Bryan Thomas Smith is a 23-year-old student at California State University Northridge in Northridge, California. A
lifelong resident of Southern California, Bryan began writing creatively at the age of 7 when his teacher asked him to
look at a picture of a sheep herder and write a short story. When he’s not in class or studying, he enjoys training in
Muay Thai kickboxing, hanging out with his friends, writing short stories and trying his hand at crafting the next Great
The sign before the Curve always said the same thing: Some questions ain’t worth the answer. And yeah, I guess in hind sight,
20/20 and all that, it’s the truth. Glaring and ugly like shit sin stew if you excuse my Uncle Ledd’s expression, but it’s the truth.
But people still drive down that road to get to that curve. They still wait for the night to be cold, the mist to be in the air with
cicadas rumbling in the surrounding forest like some kind of thunder.
They wait. Feeling the right time to get in their truck and make the drive down that little road in the hills with the sign posted
before it like death’s warning: Some questions ain’t worth the answer.
Can’t tell you what about that the Curve is the truth and what is just back country myth, but I guess it began with my brother.
Braiden Lewis was one of those guys who was good at everything. Of course everyone called him Deni Lewis, or Big Deni, least
since I can remember. The first time he picked up a baseball mitt, he could catch any ball coming his way. When he got a hold of
a football, he was chucking spirals like no one had ever seen. It was only natural that he’d become a QB with an arm that could
drill a football through a mountain.
But Big Deni, with his marble white skin and more red than brown hair, had a problem. I remember him telling me over a game
of cards on the back porch the night before it happened.
“My arm,” he said. He didn’t say nothin’ more. Not my arm is broken, nothin’ like that, but just him sayin’ those two words was
enough. “My arm.”
He laid down his hand. It was a straight — six, seven, eight, nine, 10 — and all them were the same color red and of the same
diamond suit, so I guess it was a full house
I put down my two pair, nothing more than threes, and said, “Gosh damn darnit!”
He hit me after that, right on the back of the head, just a smack but he had some big old hands so it felt more like the kind of
punch you give a rabbit after you’ve shot it. “Hey, chucklehead,” I said, my face probably tryin’ to look fierce at 14, my mouth
curled straight with the cleft in my top lip pulling back.
He threw down his cards and started laughing leaning back on the little chair he was sittin’ on. “Chucklehead!” he said, the bulge
of chew in his cheek pulsin’ like an egg about to hatch with each laugh.
He tottered back in his chair, threatening to fall on to the hard wood of the deck, the rain and mist circling the porch like a third
guest. “You do always call me the strangest things Mikey. Chucklehead, that’s some bit of priceless!”
That was one of Uncle Ledd’s sayings, too, like shit sin stew. I liked when Big Deni said it. He had a way of making even ugly
“You ever think you can make things different?”
I was reshuffling the cards, my hands always so damn clumsy, especially with the cold.
“I guess. Depends though. What d’ya mean?”
I reshuffled the deck and he reshuffled his shoulder, turning it clockwise, then counter, and then when it gave that old bottle
top pop, he stopped. He bent forward, retreatin’ from the leaning position he was in, the one he always seemed to be in but
always managed to keep without falling back. “I’m sayin’, Mikey, if you had a chance, would you try to fix that dumb foot of
“Don’t be silly!”
“No, Mikey, listen.”
“There ain’t nothin’ wrong with my foot, so you better just get on out with that!” But even as I said it, I could feel my left foot,
the one that was curbed too much, retreat under the wooden chair beneath me.
“Little brother, you bein’ one hell of a chucklehead right now.” He leaned forward and tagged me in the arm with one of them big
fists of his.
“Ow!” I started to laugh. Just hearing my brother say chucklehead was enough.
He paused for a bit after that, and we just listened to the rain, sucking in the mist that came from the forest, nature’s own
cigarette breath as Uncle Ledd said. I cut the cards, gave him five, me five, we shuffled our hands and I saw that smile of his,
the lip-curled grin that said he was still leaning on some edge.
“You know I don’t mean nothin’ bad about your foot.”
“But what I means to say, Mikey, is if you had a choice, would you try to make a few things different? You remember that road
Uncle Ledd crashed on?”
I nodded my head, looked at my hand thinking that I had a good one, a trio of Jacks.
“Uncle Ledd wadn’t exactly the same man after the crash. He was somethin’ different.”
