Short Fiction

Storm Clouds by James Bates

I’ve had a problem controlling my temper my entire life. It started when I was young. If I didn’t get my way there’d be hell to pay. I used to get into a lot of fights. A few times I even ended up in the hospital. And that all happened before I got out of grade school. Fortunately, over time, I was able to change. What happened? I wish I could say that I had a simple answer or a magic formula, but it really just came down to wanting to do more with my life than spending it being a pugilistic jerk who settled his arguments with his fists. At least I never used a gun.

I pulled into the tiny parking lot, snubbed out my cigarette, shouldered my backpack, and walked to the front entrance. The building was a former grade school that had undergone extensive renovation twenty years ago. Now it was called the Barron County Correctional Facility. My son was housed with a few other inmates in one wing called the Behavioral Studies Unit. A team of doctors was analyzing him to see if they could determine why he did what he did. So far they have no answers.

After I went through the security checkpoint, I left my backpack with them. I always bring cookies my daughter makes for Tim, but they never let me take them through so I leave them for the guards. They tell me they enjoy eating them.

Then one of the guards took me to the nurse’s office where I met with Connie Greyeagle. She filled me in on the medications they were giving Tim. Nearly three years ago, my son suddenly snapped. He broke into our next-door neighbor’s house when no one was home, stole a rifle, ran outside, and shot and killed a nice old gentleman strolling by. Eddie Jenson was a widower who spent an hour every morning and evening walking his cocker spaniel, Ralph. Tim not only shot Eddie but Ralph as well. He was twenty years old at the time.

Long story short? The doctors think there was something manifesting itself in Tim’s brain that caused him to do what he did. He’s now a risk to society. Medication is one way they are treating him for his violent behavior and mood swings. Connie and I talked for a while and then she ushered me to Anderson Gingsrude’s office, the psychiatrist in charge of my son.

“Hi, Anders.” I greet him and we shake hands.”How’s Tim doing?”

 “As well as can be expected.”

It’s the same response he gives me every time we meet, vague enough to give me hope without telling me anything concrete. That’s fine with me. At this stage, hope goes a long way. It’s certainly better than nothing.

It’s hard to live with the fact that my son is a murderer. From the moment he came into our lives, I’ve felt a connection with him. We had a home birth with a midwife. After he was born, holding our new child in my arms, breathing in the scent of a clean blanket and fresh baby powder, I said to Megan, “I can’t believe he’s ours.”

I remember my wife smiling a tired smile and saying, “Of course, he’s ours, Devon. He’s your son. In fact, he looks just like you.”

Our midwife Sally agreed. “Megan’s right. He’s a healthy boy, Devon.” She looked back and forth between us and added, “I’m very happy for you both.”

Megan smiled at Sally and then looked at me. “So, we’ll call him Tim, right?”

We’d already agreed on the name, a favorite of both of ours. I squeezed Megan’s hand. “Yes,” I said. “Absolutely.” Then I leaned close and gently kissed my newborn’s forehead. “Hi, Tim,” I whispered. I wiped a tear of joy from my eye. “I’m so happy,” I said to no one in particular. Then I kissed him again.

And I was happy. I had a deep connection with Tim right from the start. There was an immediate bond that was hard to explain. I taught him how to tie his shoes, read, and do simple math. I fed him, changed his diapers, and shared in his upbringing as much as I could.

So much so, that by the time Tim started full-time school in first grade when he was five, it was hard to say goodbye.

I remember dropping him off that first day. He threw his arms around me and said, “I love you, daddy.”

I hugged him tightly. “I love you, too, son.” I didn’t want to let go but I did. “Better get to school now.”

“Okay.” He smiled.  “Bye, bye.”

I watched Tim join the other students on the sidewalk, happily heading for the front door. As he walked away from me, I breathed a heavy, sad sigh. I was going to miss him so much. He turned before entering the building and waved at me. I waved back. He said something I couldn’t hear and then went inside.      

“I’ll miss you,” I said to the empty car. Then I wiped the tears from my eyes and drove off.

