“Sister’s Night Out” by Darian Chavez is the First Place-winning story in the crime category of the 12th Annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. For complete coverage of this year’s awards, including an exclusive interview with the Grand Prize winner and a complete list of winners, check out the May/June 2017 issue of Writer’s Digest. And click here for more information about entering the 13th Annual Popular Fiction Awards.
In this bonus online exclusive, you can read Chavez’s winning entry.
Sister’s Night Out by Darian Chavez
That night I arrived to a quiet house. Nelly and I sat for two hours drinking. We just stared at the body. Nelly’s husband had come at her with a knife and now it was in his throat. I still don’t know how that happened, but from what I remember of her injuries it hadn’t been easy for her.
My mother taught us all to sew. It was a woman thing, and it came in useful when she refused to take us to the hospital. So, before we drank, I sewed. There were several seams that needed repair in my sister’s arms, legs, chest. And the scar across her face that sent her running from town the next day, but that story comes later.
After two hours of drinking we were ready to do what needed to be done. We’d seen enough movies. CSI was actually playing in the back ground as we tried our best to roll his fat body up in the kitchen rug. I guess Godfather would have been more fitting, but we weren’t sure where the remote had got to. With the TV still talking into the quiet house, we loaded up his fat ass into the back of his own pickup truck and started driving.
“Abilene?” Nelly asked me. We really had no idea what we were doing.
“Halfway,” I said. “We’ll keep an eye out for a good place to get rid of it.” Already he had become ‘it’ to me. Well, to be quite honest, he had always been an ‘it’ to me. I was never very fond. The drive was long, and the road weaved.
“How are we going to find a decent place in the dark?” Nelly asked.
“Would you rather we did this in the day time? Oh, hello passing farmer. No, that’s not a deer. We’re just burying a body.”
She just drove on in silence. It wasn’t fair of me to make jokes. She didn’t seem nearly as okay with the situation as I did. I heard her sniff a few times as the drive dragged on.
“Having regrets?” I asked her.
“No, never again.” And I believed her. I chocked it up to shock.
Trees flew past. Open acres. An electrical station. More trees.
“Wait, there,” I turned and pointed behind us. Nelly slowed and turned the car around.
“You’ve got to be joking,” she said to me as we parked. “Do you have a better idea?” I asked.
She sighed and got out of the car. I slide out beside her. “Let’s do this,” she said. I smiled.
“That’s the spirit,” I said, punching her in the arm.
“Ouh,” she frowned at me and rubbed her arm. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Sorry, just the shock, I guess.” Which wasn’t a lie at the time. I wasn’t sure what had come over me, but I knew it felt good.
Slowly we heaved the body from the pickup bed and carried it over to the gates.
“What now smarty pants?” Nelly asked me. “Didn’t happen to bring any bolt cutters did you?”
I frowned, “no…” How were we going to get in? The electrical station loomed over us. The minutes ticked away. “Wait!” I dropped the body and ran back to the pickup truck.
“Ahg,” Nelly said as her half of the body dropped to the ground. “You could have warned me.”
“He has a tool chest in the bed. There’s got to be something in here that we can use,” I shouted back at her.
“Shh, keep your voice down,” she stage-whispered back. I rolled my eyes.
“We’re the only two out here. Well, three…” I chuckled. In the tool chest there was a drill, a hammer, some nails, screws, odds and ends, a nude-y magazine, but no bolt cutters. I got all the way to the bottom and finally found some plyers. “Yes! Look!” I shoved them in Nelly’s face before walking over to the gate.
“Careful,” Nelly called out to me. “The gate might be electrified.”
“Why would they electrify a public gate?” I put the plyers to the gate, hovering centimeters above the metal. I turned toward Nelly. “Throw something at it.”
“Oh, just give them to me,” she grabbed the plyers, closed them on a link and pulled and plied, but nothing happened. The gate remained intact. Nelly stopped and looked at them. “You idiot,” she shoved them back in my hand. “These aren’t sharp. How are they supposed to cut through the gate?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Fine, we’ll climb over.”
“We?” She crossed her arms and tapped her foot staring over at me and glancing at the top of the gate. “Barbed wire,” she pointed to where the gate ended at the top.
“I’m sorry,” I said storming towards her. “Did I murder your husband? Oh, wait, no. That was you. And unless you want to go to jail tonight we’re climbing that fence.” Nelly stopped tapping her foot and frowned down at the large body.
“How are we supposed to lift him?” She asked.
“Not gently. He’s already dead,” I grabbed one end again and Nelly grabbed the other. “Here we go,” I said and started the macabre conga line toward the electrical voltage station.
I grabbed the gate and pulled myself up with one arm while underarming the body’s legs. Nelly started climbing from the other end. I got halfway up and dropped my half, then Nelly dropped hers. And again we climbed. Over and over we tried to climb and of course we got nowhere. Sweating and frustrated Nelly finally threw down her husband’s head and threw her hands into the air.
“This is impossible. What are we thinking?” She put her hands to her head.
“I know; we’ve got a dead body here. What are we going to do?” I looked at her half joking.
