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The Beginning is rated PG-13 by my standards.
The Beginning, by Deanna Schrayer
This is not the beginning of the story. The beginning starts at the end. But as Austin waits on the front porch for Shannon to arrive he is oblivious of that forthcoming end. He’s eighteen-years-old after all, with all his life ahead of him. He has no thought of an end, any end.
Austin’s girlfriend is coming over to have dinner with him and his parents before they go out for the night. As he pushes himself back and forth on the porch swing, chewing on a straw and squinting towards the pine trees lining the long drive, Austin imagines where he can take Shannon this evening.
She loves to be where the action is – carnivals, ball games, concerts, anywhere she can listen to the roar of a crowd as she holds Austin’s sweaty hand and pulls him onward to whatever’s next. Austin doesn’t mind, he simply takes her proffered hand and waits to be moved. He walks slightly behind her, allowing her to lead while he watches her thick brunette hair bounce on her shoulders, occasionally tripping over his feet because he isn’t truly there, he’s in the back seat of his Jeep, Shannon’s hair tickling his nose, her mouth on his neck.
“Hey, you!” Shannon laughs and pulls Austin into her arms, whispers in his ear, “Watch where you’re going,” laughs again, kisses his cheek.
The crunch of tires on gravel startles Austin out of the daydream and he jumps up out of the swing, ready to run to her, to wrap his arms around her waist and swing her around as he pours kisses on her neck. (He hasn’t seen her for a whole week, she’d been on vacation with her family). But it’s only Skip coming up the drive, his dad’s friend who is here to help Darryl fix the tractor. Of course it wouldn’t be Shannon, Austin thinks, she’s never on time, so nutty-professor like, or maybe just always in a rush; she often has to search high and low for her keys, her phone, her purse. She’ll be a while, he’s sure of it.
Austin heads to the garage where he takes out his dirt bike and rolls it to the edge of the hills beyond the back yard. It’s a cloudy day, still sticky from the storm that passed through last night. The ground is soft, squishy, and Austin wonders if he should just put the bike away, if maybe he shouldn’t chance covering his whole self in mud as he knows will happen. But then he figures he’ll have plenty of time to get cleaned up before Shannon gets there. He jumps high in the air and lands perfectly on the seat, ignites the cycle and revs it a few times before gunning it, fishtailing the back tire, spewing grass and mud in his wake as he climbs the hill.
Austin still has no idea what’s coming. For now he thinks only of Shannon while the bike vibrates his entire body, like he’s descending the world’s fastest roller coaster, his girl by his side, screaming.
Shannon wants to speed, to get to Austin as fast as she can, but she takes the curvy mountain road in her Datsun slow and easy. The roads are still wet up here, the full oak and pine trees casting too much shadow to allow any sunlight through to dry the asphalt.
She barely sees the deer fly through the air in front of her. Shannon slams on the brakes and skids off the shoulder of the road. She sits trembling in the car, just catching sight of the puffy white tail disappearing down the mountain. She wonders where the fawns are; she has always seen at least two babies wherever a doe is. But after watching a couple of minutes as the car idles, no more deer appear.
Her limbs begin to relax and Shannon feels her foot still pressing the brake and she lets up on it slowly, shifting the car into park. She reaches for her phone in the passenger seat with the intention of texting Austin. But her phone isn’t there. Shannon leans over and rakes her hand around on the passenger floorboard but it isn’t there either. She’s left it at home again. Sighing, she straightens up and readjusts the rearview mirror, squirms around until she’s back in driving position. She’ll have to turn around and go back home to retrieve her phone.
Austin’s dad throws the wrench down and turns towards the back field. “Damn it Austin, slow down!” he screams. He’s not been watching but Darryl Camfield knows the sound of that motorcycle as well as he knows the recklessness of his son riding it. He can’t concentrate on what Skip is trying to show him for the awful whining racket of that bike engine.
Austin rides on, oblivious, hitting the bumps in the ground as hard as he can in order to send the bike soaring through the air.
“Damn boy’s gonna kill hisself,” Daryl mutters as he turns back to the tractor. Skip stands by the open hood, beefy arms across his chest, grinning and shaking his head as if he’s seen this, heard this very reaction from his friend more than once.
He hadn’t heard his dad’s aggravated shout a few minutes ago but he brakes now. One yell from his mother’s commanding voice and he knows: stop. Austin’s happy to see she’s up and around today at least. He stands with the bike beneath him, relaxing his hands to slow the revving. He looks to the back porch where his mother stands patiently, nods his head to tell her he’s listening.
“Shannon’s going to be a little late,” she hollers, “she forgot her phone and had to go back to get it.”
Austin gives his mom a thumbs-up, then jumps and once again the Honda engine booms to life, taking the young man on a fast ride. He catches a glimpse of his dad and Skip looking towards him, both of them shaking their heads, Skip smiling wide as always and Darryl almost smiling but quickly wiping his mouth as if to mime a frown. Austin takes his hand off the bar long enough to wave at them and laughs as he picks up speed, heading for the next makeshift ramp.
The back yard is fully shaded now; Austin’s been riding longer than he thought. He gets off the motorcycle and turns it towards the house, walking it down the hill. He’s hot, his muddy jeans and tee shirt sticking to his drenched skin, the sweat dripping from the ends of his hair onto his face when he takes the stifling helmet off. He blinks sweat out of his eyes, looks towards the driveway, and tries to focus.
Shannon is standing in the driveway, wearing a gauzy-looking white sundress that shivers in the slight breeze. She holds her hands out as if in supplication, but he can’t see the look on her face, she’s too far away.
And that’s when it happens.
Austin loses his balance and loses his grip on the motorcycle. He feels himself going down, feels his ankle twist grotesquely as he falls and falls and falls as if from the top of a mountain, he feels the motorcycle following his tumble down the hill with ever-increasing momentum and there’s a raucous crack as the heavy bike hits….
It’s over. It is dark and quiet and Austin doesn’t know where he is. He feels stupid as he remembers Shannon was watching, she had seen him stumble and tumble down the hill like an idiot. He sits up gingerly and is surprised to find he’s facing the back fields. He turns his torso, carefully, and wipes the sweat from his eyes with his sleeve, smearing mud on his face.
Shannon is nowhere that Austin can see.
He pulls himself up off the ground and is relieved to find he isn’t hurt, maybe a bruise or two, his ankle throbs a little. The bike is at the bottom of the hill, resting against the back porch steps as if its owner had gotten disgusted with it and threw it down.
His dad is walking towards him, slowly, removing his greasy cap and slumping forward as with a great weight on his shoulders. The frown on Darryl’s face is not the same one he wore when he yelled at his son a while ago; it’s a look Austin has never seen before. Austin’s dad stands before him and stares, unmoving.
“Dad?” Austin says.
Darryl glances away and runs his hand through his hair, several times.
Something is wrong. What’s wrong?
“Mom? Is it Mom?” Austin starts to run towards the house.
His dad grabs hold of Austin’s arm and stops him. He shakes his head – no, not Mom.
He takes hold of the boy’s shoulders. “Austin,” he says and hangs his head. He looks back up at his son, grips his arms tighter. And he tells him, “There’s been an accident…..it’s Shannon.”
And this is it, this is the beginning, the beginning of the end for Austin Camfield.
First of all, I’m sorry to all of you who like happy endings! But stories have a mind of their own….
I don’t normally “cheat” where Friday Flash is concerned but this short, (around 1500 words), simply did not work well broken into two parts. It is also rare that I write in present tense but I hope you can see why this one called for it. Thanks so much for reading!
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