Human Remains in the Head of My Holler?
Neaceter’s Dictionary Definition
***Holler- (Noun) Any road in southeastern Kentucky that follows a waterway and/or crosses a mountain. Hollers usually branch off a main highway, and are often lined with homes and businesses. The Appalachian term is derived from the word “hollow”, which was used by settlers to describe a flat spot hollowed between mountains by rivers and streams that served as an ideal setting for building homes and growing crops.***
The holler where I grew up is special to me. I am the only person in the world, who can honestly boast that my maternal and paternal families live there. My family’s land borders property that, at one time, was owned by my in-laws. So it is fair to say that my whole life is represented by the fold between those two mountains, lining each side of an unnamed creek.
The head of my holler is crowned by a huge pond, almost large enough to be considered a lake. This isolated canyon is where I dreamed of building a house, when I grew up, and it is also the spot where I proposed to my wife.
As a boy, I walked to the pond at least a couple of times per week. I “borrowed” fishing line, hooks, and bobbers from papaw’s tackle-box, and constructed a sturdy cane pole from reeds growing along the shallow water’s edge. A great deal of my novel “Bad Boy” was written on notebook paper in the head of my holler. A presence exists in that secluded wilderness.
Something eerie strikes my soul to this very day, when I walk far enough into the pines and poplars to lose view of my father’s house. The sensation overcoming my spirit isn’t one of fear, but rather the aura is alluring in a weird sort of way, like something omniscient that doesn’t mean to harm you, yet it is more powerful than you can comprehend. I have always been drawn to the supernatural essence resonating along those high mountain walls.
For reasons unknown to me, I never explored the cave, situated along the ridge lining the outer curve of the pond at my holler’s head. It isn’t a large cave, but it is big enough to garner notice. My brother-in-law, Lonnie, however, took special interest in the ancient crevasse right away, as soon as his father purchased the property.
Lonnie collected arrowheads, and he fancied the cave as in ideal hunting ground. He did not unearth any tribal trinkets. Instead, from merely inches beneath sand, gathering on the cave’s lip, Lonnie retrieved what he described to be a human jawbone.
Lonnie swore to his wife and children that human remains are tucked within that cave. My nephews have recruited me to escort them on an expedition to determine what or who these bones once served. It is a calling I will answer, for I love my nephews, I love that place, and their father is now in Heaven. Therefore, he can only join us in spirit, which he often does, and I am sure he will do on the chosen day.
I do not know what we will find. Perhaps a large animal crawled up in there to die. Maybe there is nothing at all but dirt and moss carpeting that uncharted territory. Then again, the possibility exists that a body could be stashed there. It is, after all, the ideal location.
Two bodies were found not far from this area in the early 1980’s. To put it into perspective, you can almost see the place where the bodies were found from the cave. Several people in the region have gone missing throughout the years. My personal opinion is that we will find nothing at all. Yet you never know until you see for yourself.
This is the only piece of writing I will author on the subject. When my nephews and I go exploring, I will shoot video which will be posted here. Should we find human remains, my thoughts and prayers will be with the family. I hope the discovery can help bring them some kind of closure.
Like I wrote earlier, I presume we will spot nothing more frightening than a few snakes and spiders. But Lonnie Duff was a hell of a man. Regardless of what waits in the cave, I’ll never trot up that sacred holler again without telling his spirit howdy. Should I be cane fishing there someday, and Lonnie’s ghost sits down beside me, I might be fascinated, but I won’t be the least bit troubled. The head of my holler is like nowhere else.
I’m going to miss those calls from The Comanche. He was the first person in my radio career to request a song. On early morning shifts, when I filled in for Paul Hoskins, he’d call and tell me to wake up. During late night shifts, he’d call as soon as the ballgame ended and ask me to put one on the air for him before I left to go home. I often thought, “Dang it, Comanche, I’m glad you don’t work for the FCC because you are listening to us all the time.” And indeed he did. The Comanche knew the names of my wife and children. Every March 23rd, he called to wish me happy birthday. He knew this information simply by listening to me on the radio. For the first few years on the air, I only let my real name slip out a couple of times. The Comanche picked up on it, and from those moments on, he called me Sammy.
But The Killer Neace was only one member in T.K.’s radio family. I like to think of myself as the mischievous little brother with a squealing rock n roll guitar. T.K. laughed with Paul N’ Trev every morning, hummed along with the bluegrass harmonies of Big D, took a trip back in time on those Solid Gold Saturday Mornings with Drum Thornsberry, and on the occasions Randy Thompson filled in, I have no doubts that T.K. called in, not to talk about politics, but rather to request one of his favorite songs that fit the style Randy was playing. I’m sure going to miss him, but I’ll never forget him.
T.K. is a member of the Killer Radio Listener Hall of Fame. My first two hall of famers are now gone, T.K. Draughn (The Comanche) and Teresa Combs (Bad Bob). If there is a radio in Heaven, I’m probably not on it, but if T.K. can get his hands on the dial, I bet he’ll tune us in. This week’s Killer Radio will be dedicated to T.K. But for now, allow me to play, one more time, the song he requested most from me. I’ll send this one out to the angels from The Comanche. We are sad that you’re gone, old friend, but we know you will be dancing on those brand new legs to some good music in Heaven tonight.
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A short story from Sam Neace
When I first saw the monkey, I thought he was a creek rat. A large lump of brown fur scampered past the hallway entrance, as I lounged on the living room recliner, sipping rum and watching the morning news. Frightened and fascinated, I bolted from the chair and hurried down the hall, clutching an empty rum bottle by its neck like a club. My fuzzy intruder had disappeared, perhaps hiding beneath dirty laundry, piled along the wall, or taking refuge in the cluttered closet. I didn’t feel like sifting through all that mess. So, I retired to the bedroom and passed out.
A couple of nights later, as I smoked cigarettes on the porch, my cats became oddly perturbed by a disturbance within the house. They leapt in unison onto the banister and peered through the window, with their backs arched and tails angrily whipping side to side. A startled gasp froze in my chest, when I turned to see a monkey, perched on the coffee table, beating its fists against varnish and snarling, as it stared straight into my eyes through the window. By the time I unlocked my petrified joints enough to stagger through the door he had already escaped back to his hidden lair. From that moment on, those hate filled, beady, red eyes haunted my nightmares.
My wife left a few months earlier, sending me into slight depression. Occasionally, friends called to check on me. I expected laughter, when I told them about the monkey. Instead, their tone grew concerned. They must have thought I was losing my mind. Their haste to sell me out as a pitiful nutcase, kind of pissed me off. Why in the world would I makeup a story about a monkey in my house?
Calling an exterminator would have been a waste of time. The monkey was a master of elusiveness. I swear, had he ducked into an empty room, with no windows or closets, I still would have been unable to find him. His purpose was to taunt me like a little demon. Most times, I only caught glimpses of him streaking across the wall, as he raced from the recesses. Rarely did he linger long enough for our eyes to meet. His shrieks, however, continued all hours of day and night. Sometimes, they came from the attic. Usually, they echoed through every corner of the house, making it impossible to figure out where they were coming from. The noise became such a nuisance; I needed extra nerve medication to sleep. So help me, the crafty devil knew I was doped and seized the opportunity to wreak my home.
One morning, I woke up on the floor. The little bastard must have rolled me out of bed, while I was sleeping. When I walked into the kitchen, a toppled trashcan spilled garbage across the linoleum: old coffee grinds, egg shells, and beer cans. I didn’t have time to clean the mess before work, and when I got home, I was too exhausted. The kitchen smelled like a dump. Boy, did I hate that damn monkey.
Then he resorted to crueler debauchery. The very day I cashed my paycheck, he stole my wallet, leaving me penniless. The phone and TV bills were past due. Therefore, I lost service. This stressed me to the highest degree. Without a phone, my friends would resort to impromptu visits. I had never been a thorough housekeeper, but with a monkey on the loose in my home, the place looked almost disturbing. Out of shame, I kept the doors bolted and refused to answer any knocks.
Everyone has a breaking point. Mine finally came when the monkey turned my alarm clock off three nights consecutively. I got fired. It was then that I realized the time had come to exorcise the tiny demon, destroying my home.
