“Blessing or Curse?” is a short story in “Lighting the Dark Side” by William R. Potter, a collection of fiction including three novellas and three shorter works.
BLESSING OR CURSE?
The second week of July was one of the hottest in recent memory. The heat had escalated from that pleasant stage where everyone talked about the nice weather to the point that it was now increasingly irritating. Air-conditioning and long swims in the pool did little to alleviate the sticky clothes and sleepless nights of a grumpy, dehydrated family.
I believe that it is fortunate for a thirty-six-year-old guy to have one true friend; I am lucky enough to have three. However, the fact that only Kevin had accepted an invitation to my barbecue had me believing that I would never regain friendships that had stood for
more than twenty years.
“Dude, you’re burning the s**t out of those steaks,” Kevin Cutler nudged me out of my position at the grill, handed me a beer and then flipped the mass of sirloin.
Cutler was wiry, with little body fat and when he could no longer hide his thinning hair, he had shaved his head. He took the hairless look all the way, now waxing his back and chest regularly.
“Thanks for coming.” I shouldered him aside to reclaim my spot. We clinked beer bottles. “Appreciate it.”
“No worries. Quattro!” He held out his right hand with four fingers extended.
The name Quattro and the hand sign represented a foursome of friends including Kevin, Thomas Davis, Steven Walker, and myself.
“Looks like I pretty much killed Quattro, man.” I glanced at him.
“Is it? Steve and I almost traded punches last time I saw him and Tommy—I don’t know.” I waved to my seven-year-old son, Cameron, in the pool as he jumped off the diving board. “Walker acts like I’m now some limo-riding Hollywood prick. I mean, I haven’t changed, have I?”
“Nah. You always were an a**hole.”
“Tommy is fine. He just doesn’t want to take sides.”
“Brad, we were nuts to ask you for money. Everybody knows that friends and money is a bad mix.” He pointed at the grill again.
I flipped the meat and brushed on a liberal coating of sauce. “I wanted to give you guys the cash as a gift.”
“The Mustangs were enough. You know that Walker is too proud or stubborn to take anything more.” Kevin took a long pull from his beer. “He thinks you’ll hold it over him or something.”
“Does that sound like me?” I held my hands up in mock surrender.
“Sounds more like him.”
“This goddamn money, man. Sometimes it’s a curse.” I shook my head.
“F** off, Stewart.” He looked at me with irritation. “Don’t ever complain about being rich, man. That’s bulls**t.”
Cutler had no idea how life had changed since I won almost twelve million in the lottery five months earlier. The charities, both bogus and legit, hounded us night and day. The phone calls from past colleagues, cousins I never knew, everyone with their hands
out for a piece of my windfall.
“Sorry, bud.” I reached into the cooler and handed him another beer. The people I’d like to help, my best friends, won’t take my money as a gift or a loan. I offered to bankroll the others in their long-suffering dream to buy the house-painting business where we all worked.
Kevin’s five-year-old son Dylan appeared and began to drag his father toward the pool. I turned off the grill and began to fill a pan with steaks.
Jennifer, my wife, smiled at me. Her attempt to convince me that everything would be okay. She told me that she and Natasha, Kevin’s wife, had the rest of the meal ready.
I glanced at Jenny and across the lawn to where Cameron was spraying Kevin’s six year-old daughter Nicole with a huge water gun. Before the money, my family hardly saw me as I worked sixty or more hours a week painting homes and businesses. Now I was around all the time and Jenny and I had begun bickering.
We blamed the heat and all the attention that the money had brought for the fighting. Sometimes I wondered if we still had what it takes to make a marriage work.
Jennifer was saying something to me and it wasn’t registering in my brain. “Brad, can you bring the kids to the table?”
“Kids—table—dinner.” She stepped up and kissed me on the cheek. “Wake up, eh?”
At the back of my property is a ravine and a power line. Often, kids rode dirt bikes past my home, breaking the calm with thunderous engine noise. Now it sounded as if a pickup was close by. The engine roared.
Then the unexpected happened.
The truck smashed through the fence at the top of my lot.
It was a Mercedes ML 320 sport utility and not some old rusty Ford. It kept going through Jenny’s strawberry bushes around the pool and straight for us.
“What the s**t!” Kevin set his beer down and stepped closer to the pool.
In the Mercedes were four pale white men in their twenties instead of the drunken teenagers I had expected. They stopped a few feet from us and bolted out with handguns drawn. I just stood there, not believing what was happening. One of the gunmen had spiky dyed blond hair and a weird nervous grin on his face.
“What the F**K is this!” I said, moving closer to Cameron. Blond guy swung his pistol and caught me at my left temple and I staggered and went down. Pain shot through my skull and when I struggled to stand, I was staring at a gun barrel.
“S**t.” Kevin moved to help me. The biggest of the four had his hair tied back in a blue and white bandana; he stepped up, threw a short punch that caught Kevin in the face, and Kevin went down hard.
The guy with the bandana was the leader; he started barking orders to his accomplices in a language I did not recognize. Blondie and the boss had guns, semiautomatic pistols,
on everyone. The shortest guy of the group and the other with purple streaks in his hair moved toward the pool where the children were.
Purple hair waded into the pool and grabbed my son Cameron.
“No!” Jenny screamed.
Purple slapped Jenny and handed Cameron to Shorty.
“Brad!” Jenny yelled.
I pushed away from Blondie, but the boss kicked my legs out from under me. Purple hair was back in the pool; he snatched up Dylan and Nicole. Purple and Shorty carried the children and put them in the Mercedes.
Read the Conclusion in LIGHTING THE DARK SIDE. Available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and from Lightingthedarksidewrp.com
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Praise for William Potter and LIGHTING THE DARK SIDE
"These novellas and short stories are definitely page-turners. I shouldn’t think it’d be long before a major publishing house snaps Mr. Potter up because he belongs on the bookshelves with the likes of Jeffery Deaver and Peter Abrahams." Highly recommended by reviewer: Jan Evan Whitford, Allbooks Reviews
"Potter shines a little light on the darker side of humanity. Fans of modern fiction will enjoy Lighting The Dark Side." Debra Gaynor, Review Your Book.com
"This book, Lighting the Dark Side, by William R. Potter, will definitely be enjoyed by all fans of fiction. I think that it would make an excellent selection for a reader´s group or for a college course." Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (7/08)
This is a Great Book! By C. Eversole
I´m so glad I decided to get Lighting the Dark Side. (Potter) has made it easy to really connect with the characters in this book through these detailed stories. In fact, you might not notice how time flies when you’re reading this one; it really is hard to put it down! 5 Stars
A Captivating Read By Heather Shockney (Greensboro, PA USA)
I would recommend Lighting the Dark Side to everyone. They will be hooked from the start. It takes a great author to keep my attention when reading a book. Mr. Potter has done that wonderfully. I was not able to put the book down until I was done reading the last page. 5 Stars
Engaging Stories By Cassandra Mae (Wisconsin)
The author (Potter) has written an engaging book. The characters are so well-developed that you can "feel" them. For the life of me, I could not put this book down until I finished it in one day! This is only the second book in my 43 years that that has happened to me. 5 Stars
Full Reviews posted to Amazon.com