A sharp crack of thunder stirred Jessie from his short restless nap. The incessant hum of tires on blacktop reminded him of a wasp nest he came across as a boy playing in his Uncle’s peach grove. He knew enough to leave the swarming hive alone. Still, the angry insects attacked, leaving him badly stung. Even at that young age, Jessie’s inherent bad luck was evident.
The lumbering Greyhound bus lurched from side to side as it rolled down the well traveled highway. Its rhythmic sway lulled many passengers into a comfortable sleep.
But not Jessie.
“No luck,” he repeated to himself. “No luck.”
Born into a poor southern family, Jessie’s life was one struggle after another. “The family luck,” his father bemoaned often, sitting in his old rocker on the back porch of the small wood frame home. “If it weren’t for bad luck, this family would have no luck.”
His father’s words stuck with him, as had his luck. For twenty five years Jessie fought and scratched for everything. But Jessie was a proud man. He never let it get to him. When life knocked him down he recalled his father’s words. Then Jessie would stubbornly pick himself up with a renewed sense of determination.
Jessie’s bad luck culminated in his being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A botched investigation, an overworked public defender and an indifferent jury conspired to seal his fate. As the verdict was read, Jessie could hear his father’s voice calling from the grave, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
That was three years ago. Now he was heading home.
Jessie pulled the faded, wrinkled photo from his denim shirt pocket. Running his fingers lovingly over the image he smiled. His wife Becky was the only good luck to ever come his way. She was his love; his strength; his life. Even after the arrest and trial, Beck staunchly stood by her husband. She knew he was innocent. That’s all that mattered to Jessie. It had seen him through the last three years.
Beck wrote Jessie daily and they spoke on the phone often. But he made her promise not to try and visit him in prison. He didn’t want her to see him and think of him this way.
“Everything will be alright when I get home,” he’d calmly assure her. They both knew their love was strong enough to stand the separation.
When it came time for his release Becky pleaded with Jessie to let her be there. Jessie refused. He needed time to himself; time to get used to being free; time to get his head together; time to forget. Though he burned to hold his wife in his arms, the solitude of the long bus ride was what he needed.
Jessie’s luck held true. The departure was delayed several hours due to a burnt out alternator. A sudden thunderstorm put the late running bus further behind schedule. It was already dark and he still had a long way to go.
Closing his eyes again, Jessie tried to sleep. He knew he wouldn’t. “No luck,” he repeated quietly. “No luck…”
It was well after midnight when the Greyhound finally pulled up to the all night diner which served as the small town’s bus depot. The sweet fragrance of magnolia greeted Jessie as he alighted from the coach and stepped out into the fresh Georgia air. He breathed deeply. The scent reminded him of Becky, and told him he was indeed at last home.
Retrieving his single canvas bag, Jessie headed down the tree lined country lane that would lead him home. The road was dark and deserted but Jessie knew the way by heart. As he walked he pictured his beautiful wife. She was probably asleep, curled up on the sofa, surrendered to the fatigue of anticipation. It gave Jessie a warm feeling inside. He was already beginning to forget the pain and degradation of the past thirty six months, putting it out of his mind, ripping out the pages of that chapter of his unlucky life.
He was home now.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” he said aloud. His words echoed eerily among the tall pine trees, as if a ghost mocking his very thoughts. Jessie tried his best to shake the uncomfortable feeling.
An hour later he turned into the familiar long dirt driveway. The house lay dark, still. As he approached, he noticed the front door stood wide open.
Stepping inside, a faint muffled sound reached Jessie’s ears. It came from the back of the house. He could see a light reflected on a wall. Dropping his bag, he hurried down the short hallway. At the master bedroom Jessie felt his heart stop.
An intruder was bent over the cowering figure of his helpless wife. Becky was cruelly tied to the bed. A wide strip of duct tape silenced her terrified screams. Brandishing a large hunting knife, and savagely ripping Becky’s nightgown, the attacker wasn’t aware of her husband’s arrival.
Jessie tore across the bedroom. Screaming, he threw himself headlong into the surprised assailant. The lethal knife dropped harmlessly to the floor.
Jessie fought like a madman. Even after the would-be rapist stopped moving, he continued to beat and kick the fiend mercilessly. Jessie probably would have killed the man. Just then Becky’s picture slipped from his pocket. It landed on the floor in front of him, bringing Jessie to his senses.
Staggering to his feet, Jessie rushed to his wife’s side. “It’s ok, baby, its ok,” he whispered lovingly, softly stroking her flaxen hair. Gently he pulled the tape from her lips and kissed her. He tasted her salty tears, felt her pounding heart and trembling body.
“It’s ok… I’m here now. It’s over,” he reassured her. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
Looking around, Jessie spied the hunting knife. Scooping it up, he leaned over the bed and began to cut the ropes binding Becky’s hands and feet.
Then he heard a noise.
Thinking it was the intruder coming to, Jessie turned. The knife’s chrome blade flashed menacingly in his hand. Two uniformed policemen stood in the bedroom doorway, guns drawn.
Becky’s scream was obscured by the deafening roar of pistol fire.
The hunting knife slipped from Jessie’s fingers. He felt himself punched backwards across the room. Becky’s eyes met Jessie’s. He slumped to the floor, blood trickling from his lips.
“No luck,” Becky heard her husband say with his last breath. “No luck.”
BJ Neblett is the author of Elysian Dreams, a romantic fantasy adventure available in paperback and e book form. His newest work is an historical memoir about his growing up during the Kennedy administration. Ice Cream Camelot was released earlier this year as an e book to very positive reviews. It will be available in paperback shortly. BJ also hosts two blog sites: www.hereforaseason.blogspot.com for poetry, and www.bjneblett.blogspot.com where he posts his short stories. His poem Black Wall is being considered for inclusion at the Vietnam War Center. BJ’s writings have been compared to that of Haruki Murakami and Isaac Asimov.