“You know what he said though,” I said rattling my cards against the wood of the table. “He told us there’s a reason that sign is
there and never moved. There’s a reason people take that Curve and die. There’s a reason it says. . .”
“’Some questions ain’t worth the answer.’” It came out of his mouth quick like a slingshot.
I nodded my head.
“He told me the story, Mikey. He told me that if you ask yourself a question, ask it enough, and pass that road on the right
night, then you get an answer, and maybe get a little more out of it, too. It just has to be the right night.”
“What if you don’t do it on the right night, Deni?”
He shook his head. “Little brother, you know when it’s the right night. Uncle Ledd said so.”
“This about that feedstore of his?”
Dan shook his head and that leaning grin of his was back. “Mikey, he never had no feedstore,” he leaned forward, his voice a
whisper. “Ledd’s a gambler, Mikey.”
My eyes grew wide, “No he isn’t!”
“He was, Mikey!” and he put a finger to his lips. “I tell you this in confidence little brother, so you better shut your chucklehead
“Ledd is not some gambler, Deni. I been to his store, least when he had it.”
“A front, Mikey, you gotta know that. How many times you see him have anything more than a few bags of horse feed? How
many, little brother? If you can name me two, well, I’ll be the man to eat some good old crap from a beer tap.” That was another
of Ledd’s sayings.
“Okay, so he was a gambler. That don’t mean he does it now. Don’t mean he’s bad company.”
Big Deni folded down his cards, took another breath, the rain just beginning to rattle hard on the tin of the roof. “Little brother,
I never said Uncle Ledd was bad company. Good men do dumb things, gamblin’ bein’ one of ’em. Besides, you know Ledd, he’s
a little weird in the head.” He twirled his finger and crossed his eyes.
I snorted laughter at that and motioned to his cards. We put our hands out, no betting, the dimes and nickels and quarters
that were hushed aside as chips were just forgotten this hand.
“Gosh damn darnit!” I whispered, throwing my hand down on the table, my trio of Jacks with it. Big Deni just took his hand — a
trio of red faced Aces included — and put it to the side like it meant nothin’. Guess in 20/20 I could say that Deni had a habit of
doin’ that with good things.
“The road,” he paused and looked at me, “it worked for Uncle Ledd.”
“He crashed pretty bad, Deni. He got lucky is all.”
“It ain’t luck, little brother. He got pretty banged up but look what happened afterward. Sold the store for a fine dime, paid off
his creditors, won all that money in the lottery and married that pretty girl down at the market.”
“Shirley. . .”
“. . . Mankins.” Big Deni said with a laugh and a spit of brown tobacco in a nearby cup. “Good old Shirley Mankins, with a big ass
so all you can think of is spankin’.”
We both snorted laughter at that, and for a few moments, it was good. I didn’t say nothin’ and Big Deni didn’t say anythin’
neither. It was just us in the rain and the mist coming up and out from the forest, the mist that was nature’s cigarette smoke,
somehow woodsy, and it was good. Man, it was good. But the words came and I sometimes wonder if I’d never found them in
my head, if Big Deni would’ve gone through with it.
“This about you losing the scholarship?”
He shook his head, his hands stopping mid-shuffle of the cards. “No, no, Mikey, you kiddin’ me?”
“You got a few games left, I seen you, Deni. Don’t know anyone who can throw a football like you.”
He tried to shuffle some more but his hands clustered and he stopped. “Think I better go inside Mike. Dad can get pretty angry
if I sit around too long.”
He stood up, gave that curling grin that said he was leaning on the edge, and though I still thought of him as Big Deni the one
and only, I thought I saw him start to fall back in that grin.
* * *
It was a shitty way to spend a birthday, but I had to admit I was proud that I had dug that damn hole. Mind you it was not the
first hole I had ever dug, no, not especially with Dad actin’ the way he had been since Big Deni’s passing. But I was 17, the
same age as Big Deni when he either heard the calling to drive down that road and take that Curve, or jus’ decided to get
liquored up and do it. I don’t know which one’s the truth and I had never been stupid enough to ask Dad.
“You good enough to be a bona fide trench digger,” he said, and of course he had some kind of bottle in his hands, the dark
kind of liquor ’cause the light clear stuff turns your prick into a puff, another golden saying from old Uncle Ledd.
Dad was standing on the edge of the hole, staring down on me like a gravedigger examining the placement of a body. He was
slurring, both his words and his steps, and, a few times, he just broke off into strange laughter, his big head and jowls giving
him the appearance of a drunken bullfrog.