Of course, it’s difficult to kill something you can’t find. I figured rat traps would probably accomplish nothing more than snagging my foot. The situation’s absurdity made me cry. No one would believe me unless I could produce the monkey. Right now, you have likely concluded that the creature is nothing more than a manifestation of my guilty subconscious. Yet he was real, and the hardest thing to do in this world is convince people that something they cannot see, hear, taste, or touch exists and actually matters.
So, I stood on the porch, smoking, drinking, and crying. My cats, Murphy and Engle, came to offer consolation. Their gentle purrs soothed my soul, as I stroked their fur. It was then I realized that Murphy and Engle were possibly the solution to my problem. They saw the monkey that night on the porch, when he first showed his face to me. If granted the opportunity, they would have torn him apart. I decided to give them their chance.
The living room became a cats’ den; litter box in the far corner, food bowl beside my recliner. Murphy and Engle had no complaints. In fact, they seemed prepared for war. I went to bed thinking, “That damn monkey doesn’t stand a chance.”
Morning dawned and Murphy met me at the bedroom door with an exuberant meow. He excitedly rubbed across my shins, and I thought, “Maybe he has a prize for his master.” I didn’t see any animal corpse right away, but the house appeared to be in the same condition as it was when I went to bed. So, I walked to the kitchen and plopped a slice of bologna on the linoleum, as reward to my valiant guard cats. Morning java brewed, as I merrily strolled to the shower.
Steam filled the bathroom. God, did that hot water feel good! There was a stench on me that so desperately needed cleansed. I felt better. Suds streamed across my muscles, and believe it or not, I actually thought about a woman; none in particular but just women in general. Perhaps… maybe, I could start over and build again. My pours opened. Grime drizzled down the drain. For the first time in a long, long while, I understood that everything the monkey destroyed, I could rebuild. All it takes is determination and will power.
My optimism, however, proved to be foolish. For, the monkey lived, and my turmoil remained. Drunken with false hope, I sang in the shower, oblivious to the opening door. The monkey dragged his knuckles through residue on tile, and stood, for who knows how long, smiling at my silhouette against the shower curtain. In the midst of vibrato, I turned, shampoo bottle microphone in hand. As my head bobbed to the imaginary beat, colors weaved across the opaque tarp that shielded my nakedness from the outside world. Mingling with the walls’ royal blue was a blob of brown, which could not be mistaken, even when obstructed by a slightly mildewed plastic cataract. Upon recognizing the monkey, I flinched and stumbled backward, nearly knocking myself unconscious by butting the shower head.
The monkey shrieked loud enough to make me squint and cover my ears. For perhaps ten seconds, he stood still, bleating anger and pain. Then the monkey leapt, sinking his claws into the shower curtain directly beneath the top seam. His weight was too much for the flimsy sheet. Slowly, his claws descended, shredding the curtain. Blood on his hands flowed across the plastic like it was bleeding skin. A scarlet stream swirled between my toes, as it rushed down the drain.
Now, I could see clearly the spite in his eyes. The monkey grunted and growled, flashing his fangs. With all my might, I yanked the shower curtain rod off the wall and swung at his head; intent to kill. He taunted me, smacking his palms on the floor after every failed strike. I chased him into the hall. He flailed chaotically, yet with form and an odd grace like a boxer. A sharp sting buckled my right ankle. Looking down, I noticed blood trickling from four tiny claw marks. Although I didn’t see his jab, he obviously nailed me. Naked and cold, intoxicated by a cocktail of emotion, I closed my eyes and swung for the rafters. The rod’s swift cut upward caught him under the chin, and the monkey skipped tail over head across the wall. Squealing in agony, he limped into the corner bedroom. I sank to my knees. Tears flowed so hard they could have washed my ankles clean. It seemed the entire hall was covered in blood. Some of it was mine, but most came from the monkey. Why had his hands been so bloody when he attacked me in the bathroom? From behind, Murphy cried a mournful meow, and I suddenly realized that Engle had yet to greet me.
Beams of sunshine spilled from the living room. Dust beads danced like entranced moths, within the bars of gold, from no apparent source; waltzing as if mystically called. I followed the levitating misty trail through the living room to the foot of my recliner. Engle’s stiff tail and hind legs protruded from the chair’s leg-rest, which was completely clamped shut over the cat’s torso and head. of dried blood webbed across the carpet. I freed Engle’s cold, hard body from its snare. Clearing empty beer bottles, plates, and straws from the floor, I sat Indian style, rocking back and forth, cradling my dead friend and sobbing.
Now, I stare into my filthy bathroom mirror. It has been three months since the monkey killed Engle. They will evict me from the house tomorrow. Staring at my reflection, it is obvious what has occurred. My eyes are crimson. Teeth, chipped and yellow, spread into an evil grin. Hair sprouts from my neck and shoulders. My posture has slumped to the point where my knuckles nearly drag the floor. Either the creature in this house was a wicked spirit, now inhabiting my soul, or the scratches on my ankles harbored some freakish infection. Regardless of the reason, I have mutated into what I most feared. So, I will trade this pen and paper for a razorblade. The end of this story shall also be the end of me. When they discover my corpse at dawn, with veins emptied from gashes just below an opposable thumb, my appearance will prove that, for one dark witching season, these humble walls served as sanctuary for a monkey.
Timmy teetered at the edge of accountability. By his eleventh birthday, hormones hit him like a hammer. Suddenly, rock ‘n’ roll sounded less like noise and more like music. Certain girls in his class blossomed breasts. Naturally, he had taken notice. But his curiosity was innocent in nature, much like Pandora just before she opened her box.
His eleventh birthday found him trying to match the mysterious colors of adulthood’s Rubik’s cube. He somewhat understood that sex claimed a color, as did pride and profanity. But he was still too young to piece the puzzle together.
The only things that mattered to Timmy were his family, Kentucky basketball, and Jason Voorhees. He was no more obsessed with Jason than the average prepubescent boy is obsessed with video games. Timmy’s parents thought it an innocent allure. That is why they bought him the entire ‘Friday the 13th’ movie collection for his eleventh birthday.
Timmy burrowed beneath blankets and curled, quivering like a frightened fetus, in his bed’s warm womb. His television screen oozed ghastly images. Jason’s shimmering machete slashed in flashes of silver. Teenage girls shrieked- their bodies slicked with sweat. Their boyfriends’ blood beaded like honey on Jason’s long machete shaft.
Timmy cowered beneath sheets, until the closing credits rolled. He wondered, all the while, how he could find enjoyment in such a disturbing movie. Closing credits gave way to television static. The VCR spit the finished cassette from its lips, where it dangled like a teasing tongue. Timmy clawed from beneath his cocoon and wandered about the room with the soft steps of a child freshly awakened from a nightmare.
Perhaps it was coincidence. Perhaps it was one of God’s little plagues. Timmy turned eleven during the climax of locust season. Locust season occurs once every seven summers in southeast Kentucky. The insects are actually cicadas, but locals use the term locust because it sounds more biblical. From early spring into late autumn, locusts’ nests blister across sycamore trees. Larva bursts from the blisters to exercise whistling wings. Soon, Appalachia is blackened with bugs. They eat the crops. Their skull-like heads ping against windowpanes. A million wings fill the atmosphere with deafening doom like tornado thunder. This only occurs once every seven summers. As chance would have it, the locusts were in a hell-raising mood, the night Timmy turned eleven.
The locusts’ devilish taunts overshadowed television static. He crept to his open bedroom window and craned an ear into the dark, trying to decipher their code.
“KILL, KILL, KILL, ALL, ALL, ALL…” they seemed to say.
Timmy slammed the window shut. That is when he heard his mother scream. Brave, little Timmy dug his Louisville Slugger from under the bed and headed into the hall with tears dampening his flannel pajamas. He cut the corner into the living room.
Mommy stretched across the carpet like a slab of meat. Her face was so bloody and mangled, Timmy could only recognize her by her emerald eyes. Her banana blond hair now dripped red cherry juice.
Daddy lounged in the recliner, facing Timmy. His guts spilled like spaghetti into his hands. Daddy’s lips shaped, as he tried to form words. All that came out was a gurgle, followed by a river of blood.
Jason stood in the doorway. His black boots left scarlet footprints all across mommy’s clean, blue carpet. That fabled hockey mask hovered above his shoulders like the moon. Hollow, black eyes ripped gashes through Timmy’s soul. Blood poured from the tip of his machete, as if the blade itself was bleeding. Jason opened the front door. Outside, the locusts called.
“KILL, KILL, KILL, ALL, ALL, ALL…” Jason left Timmy standing there to pick up the pieces. Timmy knew not what to do. He ran to the phone, dialed 9-11, just like they had taught him in school, then hurried upstairs, locked his bedroom door, and hid beneath blankets, until the men with badges arrived to take him away.
Timmy rapped knuckles against coarse oak. The door stood open like a dead eye, still Timmy felt the need to knock.
“Uncle Vic, are you home?”
No one answered. Timmy entered Vic’s log cabin. Everything was exactly the way he had pictured it in his dreams. A bull’s skull peered from its resting-place above Vic’s stereo. Timmy took a moment to notice how much the bull’s skull resembled a smiling locust.
Slate arrowheads sheeted every table. Beer cans lined the couch’s skirt like buckteeth. Stuffed squirrels nibbled porcelain acorns in all the corners. There was a buck’s head above the fireplace and a boar’s head above the kitchen doorway. The place smelled like a hunter. The place smelled like blood.
Timmy’s tennis shoes left grids in thick dust on the hardwood floor, as he crossed the living room. Nary board creaked. Vic’s floors were as strong as a grizzly’s backbone.
“Uncle Vic, are you home?”
Water sloshed in the rear corner of the house. Timmy pinched the lip of his black Stetson and stroked the hem of his denim jacket. Someone flailed about in bath water at the rear of Vic’s home.
Timmy remembered Vic. He was the kind of man that would shoot his own mother if she flinched at the wrong moment. Timmy’s shoulder slumped. A backpack slid down the length of his arm. Timmy unzipped the backpack and fished for his pistol. He hoped like hell, he wouldn’t have to use it.
“Uncle Vic, it’s me.”
“Well,” Vic slurred, still sloshing bath water, “nice to meet you, me. Either identify yourself by name or, ‘here lies me,’ will be all your mama reads on your headstone.”
Timmy snickered and cast the buck’s head a questioning stare. Something in the dead deer’s eyes let Timmy know that Vic was not lying.
“It’s your nephew, Timmy,” Timmy shouted, with his hand clutching the pistol.
For a long while, there was silence.
“What’s your mama’s name?” asked Vic.
“Dara,” Timmy answered, “Dara Collins. That’s the name I read on her headstone.”
Vic was not convinced.
“What was the number on your jersey when you played biddy league basketball?”
“Twelve,” answered Timmy, “just like you, Uncle Vic.”
For a long while, there was silence.
“Come on in here and show yourself,” Vic demanded, “and drop that gun.”
“I ain’t got no gun,” Timmy lied.
Vic laughed. Timmy heard the harsh sound of a riffle cocking.
“Drop the gun and come on in here,” Vic ordered.
Timmy tucked the pistol into his pants and hoisted the backpack onto his shoulder, while crossing the kitchen. Bare, pork chop bones stacked each other on a paper plate, sitting at the edge of the kitchen table. A lonely locust whistled from atop barbecue bones. Beer bottles trimmed the counter like fort walls. The smell of Irish Spring soap intensified with each step.
Timmy made his way to the bathroom. As expected, Vic relaxed in steamy water with a .16 gauge shotgun protruding from the crest of soapy residue. White bubbles spread from Vic’s chest, all across the tub, like a bride’s gown.
“Take off that hat,” Vic slurred. Timmy removed his Stetson.
“Oh my God,” Vic gasped, “oh my God, it is you. I’d recognize my sister’s eyes anywhere.”
“It’s me, Uncle Vic,” Timmy proclaimed, “you can shoot me if you want to, but just keep in mind, I’m the only family you’ve got left.”
Vic laid the gun parallel to the tub and smoothed soap from his heavy, butterscotch hair. His eyes widened into ovals, white and black, like the moon. Vic arose from the tub. White water dripped from his fury chest in tiny beads like soapy teardrops.
Vic stepped from the tub, grabbed his shotgun, and headed through the cabin, still naked. Water trickled from his toe-tips and left a soapy trail all across the floor, moistening Timmy’s dusty footprints into soggy mud.
“I figured you’d be this way,” Timmy groaned, “some things never change.”
Timmy followed Vic’s water trail past the kitchen to the bedroom doorway.
“Today’s my birthday,” Timmy said to the doorway, as if it were an open ear, “I’m eighteen today.”
Vic shuffled around in the bedroom for awhile. Finally, he stepped into the hall. Long, thermal underwear tightly snuggled his legs. A green bandana with the letters S.O.B printed across the brow kept Vic’s wild hair at bay.
“I never did care too much for cake,” Vic said, brushing past Timmy on his way to the kitchen.
Timmy lingered in the hall for a moment, not knowing whether to be offended or humored. He walked to the kitchen entrance. Vic propped himself against the open refrigerator door, guzzling a beer.
“Uncle Vic, I didn’t drive across two states on my eighteenth birthday to have a Hallmark moment with you. I just want to ask you one question. If my presence annoys you, then answer me this question and I’ll be on my way.”
Vic crossed to the sink, leaving the refrigerator door open. He discovered a lonely locust, tenderly pinched its wings, and softly cuffed it in his palm. The puzzled locust scurried back and forth from Vic’s fingertips up the ridge of his wrist.
“I know you’re a hunter,” Timmy continued, “ain’t nobody in these parts that would argue, you are the best hunter since Daniel Boone. I know people say you’re a little crazy. I guess that just comes along with being a hunter. Truth is, I’m a little crazy too.”
Vic rotated his hand palm-side up to backside up, over and over, as the confused locust made its trek.
“How do you kill a man, Uncle Vic? There’s somebody I’m going to kill, and I want to know how to go about doing it. He isn’t an ordinary man. Hell, if he were, I wouldn’t waste your time. I’d just hunt him down and pop off a few rounds in his head. But this man is as far from ordinary as they come. Many people have tried to kill him and paid fatally for it.”
Vic swallowed the remainder of his beer. He searched for a spot on the counter to place the empty bottle. When he realized no spot was vacant, he dropped the bottle to the floor and returned to the refrigerator to retrieve another. All the while, the happy locust skipped along Vic’s knuckles.
“I remember the stories you used to tell about the great, gray buck that lived in these hills,” Timmy recalled, “you talked about that old buck like it was almost immortal. At the opening of every deer season, you always told me how hunters would follow the riverbanks into the deepest hollows in search of Old Gray. Only the hunters with the sharpest of senses and the keenest of eyes could track Old Gray down. Occasionally, a hunter was lucky enough to get Gray in his sights and fire off a shot. But none of them were ever good enough to take that animal down.
The man I’m after is a lot like Old Gray. I came to you for advice because you are the best there’s ever been. Now, you can either help your only nephew out or send me on my way. That’s your choice. But I am going after him. And I do plan on taking him down.”
Vic popped the bottle open with his teeth and spat the cap to the floor. He downed about half the beer and closed his fingers around the skipping locust.
“Two years after your mama and daddy died,” Vic grizzled, “I killed Old Gray. I found him up in the head of Wiley Branch, wetting his whiskers in a pond. I hit him square in the heart with a crossbow. He ran maybe ten yards and fell over deader than disco. My first thought was to carry him into town and have him mounted, so I could rub it in all of my hunting buddies’ noses. I changed my mind. He was too old to make for good eating, so I left him lying there by the pond. I figured, after all he had weathered, it was only proper to let the mountain take his body. To this day, no one knows he is dead except for me, you, and the mountain.”
Vic took another swig of beer and shook the locust in his closed fist like a man ready to throw dice.
“I might be crazy,” Vic belched, “I might be a little uncivilized. But I ain’t no idiot. You came back here to kill the man that murdered your mama and daddy. It was a locust year, the year they died. This is the first locust year we’ve had since.
They called you back here, didn’t they? You heard these locusts hollering from wherever you were, and you came back here to answer their call.”
Vic opened his fist and quickly pushed the stunned locust into his mouth. He slurped the bug headfirst down his tongue and sucked on it like it was a piece of candy. Timmy’s stomach turned when he heard Vic burst open the locust’s hard shell with his teeth. Vic chewed and swallowed the bug. He sucked a few juices from his teeth with the tip of his tongue and washed it all down with a drink of beer.
“I’ve never been one to argue with nature,” Vic said, “You want to know how to kill this man you’re after? Pull up a seat, and I’ll tell you.”
