Thursday, July 16, 2015

Yellow Shoes Shining In The Sun - by Nedra L. Culp

Here is another fictional story written by my mother
in the 1950's.  She wrote a lot about post WWII life, but she also wrote stories about small town life. 



                                                                       by Nedra L. Culp

They had great times that summer, hiking, fishing and swimming, and after they had their new rifles, hunting jack rabbits in the greasewood and sagebrush.  David Short and Butch Jackson were fifteen years old.  They left Canyon City and hiked out through the greasewood to where it merged with the scrub oak and jack pines, which clustered at the foot of Red Mountain.  When they reached the stream of sparkling water, they dropped to their stomachs and drank, long, gulping swallows.

It was nice lying in the shade.  The locusts skipped and hummed in the thicket lending a drowsy air of contentment to the warm day.  David felt for the waxed paper that held the huge chunks of bread with corned beef.  He drew himself up on one elbow and took a bite, chewing slowly, savoring it.  Butch was fooling with his rifle, his dark head bent over it, unloading and reloading it.  Butch loved that gun.  It was something to fondle and caress.  David was proud of his rifle, too, but it was just a gun, something to have fun with.

He liked being with Butch – they understood each other.  It was enough to be with him, talking when he felt the need, respecting his moods and silences and knowing he could expect the same from Butch.  He knew that it was better to be with Butch than with the gang.  They had wanted he and Butch to come along with them that morning, but they stuck to their decision to go hunting.  He didn’t much like the things the gang did anymore.  It had been fun at first, and kind of exciting, going into old, deserted houses, breaking windows and scattering things about, but breaking in houses where the people were away temporarily and stealing – that was something different.

Butch sat up quickly.  “Watch it,” he whispered.  From the thicket beyond the stream a huge jack rabbit emerged, sniffing and testing the air.  And then he spotted the boys, but not before Butch had a bead on him, and by that time, David was getting him in his sight too, but their shots, fired in rapid succession, did not deter the rabbit in his hasty exit into the undergrowth.

Butch aimed and fired and a branch splintered from the oak.  David tried on the other side, and they kept that up, trying to outshoot each other, but it was so far away, sometimes they didn’t know if they hit or missed.  The only thing that stopped their target practice was that they ran out of ammunition, and then David remembered what Dad had said about wasting expensive shells.

“Come on,” Butch sprang to his feet and laid down his gun with loving care.  “Let’s see how many hits we got.”

They went along the red dirt road and circled into the oak thicket, looking for the marks their bullets made on the gray oak bark, tallying up their score, but not knowing which gun had made the hit.  They came to a small clearing, back of the trees, and David was walking along, whistling merrily and thinking about the fine time they had had shooting, when he saw the man.  First he saw the shoes, yellow and shining in the sun.  The man wore bright green trousers of some fine soft goods, and a purple plaid jacket.  He lay face downward, his warms thrust outward, drawing purple jacket sleeves up to reveal yellow silk shirt cuffs, fastened with glittering gold cuff links.  His white fingers, on which the dark hair stood out sharply, were dug into the dirt.

A part of David’s brain that could reason wanted to feel for his pulse.  He could see no blood.  He moved closer to the body and reached down to touch it, when the smell strangled him.  It was the death smell.  It permeated his nostrils and went into his throat, gagging him, and he ran, hand over his mouth into the bushes and was sick.  He looked back at the man and he could still see those yellow shoes shining in the sun.

He saw Butch running and he followed, weak in the knees and in the stomach.  Butch drew his gun strap over his shoulder and picked up the remains of their lunch.  He looked at David for the first time since it had happened and their eyes held terror.

“I don’t guess we’ll be eating the rest of this?”  It was a fearful question.  David clutched his stomach and shook his head.

“What’re we gonna do?” he cried, looking to Butch for help.
“We’re gonna get out of here and fast.”

They cut through the woods and down across the flat, running as though some enemy was nipping at their heels.  Often, when they came up this way, they would go the mile and a half down the dirt road to the highway where they could hitch a ride back to Canyon City.  Today they skirted the road, keeping hidden behind the high brush.  David’s throat was burning and raw, and his heart was near to bursting, but he would not stop until Butch gave the word.  At last they dropped to the ground, panting, their clothes wet and clinging to their bodies.

“I didn’t see any blood.  I s’pose he fell on his stomach when we hit him.”

“Yeah.  But that smell - that awful death smell.  You smelled it too, didn’t you Butch?”

“It was the death smell, all right.  You never can mistake that.”

“Who could he be?” David asked.  “I never saw a man who wore clothes like that.  He didn’t have no business sneaking around behind those oaks.  He must have known we were there.  We couldn’t help it, Butch.  We couldn’t.”  Dry sobs choked him as terror rolled over him in fresh waves.  “What’ll they do to us?  Butch, what’ll they do?”

Butch sat up, his face grimy and sweat-streaked.  “What d’you mean, Dave?  They’re not gonna find out who shot him.  We keep our mouths shut and nobody will ever know we was up this way.  You didn’t tell your Mom where we was going did you?”  He looked anxiously at David.

“No, I told her we was going out on Ising-Glass Hill ‘cause she always fusses when we come up this way.”

“That’s what I told my Mom.  So we stick together and don’t say nothin’ and who’s gonna be the wiser.”  Butch seemed to shed some of the fear that gripped him.  “Yeah.  Why they might not find his body for weeks.  Hardly anybody goes up that old road.”

David tried to absorb some of Butch’s new-found confidence, but he kept thinking of the man in the clearing, lying face down in the dirt.  “We should’ve looked to see who he was.  I’ll never forget the way he looked and those yellow shoes.”

“Neither will I,” Butch said, “But you gotta look at it reasonable like and think how we never meant to do it.  It was an accident, and not like it was pre – premeditated or nothing like that.”

They sat until the shadows dropped down from the mountain and covered them and a crisp coolness replaced the blazing rays of the sun.  They tried to talk natural, normally, but fear kept crowding in, gripping their senses and forcing them to turn to one another for support.

“It’s like being in a firing squad,” David said.  “D’you know some of the guys have blanks and some have live ammo and no one knows who kills the prisoner.  Not even the warden, probably.  That’s why we got to stick together.”

“Yeah, we got to stick together, sure.  We better go home now, though,” Butch said.

They circled around town and came in so that it would appear to the eye of a casual observer that they were returning from a hunting expedition out on Ising-Glass Hill.  They started down the tree-arched street that led to Butch’s white house when David saw the black car with the gold star on the side.  He didn’t have to look twice to know that it was the sheriff, and impulsively, not thinking how it would look, started to run and Butch followed him.  The black car cruised slowly by and when it got to the end of the block, turned and came back, slowly again and by that time they were in Butch’s yard concealed behind a pine tree.  David could see the sheriff and the man who road with him looking hard in their direction, and the car came to a near stop, and then picked up speed and disappeared down the street.

“You dope  You shouldn’t’a run,” Butch said angrily.

“I couldn’t help it,” David defended.  “I couldn’t think of nothing except getting away.  D’you think they were looking for us?”

“They couldnt’a been.  ‘Course they couldn’t.”  He looked anxiously toward his house.  “I’d better go in.”  He took David’s hand and gripped it hard.  “remember we’re pals.  Right?”

“Right,” David replied and tried to give the saucy wink and smart toss of his tow-head that was his trademark, but it came of rather sickly.

“Davey, is that you?” Mom called as he came in the front door.  “Get washed up now for dinner will soon be on the table.  Did you have a good day?  Shoot anything?”

David stood in the kitchen door, trying to remember that this was like any other night when he had come home from hunting with Butch.  “Oh, nothing much.  Saw a jack or two.  What’s for dinner?”

“You just get washed up Davey, and you’ll see.  A surprise for dessert, just for you.”  She passed by him with a covered dish on her way to the dining room.  She reached out and ruffled his tousled, sun-bleached hair and she drew back her hand in mock horror.  “You march right to the bath room and wash that hair.  You have time for a quick bath and you sure need it.”

He scrubbed himself hard, and then he stood before the mirror combing his unruly hair.  He looked at himself, fully expecting to see the guilt that he felt like a hard knot in the pit of his stomach, imprinted on his face.  He looked the same, though, from his wide blue eyes to the freckles that were scattered generously over his round face.  He looked okay and if he didn’t try to talk much, he’d be able to hide it and soon it would be better.  Things always get better with time, don’t they?