I pulled another few clumps of dirt with the shovel, grabbed the old pick and planted it firm into the soil. I looked back up at Dad
and smiled, the cleft in my top lip probably propping out just as proudly.
“I did it, Dad.” I looked toward the sides of the pit wondering how I was going to climb out of a hole that was a good 12 feet
deep and 10 feet wide.
Dad was walking along the edge of the hole like a kid walking on a train track; each clumsy step was another chance to take a fall
into the hole. Suppose that’s where Big Deni got it from, both him and Dad always needin’ to balance on some edge.
“You right, boy,” and he stopped for a moment, took a heavy sip and spit it down onto my face, the whiskey stingin’ my eyes
like some kind of acid. He looked down on me, laughin’ hard and heavy, his eyes squeezed shut with a wide smile on his bullfrog
“You done it all right. Three hours this time. . .” he trailed off, either wanting to call me Braiden or just plain forgetting that my
name was Michael. Really, I couldn’t blame him for the first one. I was 17 that day, Happy Ho-Da birthday, but I wasn’t the same
scrawny little twig with brown vanilla blonde hair I’d been the night me and Big Deni had been playin’ cards on the back porch
and calling each other chuckleheads. I’d grown about five inches, and my skin had whitened to a marble touch, and my hair had
turned brown, though a few people had mistook me for a redhead on a few occasions. If you didn’t know that Braiden “Big
Deni” Lewis had been dead for three years you would think it was him digging that hole.
“You done it, boy!” and he fell on over into the pit, his face leading the way. He hit the dirt like a bag of water filled with rocks.
His large body flattened out face down on the dark soil that looked damn near black under the moon glow.
“Dad,” I said, hobbling to him, the curb in my left leg not abandoned with my growth spurt. My eyes tried to see if he was
awake, but they were clouded by cheap whiskey and as I tried to wipe them, it only made it worse.
I touched the back of his jacket and he jumped up and to a knee, almost as if I’d touched him with hot coals.
“Git your damn hands off me. . .” he said, and again I wondered if he was going to call me Braiden.
The bottle, the brown liquor inside of it, stuck out from his hand and he stood up, his back and knees popping like cheap
strands of balsa wood. He cursed a few times as he twisted, left to right, right to left, and though the moon glow wasn’t as big
as it was in November, I could see he had the marble white skin and the height to match my own. And though I couldn’t see, I’d
bet a dollar twenty five that underneath that old bowler hat he always wore, was hair that was brown, though red if it wanted to
“Boy, you just keep on back now!”
Words rumbled under my lips.
He took a few deep breaths, his throat expanding up and down, the jowls growing and deflating with each huff. “Happy
Birthday,” he said again, more to himself, his mouth finding the end of the bottle; finding the brown liquor inside now surely
crusted with some kind of black dirt.
“You done good,” he paused, tried to look at me, “but it ain’t right, boy. It just ain’t right. The ground back here just feels too
heavy. Think you better dig me another one, boy.”
And that last word came out with the sting of a smack on the meaty part of the ribs. I wanted to ask him why? Why I do I gotta
dig all these holes? Why can’t you just call me by my name? But I knew the only thing he would tell me is to shut up. He would
probably beat me again, like he’d done on so many occasions, if just because my hair was turning a bit too red, or my voice and
mannerisms were too much like Braiden’s.
Some questions ain’t worth the answer.
I dug him another goddamn hole while he kept drinking his damn bottle with all the dirt in it, and he continued to sing Happy
Birthday and look up to the moon like a cat calling to some lost pussy. Ha-ppy birth-day to you! Ha-ppy birth-day to you! And
my arms hurt and burned, my shoulders just feelin’ damn near broken. I worked for the next two hours off into the night,
feeling the tide of sleep hit me every so often, but I just kept wonderin’ about things. Happy Birthday kept drifting along and as
I looked to the sky, the dark clouds seemed to say that rain may join in the drunken chant. A little while later, after striking the
pick to the ground and feeling as if I couldn’t lift it another damn time, the drone of Happy Birthday stopped.
There was nothin’.
I climbed out of the hole, thankfully not 12 feet deep like the first one but an easy six. I walked across the yard, dodging the
holes I’d been digging for the past couple months and found Dad sitting on by the tool shed. Though sitting wasn’t quite it as
Dad was slumped over, his mouth drawn with slobber and the bottle empty with only a few bits of dirt in it.
