There was no doubt it was a mysterious case.
They didn’t ask any questions.
Nobody knew what happened to the boy.
Well that is… besides me.
My name is Katie Duren and I’ve lived in this small town all sixteen years of my bittersweet life. Life wasn’t always so bitter, though. Let’s go back several years to a big white house and a small family farm. It was Independence Day and stars hung in the cool night air as loud sounds of fireworks and of the children’s laughter filled the moment in nothing but happiness. Everyone I knew was at the Winters’ 4th of July celebration that day.
It was the year 1980 and amidst the warm afternoon, there was a large pig roasting, making mouths water and drool all throughout that sizzling day. While the men were out by the roasting pit, drinking their beer, the all the kids that could hold a bat had played a friendly annual game of softball. It was played every single year in the cow pasture behind the Winters’ house, and the other team got a point if you were careless enough to sink your foot into a cow pie (an extra half point if it was fresh.) Our mothers sat by the lake gossiping about strange scuttlebutt while drinking ice cold lemonade. Then, we ate our big roast dinner picnic. That was the best pig I had ever eaten in my life: the warm taste of perfectly spiced meat exploded in your mouth in every bite. I can vividly remember how I swore that the meat on my plastic fork yelled, "Eat Me! Eat me!"
After that delicious meal, we all sat by the fire and told jokes and funny stories our Mammas had told us many times before, and we laughed like crazy. We had us a hog killin’ time! (That’s how we said that we’ve had a good time, here in this old-school town.) But the main excitement of the famous bonfire was always little Tommy Winters. He was the funniest kid around, and had a special charm about him that could make the grouchiest man smile. He would sing and dance all night long, and everyone would sing and dance along with him. Tommy was five weeks older than me and was my greatest friend ever. He was really someone I could ride the river with.
As we grew older, our friendship grew stronger. We did everything together. We’d swim in the lake by his big white house, we’d feed the barn animals together, take his lazy ol’ dog, whom we named Buff because she thought she was so tough, on walks, we even sat together at the bonfire. But my favorite thing we did together was sing. He had the voice of an angel and I had the voice of a toad. But once he learned how to play guitar he taught it to me, too, and I stuck with that. I stuck with him. I used to feel on top of the world when we sang together. He was the movie star of the town. I still haven’t figured out why he had chosen me as his best friend.
Tommy Winters had big dreams. I was the only one that he told these dreams to. He told me of how he wished to go to Nashville and brighten up more smiles in the country with his music. Or at least that’s what his Papa had told him he could do someday, and Tommy believed him. I told him that I’d help him with this dream by raising money to buy the gas to go to Nashville. From then on, we both kept piggy banks to raise money. We even helped in my parents’ diner to get extra cash. Well… as much help as two amateur country kids could be.
Then it happened. It was a dry August evening, in 1987, and lightning crackled in the distance. Only moments later, the heavens had opened up and thick showers of rain pattered on the windows adding to the chorus. That day was not any ordinary day for me, it was my thirteenth birthday. I was at the Winters’ house for birthday cake.
My Pops had left with Uncle Mitch after checking out the Winters’ animals. The rest of the guests had already left with a large variety of excuses- Auntie Meg claimed that her twin boys, Bradford and Joseph, were getting sleepy after the long day, Teresa and Cal announced that they, too, were getting tired (our neighbor Teresa was several months pregnant, so we let them go.) My friend Trixie got a call from her up-tight mother saying that she needed to get home to do homework.(If it was her choice she would have partied all night.)The last to leave was Tommy’s cousin Bud. Bud was two years older and always was bigger and better than Tommy and I, but that was just because he already shaved at age fourteen. Although he was that stereotype football star that likes to be at the top, he was one of the greatest friends any kid could have and wasn’t mean nor egotistical. Sure, he was a jock: but he loved the sport not himself. He was… is a gentle giant. He was supposed to stay over at the Winters’ for the night, along with me, but had to leave because he had a game in the morning.
Tommy and I were in the attic playing some childish game that of which I don’t quite remember. We had stopped at one moment, peered out the steamy window, and watched as a strange van the color of Mrs. Winters’ fiery red hair slowly made its way up the muddy dirt road. Two silhouettes appeared to be coming out the van. One looked strong and heavy, the other had seemed more clumsy and thin. Tommy and I had exchanged anxious glances and ran down the wood stairway to meet our guest.
We halted to a stop and hid behind a wall when we realized that the strangers let themselves in to the house; the screen door slamming behind them. I remember not being able to verify the intruders’ gender for they were wearing all black clothing and masks. The thinner one had walked over to the oak mantel, above the fireplace, that showcased many greeting cards and pictures, and handled a black and white photo of a younger Tommy and me.
Our little hearts had begun to beat as wild as a stampede of Mustangs when the thin person had said in short breaths and a monotone voice,
"That’s the kid. We’ve got the right house."
I turned to Tommy and attempted to whisper to him, but nothing could come past my throat and the scene had transformed us into similar states as the tin man from The Wizard of Oz. We oiled our joints, held hands, and swallowed deeply and nervously. Whoever they were, these people were after us. The next thing we knew, we heard bullets being shot and screaming coming from the living room where Mrs. Winters’ had been sewing a scarf for the coming autumn. We jumped out of our skins like rattle snakes and held on to each other ‘till we knew that the coast was clear.
We ran to the living room where the commotion had been heard earlier. We found the pale corpse of Mrs. Winters lying on the carpeted floor, blood soaking into her new white blouse. I remember that her face had looked frightened and worried. Tommy and I, both, screamed at the horrible sight that lay before us. Hard, pounding footsteps sounded; coming closer to the possessors of the scream. We bolted to the hidden door near the basement and had made the perfect timing, for the people that ran after us, had just missed.
Tommy and I squeezed our eyes shut tightly when another shot and a deeper scream occurred from Mr. Winters’ office. We, as silently as we could, cried like crazy. Again, we scooted away from our hiding spot to observe the crime scene. Sweat dripped down our red faces as we nervously peered into the room to see a father corpse slumped lazily in his seat with a major hole in his right temple; blood smeared down his cheek.
I looked around to look at Tommy’s reaction to this scene, but he was gone; I turned my head in all directions violently. Then, I saw him running for the front door and I, having longer legs, caught up to him with ease and grabbed his elbow.
"Stop!" he whispered harshly. My brow had furrowed at his unfamiliar angriness. I could hear loud whispering coming from the back of the house, heard the back door slam and the intruders rev the van’s engine. Streams of tears marked up Tommy’s handsome face and a fire burned in his blue eyes.
"I’m running away," his words were, again, cold and unfamiliar, "I‘ll miss you, Kat. Ma told me that the cornstalks will be always listening and laughing when I need them. That’s why I need to go to them. Do you promise to tell nobody ‘bout where I am? Swear Kat. Swear." I had just nodded, not knowing what I was doing, as a tear slipped down my rosy, childish cheeks. He squeezed my hand before he ran as far as his little legs could carry him and disappeared. I was a foolish little girl. ‘Cause that was the last that I ever saw of my very best friend.