Word around town is that my troubles started the day I killed a man. But that’s not accurate. My troubles started when I was born here in Smyrna to a mama with a warped moral code and a ghost of a man.
The ghost, my daddy, died before I could even say his name. Mama said she tried to raise me up right. Each night at supper that summer—the summer that changed my life—mama rattled on about our neighbor, Mr. Mullinax, panning for gold.
“Money is the root of all evil, and it is sitting in plain sight in his backyard. All that gold in that barrel. You spend all that time shoveling for him and get nothing. Nothing! He just hoards it all.”
But money isn’t the root of all evil. The love of it is. From where I was sitting at that supper table, I wasn’t sure if mama was mad at Mr. Mullinax for having all that money or just mad she didn’t.
If she spent too much time on Mr. Mullinax not sharing hisriches, then she’d squirm in her seat. Uncomfortable in her own greed. She’d say, “But now, don’t go wishing for worms in another person’s apple. Not right. I suppose I can’t tell Mr. Mullinax what to do with his own money.”
Mr. Mullinax was my friend. My only friend. I sat down by Wolf Creek and helped him collect his riches. We had us a routine. I would dig under the big rocks and inside the bends where the heaviest stuff settled. Mr. Mullinax would take my hard work and sift it looking for the riches. Then we walked back towards home where he’d promptly dump it all in a barrel behind his house.
Mama said it wasn’t right. Me doing all the hard work with the digging, and Mr. Mullinax taking it all. For a long time, I rolled my eyes at mama’s protests. But one summer day, things shifted inside me.
The musk of creek water filled our tiny kitchen. Mama recoiled from me as she put my supper plate down.
“Been making Mr. Mullinax rich again, huh? Doing all the hard work. You sure smell like hard work. Look like it too.”
It felt like a rubber band slapped back against my heart. I did make Mr. Mullinax rich. Mama’s protests had finally tainted my friendship. I started to doubt him.
On a Thursday afternoon, sun beating down baking the sand like a pecan blondie, I killed Mr. Mullinax. I was digging and coated in sweat. He was bent over the creek bed wetting his bandana to cool off. As I brought the shovel down on the soft part of where his head meets his neck, I thought to myself, “I’m going to miss him.”
I sat on the wet sand, my jeans absorbing the dampness. From both the exertion and shock, I was desperate for air. Taking it in so fast I choked on it.
As he fell, his head turned to look back at me. The shovel rested on Mr. Mullinax’s cheek, covering his eyes. The realization that I had killed my only friend sped through my body with adrenaline.
I collected myself. My soaked jeans were weighed down by creek water. I lifted the shovel, and his clouded blue eyes stared back at me.
His arms were slippery in my wet hands. My biceps trembled with exhaustion as I dragged him off the sand and nestled him in amongst the wildflowers. I brushed my hand over his open eyes. I leaned back down and crossed his arms over his chest to signal he was at rest. This was all mama’s fault.
I was so lonely.
Smyrna isn’t home to many. The sign into town says population forty-five, but someone will have to repaint that sign. With Mr. Mullinax laid out next to the creek, we are down to forty-four.
The sheriff found Mr. Mullinax resting in the wildflowers. Then the sheriff found me. Because of my age, I was sent off to a special hospital. Mama cried loud in the courtroom, making the sentencing more about her than anyone else.
Mr. Mullinax had a will. Turns out that barrel of gold was left to me—his good friend. Over a million dollars in gold right behind his old house.
Of course, all that treasure went to mama.
Katy is a writer and editor for a national engineering and surveying organization and a fiction editor for Identity Theory. When she’s not busy blessing hearts, you will find her petting a dog. She was born and raised in South Carolina and lives in Anderson with her spouse and two pups, Finn and Betty Anne. You can find her on Twitter at MarchingFourth, and you can find her published work at katygoforth.com.