I picked him up, just by the arm, and though I was afraid he would wake up and push me away, maybe hit me in the face like he’
d done a few times, I held him close. I walked with him to the house, his arm slung across my shoulder, the black holes we
passed offering rest of a sinister kind.
When I put him down in his bed and was about to leave his bedroom, I heard a cough and whisper, just a word, “Wait.”
“Dad,” I whispered back, not wanting to walk over to him because he might still get mean on me, “you okay?”
The moon glow came in from the blinds, and his normal brown eyes looked silver under its light. “You finish with that hole?”
I didn’t wait for him to search for a name, just said, “yeah” and nodded my head, though I doubt he could see me.
“You’s did good, real good,” he coughed and it sounded wet. “Do you ever think, boy, that things could be different?”
I froze and was thankful for the darkness in his bedroom because right then and there, I supposed I looked like a man with a
noose around his neck.
“What d’ya mean, Dad?”
“Nothin’!” Again the word came out like a slap across the meaty part of the ribs and I was fine with leavin’, shuttin’ the door and
leavin’ the old man to his wet coughing and his Happy Birthday rumblings, but before I could close the door he said, “I always
wished it were you.”
“Wish that you had been the one to drive down that that goddamn road. You the one to crash, boy.”
And that last word, boy, was the thing. The straw I tell myself even to this day. I guess I coulda written it off as just his drunk
tongue gettin’ away from himself, but truth is I knew it wadn’t that. I think in some way that the old man had me diggin’ all
those holes as just a way to save the work for himself. Think that he was just having me dig my own grave over and over, and
maybe if I dug the hole just right, he woulda killed me. And in some ways, it woulda made sense to a man like him. Because I
was the biggest insult to the whole thing. I was Braiden Lewis, in every physical way except for that damn cleft on my lip.
Braiden Lewis except I didn’t have any of his charm, or spirit and my foot kept me from even tryin’ to be the athlete he was.
So I went back to that hole and grabbed that pick.
I went back inside the house, to Dad’s room.
I looked him over, searching for them silver eyes, but they were gone. And I waited, I don’t know what for, but all I could think
about was how he said boy. Boy, boy, boy, boy, and I knew he had no goddamn clue what my name was.
The pick went in to his chest with a wet crack. He gasped and coughed, and those goddamn silver eyes came back, glaring
under the damn light of the moon glow. It was hard pulling the pick out, both because it was stuck in his chest pretty deep and
because he had seized a hand around my wrist. His iron hand released after a second and I pulled the pick head out.
He went silent and the last gasp of air left him after a minute or so, but in that time, I thought he was goin’ to grab me, break
my neck, so both of us would die right there. But a last coughing breath came and he just lay there, a big round ball of nothin’
in the dark, the silver eyes empty and staring off into some dark corner of the universe.
I tossed the pick aside, sat back against the wall of his bedroom and cried. Cried, cried, cried, a big old man of 17 bawlin’ like
some baby and I think the worst part about it, the part that sticks after all these years, is that that word kept coming back to
me as I cried.
I took Dad’s body out to the backyard, and looked over all of the holes I had dug. As much as I disliked my Dad, not hate
because it’s too strong a word, I couldn’t put his body down one of them holes. I don’t know why, it woulda been easy, but I
thought if I dropped his body down one, he would just keep fallin’, never reachin’ the bottom, only findin’ some endless
darkness, his soul lost to the world and the Second Coming of the Good Lord.
So I put him in the passenger seat of the truck, got behind the wheel and started drivin’.
The rain picked up and before long, the roads were slick black and shinin’. The blood had been flowing hard, but with a few
towels and some tape, I’d managed to keep Dad from bleedin’ all over the truck. I propped him against the passenger door, his
head covered by a towel. I kept my eyes forward and no matter how badly I wanted too, I didn’t dare turn to look at him. It
wadn’t the blood or the copper smell of it with the whiskey. I was afraid that if I looked over at him, he would just wake up. He
would turn his limp head in my direction pull the towel from over his face and smile, his bullfrog jowls aghast with gore and dark
blood, and his eyes would pop open and they would be those silver bastards he’d stared at me with in the bedroom. “Wish that
you had been the one to drive down that that goddamn road. You, boy.”