“What? No, I mean about this fence. How are we supposed to get him in there?” I almost smiled. I think she might have been having as much fun as I was.
I stood back and looked at the voltage station shaking my head. How was this supposed to work? Then Nelly’s voice rang out again.
“You idiot! There’s a hole in the gate over here,” she yelled at me from the back of the small electrical set up. There was a laugh in her voice and I finally let the smile out and slapped my forehead.
“Well, why didn’t I think to look around the electrical voltage station, holding enough watts to kill you, for a hole in the secure fence?” I said as I grabbed the feet and started dragging them toward her.
“Cuz you’re not the smart one,” she said coming around to grab the head. “I am,” and the smile on her face was the first I’d seen in years. It was genuine. It was fun. It reminded me of playing on the beach when we were kids while mom yelled at someone else.
Together we pulled the body through the hole just big enough for one person at a time. “What now?” I asked as we all got to the other side.
“Don’t ask me,” said Nelly. “This is your plan. What are we doing here?”
“We’re going to electrocute the body. Make it look like a work accident,” I looked at Nelly. It was quite an obvious plan, I thought.
“You. Are. An. Idiot,” she said in between deep breaths. “He’s a contractor. He doesn’t work with electricity. And we’re miles out of the town he actually works in. How will the police explain what he’s doing out here, electrocuted?” She shouted in exasperation.
“They won’t,” I said simply. Looking at her with a smile. “That’s the point.”
Nelly looked at me and slowly a smile spread on her face too. “Huh, I guess that makes sense. What about the stab wounds? He’s still been stabbed in the throat. No electrocution is going to hide that,” She pointed toward the large gash still leaking onto the ground.
“It will if the electrocution causes a fire and burns the body,” The smug expression on my face felt new and beautiful.
“Okay, I take it back. You’re not an idiot. You’re some kind of sick genius,” she leaned over and kissed a peck on my cheek. “Let’s get to it then. Murder, arson, what else can we add to the list?”
“Trespassing,” I said pointing to the brightly colored signs plastered all over the gate. Nelly laughed, and so did I. This was the best time we had in so long. Just as sisters.
Together, we heaved the body between us again and aligned ourselves with one of the voltage towers. “Okay,” I said catching Nelly’s eye. “Once we throw the body, just back into the gate and cover your face.”
“What, is it going to explode,” she asked fear creeping in to her voice.
“No idea. Are you ready,” I asked facing the tower. Nelly nodded. “On three,” I said. “One,” we swung the body back and then forward. “Two,” finding a rhythm with the weight and pushing the height. “Three!” We both let go at the top of the swing and threw ourselves against the different sides of the gate.
Covering my face, I waited for the explosion. But it never came. Carefully, I opened my eyes to see Nelly standing over me hands on her hips, pointing at the body which had neither exploded nor caught fire.
“I know,” I said looking up at her. “I’m an idiot.” I reread the sign just above the cut hole in the gate as we carried the body out and back toward the pickup.
OUT OF JUICE.
Someone had hand written it and duct taped it to the gate. Shoving the body back into the bed and throwing the door closed, we got back into the car and drove on. More trees, more open acreage.
“What about that?” I asked pointing toward one open acre.
“You want us to bury the body in an open field that gets plowed daily? I don’t even know what to say to you,” she said sighing.
“No, there. The digger,” I said tapping the glass. Nelly’s head jerked toward my window and she slowed the car. “Okay, that could work.”
“Just drive onto the field,” I said as we sat at the edge looking between the heavy body and the very long walk to the digger.
“Or we could drive the digger over here?” She looked at me. “That way we don’t get tire tracks on the field.”
“Are you worried about all the hard work they’ve done to make the lines so straight,” I asked in disbelief.
“No, I’m worried they’ll be able to trace the tire tracks back to his truck,” she said indicating the tires as if this were an obvious thing.
“And will they be able to trace shoe prints?” I asked rolling my eyes.
“Oh shit, you’re right. We’ll just have to go barefoot,” she said and started pulling off her house shoes.
“We’re going to carry the body across the field without shoes on?” I asked her in exasperation.
“Yes, hurry up,” she had both shoes off and was tip toeing across toward the bed.
Quickly I pulled off my work shoes and side stepped the rocks and twigs meeting her at the bed. Once again, we heaved the body out of the pickup and made our way across the freshly plowed field toward the digger.
By freshly plowed, I should have said filled with broken sticks and demon spurs. Every step I took sent a new pain into my foot. Nelly dropped her end halfway to the digger and I almost gave up. When I looked over at her, I saw a large slice in her foot.
“Oh God. Nelly, what did you do?” I asked concerned about the amount of blood.
“He did it,” was all she said and picked up the head again continuing on. After that, I didn’t complain. This body needed to disappear one way or another.
Soon we’d made it to the digger. Sliding the body to the ground, Nelly and I sat together for several minutes catching our breath.
“You know,” she said, breathless, looking down at the body. “It wasn’t always this bad.”
“Well I hope not. We’re burying a dead body. That’s pretty bad,” I smiled.
