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(from Sanctuary)

Chapter 1: Homecoming


 The truck engine sings out a dull hum as Tom drives a two-lane road, thinking, What an awful night. Others would agree, especially his wife Kathy, who stares out the window — despondent — the silence is deafening. You see, Tom coaches high school football in a small Texas town, and tonight his team played for a playoff spot — it didn’t go well — what an awful night. In the closing minutes of the game, his trusted quarterback, attempting a routine pass, fumbles the ball. Squirt. A freakish fumble. That fumble sealed their fate and the game — it was game over. How is it that game over means your life is over? Crazy to think of it from that perspective, but that’s how Tom sees it. 

Tom strokes around his mouth, where his goatee used to be, contemplating tonight's meltdown, stuck in a hell of sorts as he replays snippets of the game. His internal chatter bounces like a red-rubber ball between two walls. 

Jesus, I’m such an idiot. What was I thinking? What was I supposed to call? It was for a playoff spot, for Christ’s sake. Shit, a fumble. Fall on the fucking ball. Maybe, I should have called something safer. Safer? Right. Maybe, I should start a new career? Yeah, a new career. I like the sound of that. I wonder what it would be like to teach college? Tom glances at Kathy. Look at her. She looks harmless right now, but when she awakens— Shit, won’t that be delightful. Why didn’t I call a safer play? You can’t win the big one by playing it safe. Play it safe, and you might as well just go home. How long can Kathy and I go on like this? Damnit, Conway, why’d you fumble the ball? Man, if this had just happened in the first quarter? Or the third? We could have fixed it. Crap. The townspeople are going to make my life hell. Shit, a fumble. A goddamn fumble. You can do everything right, but then that one freaky thing is your undoing. Why in the hell did I ever decide to come to Texas? Why indeed?  

 Tom strokes around the mouth, where his goatee used to be, reflecting when Paul Johnson came knocking, offering this opportunity; come to Big Springs, coach a team with a rich history of making the playoffs, and receive a significant boost in income for doing it. He couldn’t believe the offer. Studying the team’s impressive postseason history, he was in awe. What the f—? They only missed the playoffs twice in twenty-five years? Can that be right? That has to be a mistake. How can such a small school have such an amazing track record of postseason play? As he researched, it appeared to be true, so Tom plots. What an opportunity. I could rack up a few good years in Big Springs and parlay it into a college coaching position. How sweet would that be? 

What Tom didn’t know is this rich history of winning had spoiled the fan base. They had zero tolerance for losing; winning is the only thing acceptable. This intolerance has been simmering all season, and tonight’s loss brought things to a boil — what an awful night.

God, the town’s people, will make my life a living hell, and then Kathy piling on too. Jesus. I’m not going to hear the end of this. I can hear her droning on and on. She’s so nasty anymore. What happened? She used to be so nice. Sweet. God, she was so pretty when we met. Her beautiful brown hair. Those eyes. Well, that person is gone. Her nastiness makes her look ugly. How’s that possible? Maybe I could take a trip? I hear the Caribbean is nice this time of year. Tom is a man on an island, so why not go to one — for real? 

Tom's two allies in the town are the man who hired him, Paul Johnson and Kathy. Anymore, Kathy has become more a problem than an asset — she’s creating a lot of pressure. Their marriage isn’t on life support, but it limps along, and tonight’s loss isn't helping — more pressure. Tom thought the move to Big Springs would also help their marriage. Boy, how wrong could one person be? He feels like he's juggling chainsaws. 

He glances at Kathy. I really need to getaway. Maybe I can drop her off at the house and get a motel room? Tom snickers. 

Kathy’s head snaps. “What’s so damn funny, Thomas?” He knows when she calls him Thomas, what follows will not be pleasant. “I didn’t see anything funny tonight. Enlighten me.”

“Damn. Here we go.” 

“What? What was that?”

“Oh, nothing.” 

“No, really. You’re over there snickering like a little school girl.”

“Why are you so mean?” 

“You’re kidding, right? Tell me you’re kidding,” Kathy remarks.


“You know those assholes are gathering with their torches and pitchforks, planning something. I don’t know what, but I’ll bet it's a doozy.”

“C’mon Kathy—”

“Don’t c’mon me. Why the fuck did you drag our asses down here? To get ahead? Well, how the hell are your career goals working out for you? Huh? We were doing fine in Ohio.” 

“That’s not true, and you know it. So the people in Texas take their football a little more seriously.”

“Haha. That’s a good one. These people are insane.” Kathy returns to staring out the window. “I sometimes wish someone would just put me out of my misery,” 

“You don’t mean that, do you?” 

“Why not. I have only one friend here, and when you lose a game, I can’t even go out of the goddamn house. I’m a prisoner in that shit-hole-of-a-box that’s our home.”

“Your mouth is getting worse.”

“I know . . . Who the fuck cares how I talk?”

“I do. You never used to cuss, ever.”

“I know,” she replies with a breathy voice. “It’s habit-forming.”

“I’d wish you’d stop . . . Look, let's just get through the year, and we’ll go back to Ohio.” 

“The rest of the year? Really? You still have to teach, so that’s like what, six, seven months?” 

“Well, yeah, something like that,” Tom replies. 

“Are you having fun? C’mon, you’re in hell too, aren’t you?”


“C’mon Tom, let's just flush this place.”

