Chalkers by Michael Bracken

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When eleven men return to their college alma mater for homecoming forty years after graduation, do they dare reveal the long-held secret that binds them to one another?

A work of short crime from our Fingerprints line.


A Baptist university in the heart of Texas—a place where football is worshiped at least five days each week during the fall but Jesus only gets Wednesday and Sunday—isn’t a good place for men like myself to meet one another, but we had our ways, even back then. For generations, student groups have used sidewalk chalking to communicate, decorating the walkways around campus with brightly colored graffiti, leaving messages that were sometimes blatant, sometimes cryptic, and always easy to wash away with a spray hose, and we had adopted the tradition so well that our chalked messages appeared as inane and innocuous as the others. The fraternities announced their tailgate parties, the sororities announced their teas, and we announced our clandestine meetings. That was the only way we could do it; to be caught in or out of the closet meant expulsion.

Forty years after graduation, not much had changed. Sure, the science building was new and parking garages had sprung up around the periphery while streets cross-cutting the campus had been closed to motorized traffic, but it was still a Baptist university, not a secular one, and students with my sexual proclivities still communicated through sidewalk chalking and still met covertly.

I had returned to campus for homecoming—an annual celebration of fall, football, and fornication—because Chester Harriman had called together the surviving eleven members of our group. We had barely spoken to one another since the night Bryce Daniels disappeared, an event that bound us even as it pushed us apart. I had been a senior then, one semester shy of graduation, and my poor grades that last semester had decimated my GPA and kept me from graduating cum laude. I had spent my final months at the university in constant fear that I would be outed, that my participation in that evening’s events revealed, and that I would spend the rest of my life in an institution from which no graduation was possible.

Chester had chalked a message to the group on the sidewalk in front of the English building, the same place I’d first seen a message from him more than forty years earlier, when I had been a second-semester sophomore and he had been halfway through the fourth year of his six-year trek through the university. After Chester taught me how, I had become our group’s designated chalker, leaving my last message the night before Bryce disappeared.

A dark-haired young man wearing an oversized sweatshirt with the university’s logo emblazoned on the front and jeans that hung loosely from his slender hips, with a well-worn backpack slung over one shoulder and earbuds from an iPod dangling around his neck, stood staring at Chester’s message. When I stepped up beside him, he glanced over at me and started to move away.

“Do you know what that symbol means?” I asked.

The young man hesitated, looked me up and down, and then warily asked, “Do you work here?”

“Alumni,” I explained. Then I indicated the message chalked on the concrete and repeated my question. “Do you know?”

  • Published by: Untreed Reads

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