“Him. He wasn’t always this bad. When we met, he was passionate, but gentle too. He would touch my hair and run his hands over my body so carefully. Like he was afraid to touch too hard. Then, when I got pregnant everything changed. He became a different person,” she looked down at her hands letting her hair fall forward.
“Why,” I asked.
“I didn’t know for years, but a few months ago his brother told me all the men in the family were sterile. It was a genetic disease they all inherited. Confirmed by the doctor. He never told me. He must have thought I cheated on him. That the boys weren’t his. So that’s three times he thought I cheated and got pregnant. And he stayed. And he never said a word.”
“And he beat you, and the boys,” I pointed out.
She nodded. “Which brings us here,” her faced hardened. “He was a coward at heart. He thought I cheated and each time he said nothing. He let his fists speak for him. I could have let him live if it was just me.” A lonely tear fell into the dirt where we sat.
“But the boys,” I finished for her.
She nodded again. “When he hit Xavier two years ago, I knew I had to do something. I just didn’t know what. He was strong, but tonight, when he came at me all I saw was him alone with them with that knife and I lost control. Tonight it was him or me,” she said with finality.
I nodded too. “Well, then I guess it’s time to dig a hole,” I said pushing myself to my feet.
“Right you are sister,” she said following me up. “Know how to drive this thing?” she asked.
“Nope, let’s get started,” I climbed up into the seat. “You’re -”
“Yeah, yeah. Where do you want it?” I shouted from the ripped, orange seat.
“Over there,” Nelly pointed off into the distance. “Where?” I asked not seeing in the dark.
“Where the fuck ever, Gladys, we’re in the middle of a fuckin’ field. Just dig the hole,” she backed out of the way dragging the body a couple feet to give me some space.
I turned toward the machine and searched around. I slumped slightly in my seat. “There’s no key,” I yelled down to her.
“What?” She stopped dragging for a minute waiting for me to repeat.
“There’s no key to start it,” I said slightly weaker.
“So, you’re telling me that we’ve just dragged this thing-” she kicked the body next to her. “Barefoot across a filthy field that is probably full of manure. That I’m probably going to get a blood infection from. You’re telling me we’ve just done all that,” she pointed out toward the truck. “For nothing.”
I sighed. Sliding down from my seat I grab the feet and stare at her waiting. “I have an idea,” I said. “Grab his head.”
“Oh good. Another idea,” she leaned over and picked up the head. “Lead on, then.”
I smiled. It was getting less fun with every minute, but at least we were still at it. The day she gave up on me would be the last day of my life.
Soon we were back in the car, breathing hard again. Nelly had taken out a wipe-y and was slowly cleaning her foot. She winced as she neared the laceration on her heel.
“I’m sorry I missed that. When we get back I’ll clean and sew it up for you,” I said to her.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s just get through this. What’s your idea?”
I pointed back the way we’d come as she started the car.
A few minutes later I indicated for her to turn left into a dirt road. Fifteen minutes later we bumped along as the sky went from dark to gray. “We’re running out of time,” she said to me.
“I know. It’s just up here,” at that moment a small opening in the roadside brush showed us the view. “Greg and I used to come fishing here. When the fish were good,” I said pointing out toward the body of water. The road bridged over it. We parked and stood out by the edge overlooking a dark creek. Readying ourselves, we moved toward the back of the truck and one last time heaved the body from the truck bed. Near the edge we stood counting silently. “Three,” we both whispered and shoved the body over the edge of the bridge into the water. The slow currant pulled the body under. Rolling over it and carrying it onward.
“Where does the creek flow to?” Nelly asked me.
“Out of town. I said. Greg told me the fish were so good before because it flowed out of the Rio some way off. Then construction near the border slowed the water and blocked the fish.”
“Where does it go, though?” She repeated.
“North, I think. Out of town,” I slumped down on the ground. Nelly slumped down beside me seemingly satisfied with that answer.
“It’s beautiful here,” Nelly whispered breathlessly. The breeze was cool on our skin. Welcome after the hot, sticky night. It carried a floral scent with it. I closed my eyes and let the morning glow of the sunrise wash over me.
“We should get back,” I said looking at her.
Eyes still closed she said, “Okay, just a few more minutes.” Blinking in the sunlight and looking over at me she said, “could you wait in the car for me. I’d like to say goodbye to George.”
It was the first time she had said his name since the night began. Down the river he wasn’t just a body anymore.
I nodded, pushed myself off the dirt, and slide into the car. Nelly stood and walked toward the edge of the bridge. She looked down and out at the creek. Then she did something surprising. She got down on her knees, right at that precarious edge, placed her hands together, and bowed her head.
We were never much into prayer. None of us. We went to church as children. It was expected, but we never saw much use in praying. I didn’t anyway. Maybe the others felt differently. I’m not sure. But God never came to save me, so I didn’t see the point in asking for help.
Slowly Nelly rose to her feet and joined me in the car. She started the engine, but didn’t look at me. I turned my gaze out the front window. I didn’t want to ask. It felt like a private moment.
Later, I would realize that moment was the beginning of our downfall. That prayer would lead to all of this coming apart.
“I’ll help you clean the kitchen,” I told her as San Angelo came into view half an hour later. She nodded and drove on.