Timmy parted grass in the yard outside his old home. The grass stood knee high and was full of locusts. At the right end of the yard, his swing-set rusted like metal memories. One swing swayed back and forth like a pendulum in the wind. The full moon perched high in the sky, ghostly pale and punctured with black-craters, like a hockey mask. Appalachian pines spread needle fingers toward the almighty mask like worshiping hands. High hanging summer clouds caught silver moonlight and twisted it in their bowels, until it spit from their guts all lavender and scarlet like blood.
After the murders, no one dared to move into the house. Small towns have long memories. Town shed a million tears the day Timmy’s parents were buried. It was a memory they would all rather keep locked away. So, the house remained abandoned at the far end of town. Paint chipped and shingles shed from the decaying home. It looked a lot like a pine coffin, weeping in the whistling grass, waiting to be lowered into the ground. Timmy stood at the front door, shivering. The last time he entered that home, everything was… normal.
The inside looked exactly the same way it did that night. Mold, mildew, cobwebs, and dust had staked their claim, but for the most part, nothing changed. Rats had tunneled through the sofa’s cotton innards, but dad’s bloodstains were still evident. Timmy kneeled near the brown blotch where mama laid, hemorrhaging on the carpet seven years earlier. In the kitchen, his Scooby-Doo bowl balanced at the edge of the table. He had eaten Apple Jacks that night, just before retiring to his bedroom. It was all perfect like some sort of dusty, distorted nightmare.
Timmy’s bedroom was no different. Blankets bunched together in the center of the mattress, just the way he had left them. His television was gone, but the cable protruded straight across the nightstand like a severed artery. ‘Friday the 13th’ videocassettes scattered across the floor. Their cardboard cases mildewed and withered with time.
The glass had long since been shattered from his window. Timmy stared out the hole into the night. Heat lightening strobed the sky. A platoon of locusts wandered through the window and exercised their wings in the doughy paste of peeling wallpaper. Timmy sat at the edge of the bed and buried his head in his hands. He stayed that way, until sleep nearly overcame him.
The front door hinges slowly screeched open. Timmy’s hands immediately shot into his backpack. His head snapped erect. Had he forgotten to shut the door all the way? Perhaps the wind had blown it open.
From the living room, heavy feet thudded against week floor joists, slow and powerful like Frankenstein’s monster. The dry rotting floor whined. For a brief second, Timmy thought he heard his mother screaming. As Timmy pulled the revolver from his backpack, Uncle Vic’s words looped over and over in his head.
“YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW TO KILL THIS MAN YOU’RE AFTER? PULL UP A SEAT, AND I’LL TELL YOU…”
Lightening iced Timmy’s bedroom wall. His shadow cut across the door, black and slumped, like a demon.
“THE MAN YOU WANT TO KILL IS JUST LIKE THE LOCUST I ATE…”
Timmy twisted the dusty doorknob and raised the revolver shoulder level with his shadow.
“THAT LOCUST COULD HAVE LIVED TO SEE ANOTHER HOUR, HAD I ALLOWED IT. BUT I DID NOT ALLOW IT. NOW, THE LOCUST IS CHURNING IN THE PIT OF MY GUT…”
Timmy headed down the hall. All of the sudden, he was eleven again. Jason’s boots beat thunder through the living room.
“EVERYTHING THAT LIVES ON THIS EARTH IS EASY TO KILL. THERE’S NO GREAT TRICK TO IT. ALL IT TAKES IS ONE SMASH OF THE HAND OR ONE ARROW TO THE HEART…”
Timmy cut the corner into the living room. Jason waited there, baptized in full moonlight. Sweat trickled from Jason’s bald head. His white hockey mask glowed like a honeydew jack o’lantern. Black eyes burned the scene like Hell coals. Jason’s machete was a mirror, reflecting Mama’s brown bloodstain and Timmy’s tear streaked face. The blade was clean, sharpened, and ready for blood.
Jason reached into his coveralls and removed a thin strip of bloodstained cloth. He tossed the cloth across the room. Timmy caught the strip with his free hand and held it up into moonlight.
The cloth unfurled across Timmy’s fingers, and he realized it was a green bandana. As Timmy feared, the letters S.O.B glistened beneath blood smears.
“No, not Uncle Vic. Damn you, he was the only family I had left!”
“WHEN YOU FIND HIM, DO WHAT YOU MUST DO QUICKLY. WORDS ARE UNNECESSARY. THERE’S NO TIME TO HESITATE…”
Timmy raised his pistol and pulled back the hammer.
“SHOOT HIM IN THE EYES. MORE THAN LIKELY, THIS WILL KILL HIM. BUT EVEN IF IT DOESN’T, HE WILL BE BLINDED AND WEAK...”
Lightening sheeted the sky with the rhythm of a pulse. Black then white, black then white, like a twitching eye. Sour sweat collected at the corners of Timmy’s lips. Jason slashed the air with each pulse of light, his blade shredding paneling on the walls. Splinters splashed across the floor. Jason stabbed at Timmy, and he dodged just in time to avoid demise. Timmy remembered the last words his mother said to him, as she tucked him into bed that same night seven years ago.
“I don’t know how you can stand to watch those scary movies…”
A streak of lightening froze just long enough for Timmy to get good aim.
“Every time I watch those movies, I have nightmares for days…”
Timmy squeezed a shot through each of Jason’s eyes. Blood squirted across the front window and glowed neon in flickering lightening.
“But you don’t get scared, do you, my brave, little man? You’ve always been mommy’s brave boy…”
“AFTER YOU SHOOT HIM IN THE EYES, HIT ALL HIS VITAL SPOTS. PUT A BULLET IN HIS HEART…”
Timmy pulled the trigger. Jason’s heart burst like a blood blister.
“PUT ONE IN HIS LIVER…”
Timmy fired again. Jason jerked on the floor like he was having a seizure.
“PUT ONE BETWEEN HIS EYES…”
By now, Jason was lifeless. Timmy shot him between the eyes for the hell of it. Jason’s mask cracked. Blood oozed through the grooves.
“You know what? If Jason came into this house, I bet he wouldn’t stand a change against you. That’s how brave you are…”
“TAKE HIS BLADE AND DECAPITATE HIM. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT, JUST GRAB THE MACHETE AND DO IT FAST…”
Timmy picked up the machete. Lightening rendered the land shadowless. With one mighty strike, Timmy cut through Jason’s throat.
“DON’T SPEAK TO HIM. DON’T UNMASK HIM. JUST SET THE PLACE ON FIRE AND WALK AWAY. LET ALL THAT HATRED GO UP IN FLAMES BECAUSE IT IS OVER. HE IS IN HELL, AND YOU ARE VICTORIUS. LEAVE HIS ASHES FOR THE LOCUSTS…”
Timmy’s trembling hand set the sofa ablaze. He ran out the front door and hit his knees in the grass, weeping. All around, the locusts were screaming.
“KILL, KILL, KILL, ALL, ALL, ALL…”
Hell flames devoured the house. Timmy’s last memory of his mother hung in his head like a snapshot. She stood in his bedroom doorway. Her blond hair was so alive and pretty; her green eyes filled with tender happiness.
“I love you, my brave boy. Happy birthday, Timmy.”
She turned out the light and blew him a kiss. That was the last time he saw her alive.
Timmy hurried off to Vic’s house as fast as his car would take him. He dashed up the front porch steps. Vic’s front door opened like a dead eye, the same as before. Every light in the house was on, but no one was home.
Timmy bolted from room to room, preparing himself for a gory display. He found nothing of Vic, until he came to the bathroom. Vic’s hair carpeted the tile- thick, wet, and mushy with shaving cream. There was nothing else, no dead body, no spilled blood. Timmy stumbled backwards through the hall. He found his balance and fell to his knees in the kitchen doorway.
The refrigerator popped on and hummed like a locust. Timmy recalled the last words Vic said to him, just that morning.
“GO BACK TO YOUR OLD HOUSE. IF YOU’RE GONNA FIND HIM, CHANCES ARE, YOU’LL FIND HIM THERE. THESE LOCUSTS ARE CALLING OUT TO YOU. THEY’RE PROBABLY CALLING OUT TO HIM TOO. THEY WANT BLOOD. THAT’S WHAT THE LOCUSTS ARE AFTER. THEY DON’T CARE WHOSE. THEY JUST CRAVE IT AND WON’T STOP UNTIL THEY TASTE IT.”
Earlier that day, Timmy thanked Vic for his advice and turned to walk away. Vic called out to him once more. When Timmy turned around, Vic tossed him a cold beer. With expressionless eyes and a voice so cold it was almost dead, Vic said the three words that have always sent shivers through his nephew’s spine.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TIMMY.”
Comic-Calooza will be held Saturday, August 13th, 2011 from 12 noon until 2 PM at the Perry County Public Library. This is a fun time for the entire family to celebrate comic book heroes. There will be costumes and lots of cool, comic book related activities. I will be there dressed as the Joker. Folks, who have ordered Sugarland Melting online, will be free to bring their books for signing. I also hope to have some copies for purchase there. Look or the Joker. I'll be setting beside the coffin. LOL!!!
This is a great event for superheroes of all ages. Contact the Perry County Public Library (606-436-0191) for more info. Sugarland Melting can be ordered online from Amazon by following this link: http://www.amazon.com/Sugarland-Melting-Sam-Neace/dp/1613181078/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312138453&sr=8-1
Thanks, and I hope to see you there!
Leah’s Big Red Balloon
A short story from Sam Neace
Leah always thought no one understood her. When her son was born, she realized what being misunderstood truly meant. Caleb’s mother knew him better than anyone. Yet she did not know him at all. Late into the night, his tank running on empty but refusing to shutdown, he clutched the tattered teddy bear momma named “Grizzly”, gazing oval-eyed into the dimensions of his favorite cartoons. Leah cried. She loved him, but she cried.
Every morning opened to the same songs on the computer; same cereal for breakfast. Leah told Sheila not to slurp the milk remaining in her bowl, once the Apple Jacks were devoured, and ordered Caleb to stop punching his sister, when she ignored momma and slurped anyway. Momma said many things and wondered if they heard her at all.
Men came and went. All of them wanted a good time but none of them wanted Caleb, including his father, so to Hell with them. Leah was lonely.
The school system showed little care. Caleb did well on his end of the year tests, so April was full of praise and candy. The other eight months of the school year brought scorn, seclusion, and as often as possible, suspension. Leah’s boss didn’t understand the need to take off work so often. Every day, she feared a firing.
Somehow, Leah kept everything together for the kids and herself. Although stress became a regular overnight guest, life ultimately remained happy. She enjoyed little moments with her children. After they were tucked into bed, night mellowed with red wine, soft music, a bubble bath, and memories of simpler times, when life was carefree and Leah loved like only a young girl can.
His name was Jeff; her high school sweetheart. The yearbook aged considerably since graduation, but Jeff still looked the same. Wavy blond hair, bright blue eyes, and strong shoulders called to her from his picture, as Jeff smiled like an eighteen year old kid, filled with hopes and dreams, oblivious to the reality that he had little more than a year left to live.
Jeff and Leah built magical memories by doing a whole lot of nothing. They talked, cruised around, and often made love. No official proposal had been offered, yet everyone assumed marriage to be inevitable, once Jeff returned from war. However, death is the only true inevitability. It came for Jeff on the battlefield. Leah watched his coffin lower into the ground. Not long after Jeff’s funeral, she moved to Kentucky, never again to know a happy heart, until the day Caleb was born.
At times, it seemed all the stress, loneliness, and self-doubt was driving her crazy. The woman could cry for hours over nothing. Every second of every day, exhaustion whittled her bones, yet she tossed and turned, unable to sleep through the night. Leah suffered from what she believed to be hallucinations. On occasion, her cell phone rang at a ridiculous hour, revealing the words “Unknown Location” on the caller I.D. When she answered, a voice, sounding faintly like Jeff, called out to her. Intense static, so loud and chaotic it hurt her ears, stifled the man’s words. All she could make out was her name, shouted with great strain and distress, as if the man knew he had to overcome deafening interference. These calls came randomly, but always while she slept. Sometimes, she pressed the talk button but did not say hello. Instead, she simply listened as the man struggled to slip a slight fragment of his message past the static roar. “Leah,” he would say, followed by nothing but mumbles that might was well have been spoken in a foreign language. Then there were nights when she tried communicating with the man, asking him to press buttons on the phone, if he could hear her, or perhaps send his message to her as a text. The end result never varied, regardless of Leah’s efforts. Just when she began convincing herself that the calls were stress induced hallucinations, the cell phone rang, during a morning when Caleb was in bed with her.
Usually, ring number-one coaxed her awake but not alert. She accompanied the second ring with an angry groan. Finally, the third ring lifted her heavy head from the pillow. On that morning, ring one did its job, but numbers two and three never came. So, she briefly drifted back to sleep, until the realization hit her like a bucket of ice water. “Caleb!”
She quickly turned to find Caleb holding the phone to his ear. Instead of confused or agitated, he appeared intrigued, gently chewing the corner of his lip, with eyes never blinking.
“Caleb, give it to me,” she snapped, yanking the phone from his hand, which led to a terrible fit that lasted all day. “Unknown Location” flashed on the screen, but the caller had already disconnected. Leah tried convincing Caleb to somehow demonstrate what he heard, but her efforts were useless. Momma would have given anything for the ability to communicate with her son.
Leah devoted little thought to her mental state. Truthfully, she didn’t have time to be crazy, and she certainly did not make enough money for therapy. So, life ventured along merrily. Bills piled up each month, as the children grew. Caleb had good moments and bad moments. He seemed to gradually get better, although Leah wondered if his condition was really improving or if she had just adapted to it. Friends, doctors, and a few caring teachers credited Leah’s love and devotion as the major factor behind Caleb’s development. But whatever the reason, there weren’t as many big hurdles to jump over on a weekly basis. Caleb learned to write numbers. Trips to the grocery store actually became pleasant. He even allowed grandma to take him to the carnival. Rather than freaking out or fighting with Sheila, he shared a “normal” evening with his family, capped off by the purchase of a huge, red balloon to take home for momma.
“Lord have mercy,” Leah laughed, as the balloon squeezed tightly through the front door, “what in the world am I gonna do with that thing?”
She stuffed the boulder of a balloon into her bedroom. Throughout the evening, momma was nothing but smiles, and Caleb loved every second of it. The thought of pleasing his mother caused him to beam with pride. Of course, no job is ever finished with Caleb. He sneaked in the bedroom, while momma was on the phone, and stood there contemplating ways he could make his gift better. Since he had been a good boy all day, momma allowed him to sleep with her. He crept from bed in the middle of the night, clutching a black marker, and excitedly “improved” momma’s present. After hours of quiet labor, he returned beneath the blankets and lay awake, anxiously awaiting sunrise.
The following morning, Leah’s eyes opened, and immediately she recognized her son’s work. Numbers were written across the balloon’s circumference, like a ring circling Saturn. Caleb left out some of the numbers. Those he remembered were not in order. Still, Leah was happy to see him showing progress. In two spots along the circle, Caleb separated numbers by drawing a lady bug. He loved art. On top of the balloon, he doodled what Leah concluded to be a picture of her. Crudely sketched dinosaurs joined momma above the equator. Down south were several tracings of Caleb’s hand, along with a cluster of scraggly lines she could not decipher. After carefully examining every marker stroke of his masterpiece, Leah turned and looked at him with an arched brow, which scared Caleb because she only did that when she was mad. Her angry brow abruptly submitted to joyful giggles, as she jumped onto the bed and showered him with kisses.
“You did that for me didn’t you?” she cheered, “I love it. I bet you stayed awake all night too, just so you could see my reaction. Well, you better not be an old, grumpy head today. Come on; I’ll get you some breakfast.”
Typically, Caleb’s behavior was out of control, when he hadn’t slept. That day, however, there were no outbursts or tantrums. All went well. The kids clocked out early, freeing Leah to enjoy a hot bath. While soaking, she saw the balloon’s reflection in her bathroom mirror. What a perfect gift! It resembled a heart, the symbol of love. If a heart were to be created, representing Leah’s love for her family, it would have to be at least as big as that red balloon. Steamy water, and the silky texture of lather streaming through Leah’s hair, created a sensation of euphoria, which she knew needed to be savored because it never lasts. Bliss can be shattered by a simple phone call.
About two-thirty the next night, Leah’s ringtone fired. Not even cellular technology could pinpoint the whereabouts of her caller’s “Unknown Location”. She answered on the third ring. Like so many times before, a man, sounding far away, shouted her name and then barked a paragraph of mumbles, drowned by the rushing tide of static.
“Goodnight, my friend,” she sighed, ending the call.
From the doorway, Caleb burst into sobs. He stood there, trembling, with his chin and nose pressed firmly into the back of Grizzly’s head, indicating trouble or fear.
“Caleb, how long have you been standing there?”
Suddenly, he hurled Grizzly across the room with force violent enough to kill a bystander, had the teddy bear been a baseball. Caleb’s jaw waged as he wept, giving his mouth a disfigured appearance. All the warning signs of a temper meltdown registered loud and clear with Leah.
“Caleb, baby, tell mommy what’s wrong.”
He screamed like a boy would after breaking a leg. Leah rushed to his side in panic.
“Caleb, why are you screaming?”
As she opened her arms to embrace him, Caleb rigorously slapped at her right hand, trying to draw her attention to the cell phone.
“Did you want to talk on the phone?” she stammered, “It was a wrong number or prankster. I don’t know, but the caller hung up.”
Caleb plucked the phone from her hand and launched it toward the red balloon so hard she heard his shoulder pop in mid-motion. He might have possessed strength, but Caleb lacked precision. Leah’s phone missed the balloon altogether and came to a shattering halt against the mirror. Now, Sheila was awake and also crying in momma’s bedroom.
“Sheila, go back to your room and close the door. Caleb is upset, but mommy will take care of him, okay?”
Sheila lingered in the doorway, but momma didn’t notice. She was too busy wrestling big brother. Caleb’s arms propelled wildly, as tears literally projected from his eyes. He smacked Leah strong enough to sting her cheek. That’s when momma tackled him around the shoulders, sending both of them tumbling to the carpet. Leah’s knee throbbed. Caleb laid there in shock, gazing around the room like someone freshly awakened from a dream. Screams retreated to whimpers. Leah now cried louder than her son.
“What’s wrong, Caleb?” she moaned, “I wish you could tell me. I wish I could understand. Why can’t I understand my son?”
Despite squinting eyelids, Leah’s tears flowed. Soft, tiny fingers lovingly brushed her cheek dry. She opened her eyes to see Caleb, completely subdued, lying beside her. Red receded from his cheeks. Peaceful and inquisitive, his expression reminded her of when he was a newborn. During that moment of calm after the storm, a miracle occurred. The stress and sadness, which seconds earlier nearly suffocated the tiny family, melted with the sound of one word from Caleb.
Leah sprang from lying to sitting position instantly. Her mouth dangled open in shock. Tears fell, this time trickling from smiling eyes.
“Caleb, you talked,” she gasped, “Oh my god, you talked. Did you hear that, Sheila? He said, momma.”
Sheila giggled and applauded her big brother. In less time than it takes the average person to tie a pair of shoes, the home’s atmosphere shifted from scream filled panic to heartwarming laughter.
“Will you say it again?” Leah begged.
“Momma,” he playfully shouted, pointing to the big red balloon.
“You’re right,” Leah cheered, “that’s momma’s balloon.”
Such a milestone cannot be fully appreciated by parents, whose children begin talking while they are babies. At age seven, Caleb had yet to speak a single word. The best diagnosis doctors and therapists offered was that Caleb might talk eventually or he might not. Leah couldn’t have been more proud had he graduated valedictorian of Harvard. Caleb flashed the kind of smile that made momma forget he nearly unhinged her jaw a couple of minutes earlier. Dancing, clapping, and hamming it up for his audience, Caleb shimmied over to the balloon and gave it a firm poke in the belly. Leah laughed and watched the balloon slowly spin on its axis. Three black numbers (761) passed like an advertisement, followed by a tiny lady bug doodle. The balloon twirled to reveal another set of three numbers (555), trailed closely by the second bug. Four digits (8646) made up the last pattern, with no spotted lady marking their rear. It seemed almost as if Caleb calculated the circle of numbers to represent some kind of code; three numbers then a dash; three numbers then a dash; four numbers to close the sequence… three dash, three dash, four… 761-555-8646.
“Oh my god,” Leah squeaked, “that looks like a phone number.”
By now, the curtain closed on Caleb’s performance. He was lost in cosmic wonder, entranced by the rotating, red ball. Leah cautiously approached and held her hand out before his mystified eyes.
“Caleb,” she called, snapping his concentration away from the balloon, “can you see the numbers you wrote for mommy? Do these numbers mean anything?”
He scratched his scalp and stared at her for a moment with the expression of a child ciphering math in his head. Calmly, Caleb pointed toward the broken mirror, where fragments of Leah’s phone mingled with shards of glass. Momma and son gazed into each others eyes, neither knowing if the other understood. Continuing to point toward the fallen phone, Caleb whispered, “momma”. For the remainder of the night, Sheila slept. After cleaning up the dangerous mess her son created, Leah dozed off and on, watching television in the living room recliner. Caleb occupied the hours by poking momma’s balloon and marveling as it twirled.
After breakfast, Leah searched the internet for a name and address, corresponding with Caleb’s numbers. She did not find an exact listing. However, a section of Michigan operated under the (761) area code. Could dialing 761-555-8646 connect Leah with an honest to goodness residence? There was only one way to find out.
Leah dialed the digits, and sure enough, there was ringing on the other side. Disappointment washed over her, however, when the rings were interrupted by high-pitched squeals, coming from a fax-machine modem. She squinted, as the mechanical shrieks shifted along every sour note on the musical scale. “Ah, well,” she thought, “at least I tried.”
For fun, she slipped a cover sheet from the computer-nook’s cubby. The heading looked very professional, with her name, address, and phone number printed in bold font. Below the heading, she printed an unprofessional message in playful cursive… “Hi,” she wrote, with a heart serving as dot for the “i”. Leah placed the cover sheet in her fax-machine, dialed Caleb’s mystery number, and sent it off to Santa Clause, Elvis, The Boogie Man, or just whoever waited at the other end of the line.
About a week later, she received an envelope in the mail from Wiley Springs Psychiatric Care Center in Detroit, Michigan. The envelope contained two letters. One had been typed by a doctor at the center.
Dear Ms. Leah Combs,
Our office recently received a fax from you. At first, we thought it to be a cruel hoax, but after review into the address and phone number on the fax-sheet, we conclude that Leah Combs is indeed your real name. We can only speculate as to why you sent such a vague message to our office. However, there is a patient at this center by the name of Marcy Cantrell, who has mentioned Leah Combs to our staff with grievous sentiments on numerous occasions. If you are familiar with Marcy Cantrell or her late son, Jeffrey Cantrell, you should know that Marcy has suffered at great lengths, since her son’s untimely death in battle, serving our country. Unfortunately, the mental turmoil, brought on by Jeffrey’s passing, developed into a state, which now requires our services.
Mrs. Cantrell claims that you were her son’s girlfriend at his time of death. She has a letter he wrote in the days prior to his departure for war. This letter was written to his girlfriend, with a promise from Marcy that, should he die in battle, she would deliver it immediately. The shock of Jeffrey’s death placed Marcy in an altered state of reality, in which she refused to part with any of his belongings. Therefore, instead of delivering the letter to you, she ignored her promise to Jeffrey and clung to it. A copy of Jeffrey’s letter is enclosed in this envelope.
If you are not familiar with Marcy Cantrell or Jeffrey Cantrell, we extend our sincerest apologies. Please, discard these letters and, out of respect for our patient, refrain from contacting our office. However, should you be the appropriate Leah Combs, we feel it would be beneficial to Marcy if you contacted her to confirm that you read her son’s final words.
Dr. Bon Hetfield
Leah stood without breathing or blinking for a long time. Shock numbed her emotions. Even so, a slight twinge of fear slithered into her gut, and she stashed the envelope on her computer-desk, refusing to remove the second letter.
Finally, equilibrium returned to her conscience and curiosity overpowered fear. Leah dug into the manila envelope and pulled out the Xeroxed letter. Right away, she recognized Jeff’s handwriting.
Dear Leah Pet,
I just now woke up from a bad dream. If I don’t go ahead and write this down, I might forget it. So, I’m halfway asleep, shivering at my desk in my underwear. Hopefully, this will make sense.
