Mojo Shack

by Jeremy J. Teague

Clay could remember when the carved stone path to the garage behind the house led through the manicured lawn and he would write chalk numbers on the stones and jump from one to the next in his new sneakers. The grass had now grown tall and the stones had been pried up and sold for a few crumpled bills that had spent about twenty minutes in his Daddy's pocket before Daddy had invested the money in supplies for his new business.

The Kilroys next door had started their business before Daddy, right after the mines shut down, and they must have done all right because they were up and about at all hours, day and night. Daddy talked about how disgraceful it was, what Tom Kilroy was doing, and that Tom should go out and look for a new job like an upstanding man from these parts ought to do when his luck turns sour.

Daddy's job had left town with the mines as well and he did some work here and there for a while, and he said it was respectable, but he couldn't string together a regular paycheck. After a few weeks of coming home dirty and exhausted with next to nothing to show for it, he started taking a mighty keen interest in Tom Kilroy's business.

One night at supper, he told Mama and Sis and Clay that he was starting his own business, just like Tom Kilroy had done. Why should he work for someone else when he could do just as well on his own? Hell, maybe even better.

The day that Clay saw Daddy carrying his new equipment along the path to the garage out back was the same day that the Kilroys' double-wide burned to the ground, and the Kilroys must have moved on and found somewhere else to live because Clay hadn't seen them since.

Starting a business was tough work, and expensive, too. Daddy had only been up and running for a couple of weeks when he sold the old John Deere tractor and the hydraulic Bush Hog that went with it, but that was just the start of it. He sold off just about everything that could be moved from one place to another, including Clay's new sneakers and the carved stones that led up to the garage.

Clay walked up the muddy path in his bare feet and saw the rusty padlock when he reached the door to the garage. Daddy calls the garage his Mojo Shack because he says it's going to help him get his mojo back and get things around here back like they used to be. Mama and Daddy are inside and they must be working because Clay can see the smoke spinning through the whirlybird on the roof and he can smell the ammonia, not the stuff in the spray bottles that Mama uses to clean the kitchen but the good stuff that comes in the heavy white tanks. The fumes take his breath away and he feels the familiar budding of a headache.

But he's never seen the padlock on the door before and he wonders how Mama and Daddy put the lock on the outside of the door while they were still inside.

When he turns back toward the house to go ask Sis if she locked the shack and if she can give him the key so he can go in and see Mama and Daddy, the man is standing on the path just a few feet away.

The man has long hair and a shaggy beard and he smiles at Clay and his teeth are pocked with little black holes. He's holding a bulky plastic container with tubes sticking out of it that he sets down as he takes an unsteady step toward Clay.

"Do you want to go in and see your Ma and Pa, little man? Your sister's already in there," he says as he points at the door to the garage.

Clay looks up at the man and nods his head.

The man digs in his pocket and pulls out a set of keys. His hands are shaking so badly that he can barely hold onto the jumble of keys as he sorts through them, looking for the one that opens the padlock. He looks confused and quickly gives up and smiles at Clay again. "They'll be out soon enough, son. Just sit and wait right here."

The man stuffs the key ring back into this jeans pocket, picks up the plastic container with the tubes sticking out of it, and walks down the path to a big red pickup truck where two other men are waiting. He tosses the plastic container in the truck bed with a bunch of other similar containers and shuts the tailgate. The three men climb into the truck's cab and drive away.

Clay would've smelled the smoke before he felt the heat from the fire if his nostrils hadn't still been burning from the ammonia. He turns back to the garage and sees the flames licking at the window next to the door. He doesn't have a key to open the padlock, so he does like the man said. He sits down on the path and he waits.

BIO: Jeremy J. Teague attended Murray State University and spends his days as a left-brained technical leader in the business world. He lives with his wife and three children (one human, two dogs) in western Kentucky. This is his first publication.