It wasn’t really any different from any other night.  Dad was in a sports shirt into which he changed at night after a day on the road in his business suit.  Dirk, his brother who was eighteen, ate wolfishly of the succulent roast beef and vegetables, and for once in his life, David was glad that Dirk didn’t care much about him and seldom paid any attention to him.  Baby Angela, who was three, was the pride and joy of the family, sat in her high chair and kept Mom and Dad entranced with her charming baby ways.  Mom passed the food around, looking nice and fresh as always, knowing that she pleased her family exceedingly well with her fine cooking.

It was just like any other night, except that he couldn’t eat.  The food stuck in his throat like glue and gagged him.  He hoped Mom wouldn’t notice and start questioning him as to what was wrong.  He didn’t think he could take much of that.  But of course, Mom would notice, for all her boys ate heartily, and if they did not, she knew that something was amiss.

“Davey, you’ve scarcely touched a bite.  You didn’t walk so far today you’re sick, did you?  I thought you told me you were only going to Ising-Glass Hill.”  She got up and came to him and put her cool, firm hand upon his forehead  “Why you’ve a fever.  You’re hot as fire.”

“Oh, Mom, it’s just a little sunburn, that’s all.  Quit fussing, will you?  Can’t a guy not be hungry once in a while?”  He drew his head angrily from beneath her probing fingers.

“Not my guy,” Mom said.  “But then I think I know what will perk you up.”  She went to the kitchen and returned carrying a plate with a huge wedge of thick yellow custard pie.

Well, there was nothing David liked better than custard pie, but he looked at it, at the shaky yellowness of it, and he sprang from his chair and bolted for the bathroom.

“I knew something was wrong.  Oh, land, they play so hard and walk so far when they get out with those rifles.  I wonder if I should call the doctor?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Dad said.  “He’s just got a little touch of the sun.  Make him go right to bed and he’ll be all right.”

“Characters!” Dirk said sarcastically.  “Walking miles to shoot at a few mangy jack rabbits.  Boy, I don’t see how anyone could be so dumb.”

“Well, you’re not fifteen, Dirk, but you were once,” Dad said.

He did have a fever.  He was burning up and the sheets that felt so cool and soothing to his tired, aching body when he first crawled between them, were soon limp and warm.  Mom and Dad came in and he told them he was all right.  Just a little weak in the stomach.  Too much sun.  He just wanted to be alone, that was all.

He turned and rolled, searching every inch of the bed for a place that would be right for his threshing body, but none would do.  He kept going back to the man, lying face downward, his yellow shoes shining in the sun.  Deep burnished yellow they were and thrust out at right angles to the heavy body of the black-haired man.

Mom got out her mending and Dad settled down to read the evening paper.  Dirk went out the door and soon they heard his old jalopy roar off down the street.  The minutes ticked slowly by and became hours.  Mom began to yawn and talk about going to bed and then the doorbell’s peal shattered the stillness of the night.  Mom went to answer it and when she opened it, there stood Sheriff Marshall and his deputy, Pete Allen.  She knew both of the men to speak to and she wondered what they could want here at this time of night, but she felt no need for alarm.  Dad got up and shook hands with the men and they all sat down.  The sheriff cleared his throat and started to speak.  He kept his eyes downcast for he found that it was easier to impart unpleasant news if he did that.

“It’s not a pleasant errand I’m on, Fred Short.  I never is when it concerns the young ones.”

Dad looked at the sheriff, puzzled.  “Well, get on with it, Sheriff.”

“There’s been a lot of hoodlumism going on in Canyon City these past months and this afternoon some boys broke into a house and took forty dollars in cash and nearly five hundred dollars of sterling silver.”

“But surely you don’t think….” Dad trailed off, watching the sheriff anxiously.

“I’m sorry, Fred, but when Deputy Allen and I were patrolling we saw a couple of boys sneaking along, kind of suspicious like and when they saw us, they broke into a run and hid.  It was your boy David and that Butch Jackson.”  It pained the sheriff to see the anxious, frightened expressions on the faces of these good people and he dropped his eyes to the floor.

“No.  No.” Mom cried out, tense and leaning forward in her chair.  “Not our David.  He and Butch Jackson were hunting out on Ising-Glass Hill all day.”

“That’s right, “ Dad corroborated.  “You must be mistaken.”

“I ain’t saying for positive.  I just know they was acting suspicious and we’re questioning anybody we saw doing anything out of the way.”  He cleared his throat painfully and asked, “Could we see your boy?”

David thought he would never sleep and that he must have tossed for hours, but actually it was only a matter of an hour or so before his anguished body relaxed and his brain gave in reluctantly and he slept.  He dreamed and he and Butch were back in the clearing behind the oaks and they went forward to the body, steeling themselves against the awful death smell that rose to meet them and smothered them.  Together they reached down and rolled him over and the face that revealed itself covered with red dirt, was that of his father.  David screamed, “No! No!”

Dad was holding him and shaking him.  David opened his eyes and looked at him, realizing that the other was a dream and this was real.

“Son,” Dad said in a strange voice.  “The sheriff is downstairs.  He wants to see you.  Son, I want to ask you just one thing.  Did you do it?”

Somehow, he guessed, he had known they would come for him, but not this soon.  Not this soon.  David got out of bed and began to dress.  He heard Dad asking his question again in a low, strained voice and he answered “Yes,” not looking at him, not daring to face the hurt that would be there.

David stood in the doorway and saw his mother, face drawn and anxious.  He saw the sheriff and Deputy Allen.  He walked right over to them and said, “We did it, Butch and I.  If you’ll get Butch, we’ll take you there.”

The sheriff blinked in surprise.  “Take us where?” he asked.

“David’s voice trembled, his courage sliding away.  “well, you’ll want to see it again, won’t you?”

“Huh?” the sheriff seemed puzzled.  “Why, yes, I reckon so.  Didn’t figure you had it hid already.”  He stood up, his hat in hand.

“Oh, we didn’t hide it,” David said.  “We just left it there.”

“Oh.”  The sheriff didn’t’ seem to be able to think coherently.  “well, I reckon then you’d better take us there.”

Dad went down the pathway to Jackson’s house and Tom Jackson opened the door in his bathrobe and Dad went in.  Soon they came out and Tom was fully dressed and Butch was with them.  Butch climbed into the front seat with Dad and David, and Tom Jackson got in the back with the sheriff.  They sat in silence for a moment or two and then Dad asked in a strained voice, “Where to, Son?”  David told him where to go.

David could feel Butch’s eyes on him in the dark and he whispered, “How do you s’pose they found out?”

“I can’t imagine, unless someone happened along right behind us and saw us leave.”

“They’ve got the goods on us, no question of it.”

“What d’you s’pose they’ll do to us?”

“I don’t know.” 

“Whatever happens, we’re in it together.”

“I know.”

The parked the car by the highway and climbed out to walk down the dirt road that was rutted and tree-strewn and impassable by automobile.  A thread of moon hung high in the west and its light cast eerie shadows over the trees and undergrowth. Creatures of the night started and fled before the onslaught of the grim and silent party, whose way was lighted by the powerful beam of a flashlight, in the sheriff’s hand.  After what seemed an eternity, a silent eternity, in which no words were spoken, but heavy thoughts hung in the air, they reached the spot where in that carefree long ago of early afternoon, David and Butch had partaken of their lunch.  The boys led the way around the oaks and into the clearing.  David saw him again and in the beam of the flashlight, the shoes did not seem so yellow.

“There he is,” David said in a low voice with respect for the man who lay in death.

The sheriff gasped, as did Fred Short and Tom Jackson.  “Why, it’s a man.  He’s dead.”  He held the light up to peer into the faces of the frightened and trembling boys.

“Yes, he’s dead,” David choked.  “We killed him, but we didn’t mean to.  Honest, we didn’t.  We was just over there target practicing and when we came around to see what we had hit, there he was dead already.  We didn’t mean to kill him, though.  Honest, we didn’t.”

“That’s right, Sheriff,” Butch cried.  “We just shot and when we came around here we found him.  It wasn’t our fault.”

The sheriff went to the body and then he stopped and took out a handkerchief and held it to his nose.  Deputy Allen, also holding a handkerchief, helped to turn the man over.  In the beam of light fro the flashlight they aw the face, and it was hardly a face after all, for it was pitted and eaten out.  David was afraid he would be sick right there, but he couldn’t take his eyes from that awful face.

The sheriff straightened up and looked searchingly at the two boys who stood quaking in fear before him.  “When was you boys up here?  When did this happen?”

“We was hunting jacks up here this afternoon.  And we was just target-practicing.  Honest, we was,” David tried to keep his voice from trembling.

“You spent the whole afternoon up here?” the sheriff asked.

“Well, we was up here before noon.  We ate our lunch over by the stream.  It was after that we was target practicing.” Butch replied.

“Well, boys,” the sheriff said, “This man’s been dead a long time.”

“Much longer than this afternoon, I judge,” said Fred Short, gasping for air.

“Four or five days, I’d say,” Tom Jackson stated.

“Maybe a week,” said the sheriff.  He went back to the body and emptied the pockets, giving the contents to Deputy Allen.  “No robbery.  This guy was loaded.  Might tie in with the gang killings over in Monoca City.”  He came back to the boys.  “If you’d looked, you’d known your bullets didn’t touch this man.”

“But he was dead, Sheriff.  We could smell the death smell.”  David did not understand what the sheriff was trying to tell them.

“You smelled a man decaying and I’m surprised you didn’t know it.”  He looked around at the pale faces that were beginning to relax in happy relief.  “Well, I guess we got the goods on the boys, but it was the wrong goods.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure how they could’ve gotten that sterling silver up here and hid it after we saw them running away this afternoon.”  The sheriff began to chuckle and Fred Short and Tom Jackson joined in happily, eagerly.

“What sterling silver?” Butch asked.

“Boys, I guess we’ve all been kind of mixed up.  We thought you had broken into a house and stole some money and sterling silver and you thought you’d killed a man.  I guess we both jumped to hasty conclusions and that’s bad in any game, especially in the sheriff’s game.”  He stopped and looked at them searchingly.  “What I’d like to know is why didn’t you tell someone right off.  It’d been straightened out in a few minutes.

“We was scared,” Butch said, grinning sheepishly.

“I can’t figure out how you could’ve thought you might’ve done it.  This guy was shot with a pistol close-up.  There was no blood showing and if you’d turned him over you’d’ve seen he’d begun to decompose.”  He slapped them on the shoulder heartily.

“Well, no harm done, unless it was the bad time you boys must’ve went through.”  He laughed.  “I’ll get the coroner out and we’ll get this man in to the city and then we’ll look around for someone else to pin the burglary on.  I’m afraid, though, our next suspects won’t be so eager to confess.”

“Race you to the car,” David cried and set off like the wind, wild and free, running in it, drinking it into his long-stifled lungs.  They ran until their throats were swollen and their breath came in gasps and then they sat down on some rocks to wait for their fathers and the sheriff and his deputy.

David felt exhilarated and he laughed even as his lungs sought for breath.  Then they both were laughing and they rolled in the dirt in their merriment.  David stopped and so did Butch.  David could see the yellow shoes shining in the sun.  He’d forget about it soon.  Things always get better with time, don’t they?

Chocolat - French for Chocolate. I adored chocolate from a young age when I had to sneak in the cupboard to find where my mother had hidden the Nestle's Chocolate Chips. Having read about the famous chocolat shoppes in Paris, when I finally got there I was determined to try a chocolate from every Paris shoppe. I invite you to share my adventures in creating, in travel, and in life.


  1. I have no words for this immense Family Treasure. A stunning legacy, and I love that you share.


  2. I love these family stories so much!! It is so great to have and cherish these. Thanks for sharing!! And we all look forward to more!!

  3. What an imagination she had. Loved this one, such a good read! Thank you for sharing another piece of her, fun way for me to get to know her better!

  4. Such a great writer! You must really treasure these delightful writings. She had a great gift.

  5. Wow! That was a great story! It kept me on my toes the whole time! I'm so glad that I had such a talented grandma! Thanks for posting it!

  6. I love your Mom's stories! It kind of reminded me of the movie Lean on me
    Your Mom could have been a screen writer!!
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. So glad you are typing these or otherwise they would have never seen the light of day I liked the surprise ending of this one. I am sure she is looking down happy.Joni

  8. That was intense. I was so relived it wasn't them... I felt like it was me in the story. She was a great writer. Looking forward to more stories!

  9. Your family must be thrilled that you are sharing these wonderful stories your talented mother wrote. I imagine your mother would be so happy that her unpublished works are being shared. I loved the surprise ending.......such a great story. Thank you for letting us read these delightful stories.


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