In the dream, I was on a battlefield. Soldiers from every country around the world were killing each other. All of them were screaming; some in pain, some in anger, some in fear. But they all spoke different languages, so nobody understood the others’ words. Since everything was in gibberish, the screaming didn’t have any form to it. It just sounded like a bunch of static. This chaos was so loud. I had to cover my ears to keep my head from exploding. For some reason, I wasn’t screaming or fighting. Instead, I just stood there, watching everything in disbelief. But then, from far, far away, I heard your voice. You called my name then said I love you. As soon as those words were spoken, the static stopped, and all of the soldiers peacefully turned to look toward the horizon. That’s when I woke up.
If you’re reading this letter, that means I’m dead. Jesus, Leah, I don’t know how to say I’m sorry for something like this. But I want you to know that I love you and I tried as hard as I could to make it back home. You are a beautiful, young woman, with her whole life ahead of her. You’ve got to move on; chase your dreams, fall in love, build a life. This world is full of static. It’s hard to understand the meaning of it all. But I think the answer is love. When the one you love calls out your name, that’s when you realize what you’re fighting for. May life bring you blessings.
With love and regret,
Leah cried so hard it hurt. For the remainder of the day, she spoke barely a word to anyone, including her children. Later that night, with sorrow slightly fading, but still unable to sleep, Leah arose from bed, intending to sooth her spirits by watching late night comedies on television. First, she checked on the little angels. As usual, Sheila sprawled out with her head at the foot of the bed and her feet on the pillow. Surprisingly, Caleb sat fully awake, with the light off, at the center of his mattress. He held the expression of someone moderately concerned or perhaps suffering with a nagging headache.
“Caleb,” she called. He turned to look at her.
“I love you,” she gently declared.
Caleb’s troubled features transformed into bliss. His lips and eyes smiled.
“Momma,” he sighed.
Leah tucked her son into bed, and he fell asleep almost instantly. While the moon slowly drifted by, Leah lounged in the recliner with three thoughts on her mind. She wondered what would be the right words to say to Marcy. Then Leah thought about how much she would miss her impromptu phone calls form an “Unknown Location”. She was quite certain that her fallen soldier’s mission had, at long last, been accomplished.
“Goodbye, Jeff,” she whispered.
Finally, Leah focused on her children. They brought such joy and meaning to her life. She loved them with a heart larger than any red balloon. Why God chose her for the task of raising Sheila and Caleb remained a question. However, Leah thanked her lucky stars for being chosen.
In the 2010 Primary election, Sam conducted a campaign for Perry County Judge Executive. Although he lost the election, Sam’s platform and support was so strong, it led the nervous incumbent into one of the biggest vote buying scandals in Perry County’s history. Below are newspaper articles on Sam’s platform and the vote buying scandal from his opponent.
THE HAZARD HERALD
Candidates take up issues at forum
by CRIS RITCHIE – Editor
HAZARD – While no incumbent seeking re-election attended, several candidates for seats on the Perry County Fiscal Court were front and center at a sparsely attended forum last week in Hazard.
Organized by Sam Neace, a Democratic candidate for county judge-executive, the forum allowed each candidate 10 minutes to address the crowd and later take questions from the audience.
Five candidates seeking the District 1 magistrate’s seat attended the forum. Randall “Tank” Roberts took the podium first, saying if elected he plans to address his district’s needs for better roads and water access. Roberts said there are some in his district who feel they have been bypassed in regard to city water projects, and there is a need to back up and play catch-up in those areas.
“Laurel Mountain Road. [There are] 90 people in that hollow; city water lines run through and kept on going,” he said. “That’s 90 people very disappointed when they did not get city water into their homes.”
Roberts also noted the need for new jobs in the county, and suggested the need to attract new companies, especially after the loss of several jobs when Trus Joist closed recently.
“We need good jobs in Perry County,” he said. “And this is the only way we’re going to do it, is if we get out and we actively recruit these companies to come into Perry County.”
Republican Steve Argonis was the second and final Republican from District 1 to introduce himself to the crowd. Argonis, a former firefighter with the Hazard Fire Department who currently volunteers at Lost Creek, said the most important part of being elected to public office is listening to the needs of the people and offer representation to the taxpayers. He said he wants to bring meetings to the community and allow community members to have a forum where they can let their elected officials know what problems exist.
“This will be a good opportunity and a regular opportunity to let their government know what’s going on,” he said. “In return, as a magistrate, I can turn and let you know what’s going on in the fiscal court.”
Argonis also said he thinks Perry County would be better served with an additional magistrate on the fiscal court that would prevent the court from becoming deadlocked in a tie vote. At present, the fiscal court is made up of three magistrates and the county judge-executive, each of whom have a vote.
“I think having four votes like that would result in a tie entirely too often,” Argonis said.
Ultimately, he continued, the people of Perry County need to have their voice heard, and not just during an election year. The taxpayers shouldn’t have to feel as if they’re being neglected or left out, he said.
“I think we need to address that and we need to make sure everybody has their voices heard,” he said.
Keith Miller was the first Democrat to take the stage. Miller spoke briefly, also noting the county’s need for jobs, saying if elected he will work to do everything he can to help bring jobs to local residents.
Miller also made note of his district’s roads, but cautioned that he would have to determine how much money the county will have to put toward road improvements before he could definitively say how much work could be completed. But he did add that he would work to ensure his district gets a “fair share” of funds.
“I will do my best to make sure everybody got their fair share of blacktop, gravel, whatever it took to make life easier – water, sewer, whatever,” he said.
Jerry Wayne Stacy, a current member of the Perry County Board of Education, took the stage next, outlining his plans for District 1 if elected.
Stacy also noted the county’s need to maintain its road system, saying that ensuring the county’s money is spent wisely is also an important part of a magistrate’s job.
“There are a lot of things ... that we’ve got to look at,” he said. “Of course we do have to look at our budget and we do have to be smart about those sorts of things.”
Stacy took a moment to encourage everyone to fill out and return their census forms as well.
“I will encourage everybody to fill out their census papers,” he said. “It’s so vital to the fiscal court and what we’ll be able to do over the next four years, regardless of who wins any of these offices.”
Stacy declined to make any large campaign promises such as new roads or waterlines, but did say he will be a working magistrate.
“The only promise I’ll make is I’ll be out every single day, and I’ll work just as hard as I possibly can for the people in District 1,” he said.
The final Democrat to address the crowd was Dexter Howard, a local businessman who said he has a proven record of helping people for the past 40 years.
“Wherever people need me to go, they call and I’ve been there to help them,” he said. “I’ve proved (sic) to people that I will help them if I’m needed. If I’m elected magistrate, I won’t promise the people the moon and stars, because I can’t touch them myself.”
But Howard did note that he will be willing to take suggestions from the community and bring those issues before the fiscal court until there is a resolution.
Howard, who operates the local flea market, also noted that he will continue to operate the flea market on weekends, but he won’t be hard to find during those days.
“I’m not going to close my flea market down, but I will give you five good, hard honest days work, and that’s what I’ll be paid for,” he said. “On the weekend, you’ll see me at my flea market, which will be good for me because I’ll be easy to get up with.”
The candidates for District 2 magistrate took the stage next, with Democrats John Begley and Douglas Bryant.
Begley spoke first, explaining why he believes the coal industry is currently under attack from the lack of permits coming from Frankfort and Washington.
“Our coal industry is vital because every part of our county suffers when we lose jobs,” he said. “Our schools suffer, our roads have more holes, we can’t expand sewer systems, we can’t take care of our water system, everything suffers.”
Begley said while the county needs to continue to fight for the coal industry, officials also have to openly recruit other industries that provide jobs to allow the next generation of workers a chance to make a living in Perry County.
Begley also noted that a magistrate’s job is to make sure roads are maintained, but while he can’t promise what roads will receive new blacktop, he can help to ensure the county roads in his district are properly maintained.
Douglas Bryant was the final candidate in District 2 to take the stage. Bryant, who works in the Laurel County school district and serves as a preacher in Perry County, said he is not running against his opponents, but rather for the people of District 2.
Bryant also made note of the importance of coal mining to Perry County, saying coal severance dollars play an important role in funding local projects, but more money needs to be coming back to the coal producing counties.
“The whole intent was for [coal severance funds] to come back to coal producing counties to fix the roads that were mainly caused by the coal industry, and fixing water, and that’s not what has happened,” he said. “It’s went to the state, and the state keeps more of it than they really should. It should all come back to us.”
