the service. The church was full one hour before the service began. People had to be turned away or made to stand out in front of the church in the rain. The front row was reserved for Arlene and Camille, grandma, and the man who said he was their father. To Arlene none of it seemed real.
There were flowers, soft words, organ music and Bible talk that Arlene barely noticed. When the service was finished, everybody got into cars and made a slow procession in the rain the two miles to the cemetery, where momma was laid to rest alongside her own baby brother who died when he was four years old.
During the graveside service, with all the people standing around the open grave, Arlene noticed a tall man standing behind everybody else, looking on. He was wearing a black hat pulled down almost to his eyes. He looked directly at Arlene and smiled and, as if the smile wasn’t enough, he winked. While everybody else was looking sad, he was smiling and winking.
“There’s something about him that’s not right,” Arlene told herself.
Maybe he was one of momma’s boyfriends and maybe not, but Arlene knew all at once, as well as she had ever known anything, that he was the beast, the Satan, who had spilled momma’s blood on the parking lot of Jesus Saves. It was written on his face.
She watched the man during the rest of the service, without seeming to watch him. When the service was over and momma’s casket was being lowered into the ground and everybody was making a dash for their cars in the rain, she kept her eyes on the man until he was out of sight.
She lost him in the crowd but kept watching and saw him again. He was getting into a black car on the far side of where all the cars were parked. She couldn’t see his face but saw the black hat he was wearing and knew it was the same man.
As the crowd dispersed, she had a clear view of the black car as it drove away. She tried desperately to read the license plate, but she slipped in the mud and fell on her backside. When she got up again, the black car was lost among all the other cars trying to get out of the cemetery in the rain.
She turned and began running back to where the others were waiting for her. She had to tell somebody–but most of all she had to tell momma–what she knew and what she had seen. She swerved around a large tree and jumped over some standing water and then, in a flash, it came to her: momma was dead and she’d never be telling her anything, ever again.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp