The Sheriff’s Memory
Spring echoed in the woods around him. Trees towering above painted the light green as he listened. A bird sang softly in the distance, trilling a delicate melody of joy. Rascal rolled onto his side, pink tongue dangling from his teeth as a wounded soldier might, waiting for that second wind. Things seemed so peaceful and perfect in this place, it almost made the past seem a dream. But in the woody halls stretching before him endlessly, as if time had never changed them, a nightmare lay.
It was the kind of scene that, if he had written it or seen it in a movie, it would have been a dark and stormy night, lightening ripping the sky open and rain beating their heads into submission. But it wasn’t. The day was bright as it was now, some crows chattering in the background annoyingly, but clear and warm. Early leaves had already left their homes to paint the forest floor and the last fingers of summer played around the edges of their ears even as they stood bundled in jackets. He could feel them all standing around him, their silent presence like shadows that linger over the living though the dead have passed.
The dog rolled onto his feet, nose and eyes fixed on the nearby bush, and let loose a bark. Stumbling to his feet, Jason looked quickly about him, hands up and words of defense ready on his lips. His wide eyes locked on the squirrel Rascal had startled out of hiding and slowly the sound of his heart beating in his own ears settled and returned to its normal place reverberating in his chest.
A trembling in his fingers betrayed his calm as he brushed his short hair back. For a moment he was almost surprised not to find the long locks of his youth, but then he had to remind himself that that was all long ago. It had been years since he had even seen one of those guys, never mind spoken to one. And yet…
And yet 15 years later here he was, in the woods were it had happened. When he was a boy this place had seemed like a wonderland secluded from the real world, and he and his friends had spent every possible moment here. Not far from where he stood he could now here the sounds of the real world steadily encroaching upon what was once a haven. Of course, it hadn’t been that in a long time.
The leaves around his feet were flattened by the recent weight of the snow. Looking at the sodden yellow and dull brown of them, he could almost imagine a small area where a body might have lain. The boys limbs would have trembled like his fingers, like the last leaves of Autumn in a soft breeze, his pants smudged with dirt. Jason could see the twigs sticking in the thick black hair as though he’d just had a good leaf throwing fight. But that was not what it had been.
Nassr had begged a hundred times to be allowed into their games, but they never let him. His parents spoke strange and he could remember his mom muttering about them in September. Nassr ate weird food, not American food, and his mother wore a scarf on her head. They never played with him, not until Tom decided to say yes. He said they would just play sheriffs and outlaws. He said it would be fun. He even let Nassr play the outlaw.
Rascal crashed through the underbrush, jumping onto his master as he bounded by and almost knocking him over.
“Down!” Jason hollered without thinking, and the dog recoiled. “Sorry, boy.” He said a moment later, bending to pat the mutts head.
“It’s not you, it’s just…” he sighed heavily. “C’mon. I need some coffee.”