Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
I don’t remember much about my childhood. All but brief glimpses escape me. I do remember the old farmhouse we lived in before the landlord built a new, brick house. The main room had a tall stove. Now I know it must have burned oil. That single source of heat sent warmth all around the ground floor, up the stairs and into three bedrooms. I have no memories of being cold.
A black couch extended away from a window until it curved at a corner and kept running along the adjoining wall. I remember my mother rising up from behind that couch, at the corner where there was room for her to hide, dressed in some spooky costume one Halloween.
Roseburg School, Roseburg, Indiana
I used to stand at the window in the big room and watch the yellow bus drive away with my brother and sister. When they tried to explain school to me, it sounded like a terrible way to spend a day. But all was well. I was too young to go to school and spent the days doing things that made me happy.
Those days were different than the world today. There were no sick bastards hiding behind trees or outbuildings waiting for me to pass by. That simply was not a possibility on the Mills farm in 1962.
We lived two miles from a little town called Roseburg. I find myself hesitating to call it even a burg. Three houses lined the single street. A Methodist church and the school where I would later attend first and second grades stood on the opposite side of the street from the houses. Later, when I was about twelve, I would drive the tractor, pulling loads of corn, soy beans, and wheat to the grain elevator next to the school and church.
I mention Roseburg, the school, the church, and the elevator at this time only to emphasize the remoteness of our home from anyplace that could possibly be called dangerous. Even that lonely burg was separated from us by countless fields and woods.
Roseburg, Indiana Grain Elevator
Beyond that little village was the city of Marion. To me, that was a scary place. We used to go to the YMCA where I took swimming lessons. My mother would often take us to an outdoor public pool called Matter Park until one day, I remember my parents talking about it even now, the city began allowing negroes to swim with white people.
That’s when we started going to a place called Clearwater Park to swim. It was an abandoned gravel pit that someone turned into a commercial swimming pool. There were no black people there. This was about 1962. Was there something wrong with black people? That thought really did go through my five-year-old mind. Did they make the water dirty? It took many years for me to find a satisfactory answer. But from an early age, the questions seemed strange.
Honey Locust Tree
I'm sorry. I've wandered pretty far from the story I wanted to tell you. One day, I ventured outside through the farmhouse front door and kept walking. Don’t be alarmed. My mother wasn't, and she loved me. The woods across the gravel driveway welcomed me, and I accepted the invitation.
From an early age, I learned to avoid chiggers. As an adult, I know the name was wrong, but that’s what we called them. The weeds bit and stung. They weren’t like poison ivy. I never had a problem with that weed, but chiggers would leave welts the size of a dime on my arms and itch for the rest of the day.
After I descended the chigger-guarded hill, I entered the woods. To my memory, honey locusts sporting thorns twice the length of spike nails with a cluster of shorter thorns around the base were the dominant arbor species. Don't let the name fool you. There was nothing sweet about honey locust trees.
But still I ventured there and learned to exist in an environment of opposition. I gave the trees space, and the trees, of course, extended the same courtesy to me. We maintained a comfortable truce. I had no desire to climb a honey locust tree, and the trees showed no interest in me.
I made my way through an expanse of this forest toward a stream known as Pipe Creek. Halfway to the water, something on the ground caught my attention. It barely moved, but my keen five-year-old eyes could not miss it. I spotted the rounded body, the tufted tail, the elongated ears.
A dog would have pounced. I waited. The tiny bundle shook with fear. A fox would have licked its lips. But I crept forward with no evil intent. The bundle drew itself inward even more. It was nothing but a tight ball of fur.
The bunny shook in my hands. I held it close to my face. Where was its mother? Why was it here all alone? What should I do? I ran for home. She would know what to do. When I got to the house, I could not find my mother right away, so I put the bunny in the laundry room.
Mother had gone out to the barn to take my father his lunch. When she came back, I wanted to show her the bunny. But he wasn’t where I left him in the laundry room. We searched and searched until we found him behind the dryer.
Mother was a wise woman, but it was difficult for me to accept her wisdom. I fought her. I cried. Finally, I took the bunny in my hands and walked back toward the woods, past the chiggars. I passed through the honey locusts and found the place on the ground where I first saw him. I built a little hutch of twigs. It was all I could do. Would his mother find him? As a naive boy who felt entirely safe in this place, I hoped she would.
© 2020 Chris Mills