The sign came up and, just like Braiden had said, the old wooden placard read, Some questions ain’t worth the answer in some
My eyes drifted over to Dad’s body and my heart raced with fear. He was still limp and lifeless and I let a breath go, even as the
tears burned in the back of my eyes. I thought of Uncle Ledd and his damn feed store and I thought of Big Deni’s smile, and his
assurance that he could change things with just a question, and somehow it managed to come.
“Could things be made different?”
I paused even as the rain picked up and the mist seemed to thicken on the road in front of me.
“Could things be made different?”
I said it a few more times, realizing that Braiden and Uncle Ledd had probably asked the same thing. It was a strange question,
more an askin’ for another roll of the dice, see if sixes come instead of ones. I accelerated the old Ford right up until the
governor capped it off at 75. The road shined back black and slippery and I could see an orange sign warning of the curve ahead
and advising me to slow down. My foot kept on.
The speed wobbles started to come, and for the life of me, I can’t tell you if I really did try to make the turn into the Curve, but
I knew as soon as the wheel jerked to the right that I would get an answer to my question, death or else. I thought of the old
game of poker I played with Big Deni three years past. It was how he tottered in that chair, hangin’ on the edge but not fallin’
back. It was how he said chucklehead and all them corny sayings from Uncle Ledd and made them sound good.
The truck turned hard as it shot through the Curve, crashing against the guardrail and flipping over and down into the little
valley that awaited, rollin’ end over end, metal disintegratin’ like paper until it disappeared into darkness with all the ramblin’
* * *
I knew who he was as soon as I saw him in the stands and when I walked over to say “Hi,” the smell of his vanilla-flavored
cigarillos and his smile, that was more capped gold and silver teeth, confirmed it.
“Hope you didn’t come as bad company.”
He laughed, a hack full of smoke, and wiped a hand on his pant leg, extended it toward me. “How you been, Mike?”
I smiled and shook his hand feeling the dampness that he tried to wipe off still there. Couldn’t blame him though. It was a hot
day in the middle of summer. “Good.”
He laughed again, the vanilla-scented smoke drifting around him and his light brown, snake skin suit. “‘Good?’ That be all? You a
man of undastatement.”
He puffed his cigarillo and more smoke came and drifted.
“It’s been real, real, good,” I said, tryin’ to think of a good way to say what needed to be said. “You here about Dad?”
He shook his head, his eyes clouded by a pair of thick dark glasses. “No, Mike. Here to watch a good game, maybe place a few
I laughed, hearing the nearby bark of the cheerleaders and the growing rants of the crowd filling the stands.
“Thought you stopped betting after the car accident?”
“Mike, a betting man who doesn’t bet is like a shoemaker who only wears flip flops.”
“Don’t think I heard that one yet, Uncle Ledd. You write ’em new every month?”
“No, Mike, they just come to me.”
I laughed. “That one was some bit of priceless.” I stopped and I think the smile on my face faltered just the smallest bit.
“How is Dad?”
“Cat in a rat house good?” I said trying for a joke, but all I got was another drift of smoke and that blank expression on Uncle
“He with the ministry now?”
“Yep. That crash he had on the Curve really changed him. Like a man back from the dead. He was a hair shy of a bastard before.
Lucky to be alive he is.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” I said. I put my helmet on, clipped my chin strap and took a deep breath. “Well, I better get out there.
Coach hates to see us standing around too much before a game.”
He said nothin’ still perched on the bleacher like an old crow.
I turned and began to jog off toward the field, my shoulder pads feeling heavy for the first time in a long while and the jersey on
my back, the one with the name M. Lewis on the back, felt hot like burlap.
I turned and watched as he stamped out the vanilla cigarillo on a part of the bench. He blew out the last of the smoke. “I always
wondered why they didn’t find anybody in the driver’s seat. Didn’t you?”
I nodded my head. “I guess.”
“You a man of undastatement,” he said, his mouth parting, showing the gold and silver teeth again. “So you have no idea who
coulda been drivin’ the car that night on the Curve? Not a clue?”
I nodded my head, smiled and looked at him. “Must have been someone who wanted to make things a little different? You
wouldn’t know that feelin’, would you?”
He nodded and smiled, it was genuine. He reached for another cigarillo, lit it with a wood match and puffed. “I guess I would,
Mike. You go and have a great game now. From what I hear you got a good little arm on you.”
“Thanks Uncle Ledd, you be gentle with them bets.” I ran out and onto the field thinkin’ I should look back but didn’t.