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 the street ended there and they couldn’t go any farther. Today it was deserted, though. Nobody turning around and no cars parked on the lot. There would be no service tonight. Nobody getting saved from their sins.
Arlene was superstitious and she 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 to walk back the way she had come, 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 and for an instant she thought he was going to grab her.
“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, realizing at that moment that it was blood. “Did a dog get run over by a car?”
“No, no, no!” he said. “It’s nothing you need worry about!”
It was Reverend Pearl, a fussy little man in black who preached at funerals and saved stray souls from going to hell. He wore glasses on a string around his neck. He had broad hips and was no more than five feet, two inches tall. His mannerisms were more those of a woman than a man.
“I want to know what this is,” she said. “It looks like blood.”
“It’s no concern of yours!” Reverend Pearl said. “You go on home now! You have no business here!”
“I can be wherever I want to be,” she said.
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. They both wore 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. “All you’re doing is 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 moved the blood around. Reverend Pearl forgot about her for the time, but when he saw she was still there he lost his temper.
“Didn’t I tell you to go on home just now?” he said. “There’s nothing here for you to see! Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?”
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, my! Oh, my! Oh, my!”
“What did that woman say about me?” Arlene asked. “She whispered something in your ear about me, didn’t she?”
Reverend Pearl paid closer attention now to Arlene; he even attempted a smile. “I’m sorry if I snapped at you, little girl,” he said. “It’s just that a very bad thing happened here last night and it’s got my nerves on edge.”
“What happened?” asked Arlene.
“Well, 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 most of the way home and when she got there, out of breath, her sister Camille was waiting for her.
“Where have you been?” Camille asked.
“I’m afraid something terrible has happened,” Arlene said.
They waited all evening for momma to come home or at least to call them on the phone. Camille fixed 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 never came 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, “and 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 on her daddy’s side standing there.
“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” Arlene said, standing aside to let grandma come through the door.
“I got some bad news for you,” grandma said, crying and wringing a handkerchief.
Momma had been murdered and her body dumped on the Jesus Saves parking lot. Police believed the murderer was somebody momma knew. Nobody saw or heard anything.
It was worse even than Arlene imagined it. And she had been the one to see all the blood.
Grandma made Arlene and Camille pack bags and go home with her. When they left the house, strangers were outside gawking at the house.
“What do they want?” Arlene asked.
“You all get away from here, now!” grandma said. “There’s nothin’ here for you to see.”
The police came and talked to all of them. All Arlene and Camille would tell them was that momma had had a lot of different boyfriends, had stayed out all night before on dates, and had always come home in the morning.
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 in a dark suit introduced himself to Arlene and Camille. They were sure they had never seen him before but it so happened that 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 to be forgotten.
Now that momma was dead, he wanted Camille and Arlene to come and live with him. He had a new wife and he was ready to be a real father to them, finally. 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. They believed they had a choice in the matter. They believed they might say no to anything that didn’t suit them.
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.
After the service was over, everybody got into cars and made a slow procession in the rain 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 momma’s grave, Arlene saw a man standing behind everybody else, looking on. Something about the man caught Arlene’s attention. Instead of looking down at the ground the way everybody else did, he was looking directly at Arlene. She was trying to figure out what was odd about him when he smiled and winked at her. She looked away, but she knew then that he was the man who had killed momma, the same way she knew about the blood on the parking lot at Jesus Saves.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp