Head-locked

Flash fiction by Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

 
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In all my eight years, I couldn’t remember a single time I admired my brother. Maybe because he was always getting me in trouble when he did something wrong.

But I was set to have fun on our family’s summer vacation in Branson, Missouri. Nothing could dampen my enthusiasm as we clomped down the stairs in the Cathedral Room for a tour of Silver Dollar City’s Marvel Cave. The whole place smelled like cold and wet mixed together.

“Wow! Look how far down that is!” Keeping one hand on the guardrail, I caught my dad’s sleeve and tugged. “Are we going to see any bats?”

“We might, son. You just remember to follow the rules we talked about.”

“Yes, sir.” I gazed at the ceiling two hundred feet above. “Wow! Can you imagine falling from there?”

My parents were a half flight of stairs below when Tommy grabbed the back of my shirt. “If you say ‘wow’ one more time, I’m gonna put you in a head-lock.”

I gulped and caught up with the group.

“In 1869, explorers entered the cave searching for minerals,” the tour guide was saying. “As it turned out, the only thing ever mined here was bat guano.”

“Bats?” My six-year-old sister turned bug-eyed.

Tommy wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. With the feather he’d collected earlier, he brushed the back of Janie’s neck, sending her flying to our mother.

“Mommy, a bat got me!”

I wondered why my dad was staring at me—until I saw my brother’s angelic face with a finger pointing my direction.

“Since you can’t keep your hands to yourself, Timmy,” Dad said, “You will hold your mother’s for awhile.”

The dreaded punishment! Not that I minded holding my mom’s hand…but to be forced like a toddler was humiliating.

I trudged through the Shoe Room, not caring about the giant footprint in the ceiling. At Dad’s nod, my mother released my hand with a squeeze and a soft warning. “Behave.”

Soon the narrow corridors, lit by a string of bare bulbs, had my mouth gapping again. “Wow,” I said in a voice Tommy couldn’t hear, “This is so cool.”

Entering another room, I trotted to a rail on the left and gazed at the slanted wall beyond. It vanished in blackness. “Wonder what’s up there?” A tingle of excitement rushed through me as I imagined exploring the cave on my own. Just like Huckleberry—

“Psst!”

I jumped when Tommy grabbed my shoulders from behind. “Why don’t we see where that goes?”

I gulped. There would be no mild punishment if we were caught. I glanced at the group climbing up the far stairs. Our parents probably thought we were behind them.

“It’ll only take a couple of minutes.” Before I could reply, Tommy scooped me up and set me over the guardrail.

Tommy had straddled the pipe rail when a deep voice froze us. “What do you think you’re doing?” Our father was striding across the rocky floor to us. Tommy looked down at me, on the wrong side of the fence.

Uh-oh.

My brother scrambled off the rail while my father lifted and set me in front of him on shaky legs. “Timmy, I warned you...”

“It was my fault, Dad. I made him do it.”

My jaw dropped as I stared at my big brother. His eyes met our father’s.

Dad was caught off guard, but quickly recovered. “You and I will address this tonight—privately.” We all knew what “address” meant.

Climbing the stairs past the rushing waterfall, my brother and I were kept between our parents. I spoke to Tommy in a squeaky voice. “You really told Dad it was your fault!”

“Don’t make a big deal outta it.”

The group paused to take pictures of the falls. “But why didn’t you tell him it was my fault?”

“It wasn’t.”

“But—”

“Look.” Tommy put his nose to mine. “Don’t you go repeating this.” He frowned, then sighed. “I was remembering about Paul and how his little brother was almost run over by a car ‘cause he was following Paul to our house on his bike. Everybody was really mad and Paul got in trouble. That’s when I got to thinking maybe I should be looking after my little brother. You know, like Dad says, start growing up and being a godly man.”

I could only shake my head. “Wow.”

For the first time in my life, I actually admired my brother. Even if he did put me in a head-lock right then and there.


If you like to read heart pounding, heart wrenching, heart tugging, raw and realistic stories, check out my collection of over 40 of my best flash fictions in Third Side of the Coin (A Short Story Collection).