 My meeting with Anders went fine. He was a good guy. He has the lean body of a marathoner (which he is), and a helpful manner. He filled me in on how Tim was doing, primarily about the team from the University of Minnesota who developed a rigorous set of tests having to do with genetics and what part my genes could have played in influencing Tim’s violent outburst. Let me tell you, knowing I might have had a role to play biologically in my son’s murder of Eddie Jenson is sobering. It’s something I’m having to learn to deal with and probably will be for the rest of my life. It’s not easy, but I’m doing my best.

We talk for a while. Then Anders walks me to my son’s room, an eight by ten-foot space made of twelve-inch-thick concrete, and tells me goodbye.

Once inside I quickly survey the sparse room: bed, nightstand, a table in front of the window with bars on it, and two chairs. Tim is sitting in one chair looking into the center of the room, staring into space. I pull up the other chair and sit down about four feet away facing him. Tim’s taller than me by three inches and thinner by thirty pounds. They keep his head shaved due to the tests they run on him, but his eyebrows are still bushy brown and his eyes are the dark amber they’ve been since he was two years old. He’s dressed in hospital greens and slippers.

“Hi, son,” I say. I watch carefully for any signs that he recognizes me. There are none. He doesn’t look at me. Or answer me. Or even acknowledge me. He sits passively in his chair and stares at nothing.

Dr. Gingsrude tells me it’s the drugs that do it; they make my once outgoing and effervescent son almost catatonic. “It’s better this way,” the doctor has told me. “He’s easier to manage.”

His statement is not easy to accept, but Tim is a cold-blooded killer who took the life of an innocent man. I’m trying to accept that compared to being a violent murderer his being in a catatonic state is better. It is better, right? I don’t know. All I know is that he’s my son and I still love him.

“Tim, it’s great to see you,” I tell him. I move my chair close enough to see the thin hair growing on his chin. “I wanted to tell you about the bluebirds that nested in the front yard this year. Remember you helped me build their nest box when you were in high school? Well, we had a nice family of them this year. They nested in May and had four babies. They were so cute. Your sister put out mealworms for them and…”

And right then and there I began a one-sided conversation that lasted for the next hour, the amount of time I am allowed to spend with my boy. 

All too soon, there was a knock on the door. It was an orderly telling me the time for my visit was over. Shit. I tamp down a sudden burst of anger. Time always passes so quickly. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly to settle myself.

Leaning forward, I said, “I’ve got to go, Tim. I’ll be back next month to see you. I promise.”

I stood up and kissed his forehead. He continued staring into space and didn’t even blink. A tear began to leak down my cheek and I wiped it away.

I left the room with the orderly and walked down the hall to the nurse’s station. “Goodbye,” I said to Connie, “See you next month.”

“Goodbye, Devon,” she said. “Thanks for coming. He’s the only one around here who gets a visitor.”

I shrugged my shoulders. What can you say? He’s my son. I’ll never stop my visits. I leave without saying anything.


There’s a gas station on the interstate a mile outside of Epps and that’s where I was headed. I was wiped out from my visit with Tim and could use some caffeine. Plus, I needed some gas. I pulled up to the pump and started to fill my little Ford Fiesta. A car full of kids pulled in on the other side and one of them got out and started filling the tank. I glanced at him. He was a punk with a buzz cut, ripped jeans, black boots, and a leather jacket. He had a skull and crossbones tattooed on his neck. He noticed me watching him, a normal-looking middle-aged man with short, grey hair and a windbreaker. He smirked. Then he coughed up some phlegm and spit in my direction just to show me who was boss. My blood pressure jumped and my heart started racing. Oh, oh. I turned away and tried to ignore him.

 I watched the meter tick along on the pump to distract myself. A few minutes went by. I was thinking about Tim and planning my next visit when a commotion startled me back to the present.

An attendant was running out of the station, yelling, “Hey you guys, stop! You didn’t pay for your gas!”

I turned to watch the confrontation.

“Screw you, pal,” the punk kid yelled at him.

He slammed the nozzle into its holder and made a move to open his car door.

What the hell? My anger flared and the world turned red. No way! I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.

“You little shit!” I yelled. I jumped across the island and grabbed him as he tried to get into his car. I pulled him out and jammed him hard up against a concrete support structure. He pushed back and slugged me in the chest. My vision exploded into bright light. Violent storm clouds built up exponentially in my brain, billowing and turning black as night.