“You know I can’t do that. I signed—”

“Oh Jesus, don’t say that again. Oooh, you and that goddamn contract. Why the hell didn’t Conway just fall on that goddamn ball?” Kathy asks.

“That would have solved a whole bunch of problems, but it is what it is.” 

“Christ, I hate when you say that . . . Sometimes, I think nothing bothers you.”

“Oh, it bothers me. Believe me, it bothers me,” Tom replies, turning onto their street. “But, you can’t let them see it gets to you, cause then it’s like blood in the water."

Kathy replies, crying, “Well, I can’t do that. No matter how much I try.”

“Now, c’mon, don’t cry.”

“I don’t know how much more of this shit I can take?” Kathy blubbers, pawing through her purse pulling out a tissue. She wipes her eyes, blows her nose, and sighs, regaining her composure. “You know, they all hate you. You do know that, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure that’s—” Tom sees a block party? By their house, a huge crowd spills into the street. “What the . . .?” Tom mumbles, punching the gas pedal. 

Everyone is having a grand time trashing the house. A voice cries out, “Oh crap, here he comes.” The truck flies at 50 miles an hour, bearing down on the crowd.

Kathy braces herself against the dashboard and grabs the handle over the door — screaming, “Jesus Christ.” The truck bounces off the cement gutter — taking air, descending on the mob. This shit just got real. 

Upon re-entry, the truck mows down a freshly planted real estate sign, stating, For Sale by Owner. The truck bumper fractures the wooden post — the wooden post shatters the driver's side headlight, creating an explosion of wood and glass. The sign launches toward the house, coming to rest against a shrub. The truck kicks up a dust cloud as it lands in the middle of the front yard; the dust floats like morning fog. The mob scatters. 

Tom throws open the truck door ― a crazy man emerges ― chasing anyone he thinks he can catch, missing, tumbling to the ground. He resets, getting to his feet, setting his sights on another target — tripping, planting himself face first. 

People scramble, searching for a car, any car, or a truck bed to escape. Car doors slam, sounding like machine-gun fire. Revving engines and squealing tires make it sound like a raceway. The sound fades, leaving a lingering smell of burnt rubber.

Tom hammers his fist into the ground, screaming, “Fuck!” Raising his head, he watches the taillights fade into the darkness. 

Kathy stands over him. “What-the-hell were you thinking?” She walks away. “Sometimes you’re a stupid man, Thomas. Somebody’s gotta clean up this shit, and it ain’t going to be me.”

“Damn,” Tom mumbles, rolling to his back. I’m so tired of this shit.

Kathy screams, “Oh my god!” 

What now? 

Tom sits up. Kathy stands on the porch, stabbing at her purse. Trembling, she repeats, “They’ve killed them, they’ve killed them.” Tom sees it — the shattered front window. “Oh my god, oh my god.” Kathy cries, breathing heavy, trying to catch her breath. Her hands tremble — her keys fall to the ground. Getting to his feet, Tom swoops in to help her, but she’s faster, snatching the keys, jamming them into the lock, twisting the knob, busting through the door. Kathy races through the house, conducting a room-to-room search. “Oh my god— They’ve taken the kids.” Tom follows. 

“They’re here . . . somewhere,” Tom remarks. They call out. Every room they enter is empty. She pushes open their bedroom door. 

She gasps, “Oh my god.” The babysitter and kids are huddling in the far corner.

The kids jump up, yelling, “Mommy, mommy.” Peetie and Amber run into their mother’s arms.

“Are they gone?” the sitter blurts out, crying. “They’re gone? Right?” 

“Yes,” Tom replies. “Yes, they’re gone.”

The sitter blubbers, “I thought they were gonna kill us.”

Kathy asks the kids. “Are you okay?” As she squeezes, strokes, and kisses them.

“What happened?” Tom asks the sitter.

“It was a gang,” she snivels. “They drove up and started throwing things at the house. They threw a rock or something through the front window. What’s happening?”

“I’m not sure,” Tom replies.

“It’s those pigs again,” Kathy says. “It’s probably the same bunch that burned the tire tracks in the lawn the night you lost the Green River game.”

“Now you don’t know that for sure,” Tom replies. Tom appears calm, but inside he’s raging. 

“Why are you defending them?” Kathy asks.

“I’m not. It just—”

“My brilliant husband tried to catch them,” Kathy says. “It's good he didn’t because they would be dead right now, and they’d be carting his ass to jail.” Tom's eyes dart between Kathy and the sitter. He leers at Kathy; she gets the message.  

The sitter whines, “I want to go— Can I go now?”

“Sure, I’ll take you home,” Tom replies.  

The sitter bolts out of the room without saying goodbye. Tom and Kathy lock eyes; they know she’s never coming back. Tom follows the sitter. Tom and the sitter move through the living room. Tom gazes to his left, seeing a brick. He freezes.

“That’s it, the thing they threw through the window,” the sitter says. Tom analyzes the path the brick followed to be lodged in the wall. 

My god, the force, the emotion it would have taken to do this . . . Damn . . . I need to get the sitter home. Tom yells, “Kathy, call the sheriff. I’ll be back shortly. And don’t touch anything.”

Kathy races out of the bedroom. “Tom, wait. I’ll take the sitter. You should stay here with the kids. What if they come back?” Tom couldn’t argue with that. Kathy yells from the front yard. “Your truck is running.”

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