I reacted quickly and grabbed the kid with both hands by the front of his leather jacket. I shook him hard. “Hey, there, pal,” I said, looking straight into his eyes. I was trying to stay as calm as I could, but I was ready to knee him in the nuts, drop him to the ground, and stomp on his ugly shaved head.

But I didn’t. Instead, I said quietly, venom dripping off every word, “It looks like you owe this gentleman here some money.” The attendant was standing off to the side with his mouth hanging open, thinking, I’m sure, that his job didn’t pay enough to deal with this kind of thing. “Give it to him!” I shook the thug again. Hard. I could see his eyes roll back in his head. It’s at this stage in the past that things could have gotten worse. I momentarily pictured taking the gas nozzle and dousing him with gasoline, then lighting him up with my Zippo like a bonfire.

But not now. Now, I got control of myself, gritted my teeth, and gave him a command: “Didn’t you hear me? I said, give him his money.” I’m right in his face. “Now!” I can feel his hot breath. It smells like fear. He must have sensed something in me, something frightening. I know what he’s feeling. He’s feeling my rage, barely under control. Barely. I’m doing my best to tamp it down and keep it there.  

In the end, he did the smart thing. He paid the attendant and even apologized to the young man. And to me.

“You did a good thing by paying,” I told the punk after things had settled down. “Next time you think of doing something stupid, make sure you don’t forget what happened here. You got that?”

He blinked and gave me a nod. Then, without a word, he got in the car and he and his buddies slowly drove away. I watched as they pulled onto the highway. One of them rolled down the window and gave me the finger. What a bunch of idiots.

Later, driving home, I sipped my coffee and thought about Tim and how he was receiving treatment for his violent behavior. I thought about how the doctors were studying his genes and my genes to see if there was any kind of correlation; to see if there was something genetic that made him do what he did. The hope was that the knowledge they gained would help make treating him more successful, and possibly form a foundation for helping others in the future.

My fingers are crossed that what they are doing will work. It’s never far from my mind, knowing that I could have had a role to play in Tim turning out the way he did. The truth? I probably did. I know that. It makes perfect sense. That’s why I see my son as often as I can. I’m his dad, and I owe him that much. Besides, it’s the least I can do. We have a lot in common. Half of him is me, and, it’s not too far of a stretch for me to realize the awful truth. It could easily have been me sitting in there.

Jim Bates

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

15 thoughts on “Storm Clouds by James Bates”

  1. Jim

    This is an interesting piece about rage and self control. At the individual level, it is a scaled down version of what the concept of civilization means. You either act on your animal instincts without thought or use that big brain to weigh not only the consequences, but seek a wiser alternative to beating someone to atoms or killing him/her. Very well done and your extra work on it shines beautifully.


    1. Hi Leila! Thank you for this insightful review. “Storm Clouds” was a challenging story to write and you and your team’s input was invaluable. In the end, I thought it came out really well. Again, thank you so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jim,
    Leila has put across some excellent observations which I totally agree with.
    I would also like to state that your MC’s thought process at the end is very believable. There is a beautiful balance of melancholy, hope, dread and thanks. To get all this across in a couple of paragraphs without over-explaining or laying it on thick with emotion shows some wonderful writing judgement!!
    And something else that Leila has mentioned – We all appreciate the work and thought that you gave to this!!
    It’s great to see you back on the site!
    All the very best my fine friend.


    1. Hi Hugh! Thank you so much for your kind words. One of the many things I love about submitting to Literally Stories is the input you and your team give me. Thank you so much for not only your support but for all the work you do to make my stories the best they can possibly be. You folks are The Best!! Thanks again!! See you soon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David! Thank you for your kind words. This is a story that would definitely be interesting to continue to see how things go for Tim. No plans yet, but you never know. Take care and again, thank you for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes indeed, the gene factor is a big one. Then again, did Einstein have any kids? I liked this story because of the protagonist’s point of view and his insight. Lucky this guy didn’t drink. I liked the style of writing too and the confrontation with the punk, how the protagonist – motivated by anger and the need to right a wrong – somehow stopped himself from going over the edge, all his self-knowledge stopping the wave of instinct. Very real.


  4. When I first read this, it touched me deeply. Too deeply, so I moved away from it. It drew me back. Although I’m happiest reading stuff that makes me smile, I know that the best literature is about right and wrong, anger and restraint, hope and hopelessness. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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