The final candidate to take the stage, and the only person in attendance on the May ballot for county judge, was Sam Neace.
Neace is perhaps best known as a radio personality on WKCB where he hosts a rock program every Saturday evening. A cancer survivor, Neace also made headlines across the state last fall during his 500-mile walk to Chicago which helped raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
Neace outlined what he believes to the be the basic responsibilities of a county judge, including what he called compassion, an open channel of communication to the judge’s office, honesty and proper maintenance of the county’s roads.
“If a judge can do those things, I think that he will have the people’s support for as long as he wants it,” Neace said.
Neace said the people do not want a county judge who will play politics with the office.
“When I’m elected judge-executive, I can assure you judge-executive is all I’m going to attempt to be,” he said. “I’m not going to try to be judge-executive/sheriff/jailer/janitor. It’s not about me trying to be a control freak and trying to puppet string every office in county government. It’s about me being the county judge-executive, period.”
Neace said if elected his position in the courthouse will be to work with the county’s elected officials and figure out what funds are needed for budgets to help serve the people of Perry County.
Neace also addressed water issues as well, saying he thinks a water plant needs to be installed in the Buckhorn area for that part of the county, rather than those people getting their water from the plant in Hazard.
“I find it ironic that a town sitting on the largest body of water in the county went without water through Christmas and well into the new year,” he said. “We can no longer add new customers to a system that is overloaded and outdated.”
Neace called for an update to the water system, which he said would help with recruiting new industry into Perry County.
“We can’t bring new industries into a place that doesn’t have a sufficient amount of water to sustain them,” he said.
Neace said he believes employment is the most important issue Perry County will face, noting the coal industry as being the main source of jobs.
“When they’re talking about the economic damage that would come from a collapse of the coal industry, they’re talking about our economy right here in Perry County,” he said. “It’s our economy that will be devastated.”
Neace said the county also needs to look beyond coal, including more jobs in the technology field which in turn could retain many of the people who may leave the county for employment elsewhere.
“Young people these days, they want to pursue a career in technology,” he said. “The way things stand right now, a young person who goes off to college [for a degree in the technology field], that person has no choice but to leave Perry County. There’s nothing here for them.”
Neace also noted tourism as a potential boon to Perry County, saying the county can have a very successful tourism industry, but officials have to begin with the first step – cleaning up the county.
“The first step, if you want a tourism industry in Perry County, is cleaning up the trash on the side of the roads,” he said. “Tourists are not going to come here if it looks like a dump.”
Neace said if the roads are clean and the right people are put into place to promote the county’s attractions, the tourism industry can be very successful year after year.
The primary election is set for May 18th.
THE HAZARD HERALD
Investigation into vote buying still underway
by CRIS RITCHIE – Editor
HAZARD – An investigation into alleged vote buying stemming from last week’s primary election is continuing this week, with state and federal agencies stepping in to assist.
Officers with the Hazard Police Department arrested two people last week in connection with allegations that voters were being paid $20 to vote for certain candidates, though authorities have not released names of candidates for whom they were told to vote.
Arrested last week were Pearl Combs, who owns a building on High Street, out of which police said he was buying votes. Also arrested was Timothy Thacker, who authorities charged with selling his vote.
Minor Allen, with the Hazard Police Department, said the investigation is currently ongoing, and other agencies are looking at the case as well.
“We have turned it over to the attorney general’s office to look at,” said Allen, who also noted that the FBI is looking to the allegations as well.
At the mouth of a muddy mountain, on a mid-winter’s night, thirteen trailers sat arranged in the form of a cross. RJ Rockhouse stared down upon them from his house high on the hill. With old, cold breath he whispered,
“It is good.”
The plumbers did plumb. The electricians did wire. The carpenters did erect. The inspectors did inspect. No one in town brought quarrel against RJ’s deed. Even so, the common folk were inclined to question why.
“Why would a multimillionaire, who is ninety-nine years old, litter his acres with a baker’s-dozen mobile homes?”
Even more puzzling to those about the town was the fact that Rockhouse’s houses were absolutely rent-free.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”
Those in search of hope found it in the most unlikely of places. Rockhouse’s outstretched hands welcomed the poor to Sugarland. RJ plucked thirteen families from beneath the poverty line. He could have settled for merely providing warm shelter and still been awarded a Nobel Prize. However, his helping hand did not clinch. With his own purse, he paid to provide each family with satellite television. The electric, water, trash, and telephone bills were covered by the man on the mountain. Still, his heart was not humbled. RJ wanted what they wanted. He wanted them to want no more. When Rockhouse opened his purse, businesses in town were happy to accept a piece of the pie. Thanks to the influence of RJ’s money, every man, who wanted a job, was given one, and not just a job flipping burgers. Some men chose manual labor. Others chose the cozy comfort of an office. A few were granted the chance to receive higher education. RJ Rockhouse held no bias for gender. Men and women were treated equally. No longer would the children’s families be branded as beggars. There were new clothes for school, a computer in each home for educational and recreational purposes, and, of course, plenty of presents under the tree. Santa Clause has nothing on RJ Rockhouse. It was not long until he realized,
“Thirteen is not enough.”
So, he purchased thirty-seven more mobile homes. He plucked thirty-seven families from poverty’s cold claws. Sugarland trailer park stood fifty families strong. RJ Rockhouse smiled, and everyone in town wondered why.
Whispers echo in small towns. RJ Rockhouse knew that all too well. For nearly seventy-five years, he remained cocooned in his hilltop mansion, refusing to visit a barber. Men tend to gather in small town barbershops. They huddle around buzzing clippers. Their floppy Dumbo ears open wide to intercept every echo of every whisper like sonar.
“I hold no sympathy for inquiring minds,” Rockhouse would say to Benjamin, his butler, “if you cannot trim my hair, Benjamin, I will let it grow from here to Heaven.”
Rockhouse knew not the taste of the town diner’s meatloaf. Small town waitresses are often eager to accept gossip as a tip.
“Should I desire meatloaf, I’ll have Amber prepare some. I refuse to eat at the diner until the town census learns not to talk with their mouths full.”
A small town will forgive a wealthy man for choosing not to eat at their greasy diner or congregate in their smoky barbershop. However, one thing a small, Kentucky town will never forgive is continuous failure to attend church on Sunday morning. Rockhouse was once a church regular. He even kept his tithe requirements, which is a lot of money coming from a man of his stature. All that came to an abrupt end. Some say he lost his faith. Others go as far as to say he devoted his life to witchcraft. For whatever reason, Rockhouse’s place on the front pew remained empty for nearly seventy-five years. The pastors, deacons, and all the little lambs faces and names changed throughout the decades. The Bible, Amazing Grace, and rumors of RJ Rockhouse were all that seemed un-weathered by the shift of generations.
The last time Rockhouse’s shadow stretched through the church door was the day of his wife’s funeral. Those there that morning witnessed what they referred to as ‘a melting.’ A man with the mental, physical, and spiritual strength of a glacier dripped with water. Tears cut his stern features and fell into stain on his expensive, dark suit. He trickled to his knees, softened, and crumbled, until he was nothing more than a puddle, weeping and trembling on the church floor. His beloved wife lay dead at age twenty-five. Even the hardest of men would lose his stone stature, if faced with the same circumstance. RJ was a boulder. But even boulders have a melting point. God, did he grieve. (In the same church, where he pledged everlasting devotion to Jesus, as his sin stained skin splashed baptizing holy water.)
Only five years earlier, he stood within those same sacred walls, dressed in a tux that would have wetted Cleopatra’s whistle. He kissed his virgin maiden’s smiling lips and swore before God and all creation that his love for her would follow him to the grave. There she was again, still smiling. And he still loved her. The same people were gathered there, but this time their palms were not slick with baby’s breath. There was no Wedding March on the piano. Everyone hid grief greased faces behind praying palms. Something was wrong.
Old Lady Crenshaw curled up in the corner, hiding behind black orchid buds. RJ tried to focus through the blur of tears. Was she crying or was she laughing? Gentlemen gathered around the coffin, dressed in the traditional black coat and tie. Their paper plates bowed in the middle, heavy with greasy ham and fluffy pieces of pumpkin pie that widows had baked for the occasion. The gentlemen had the audacity to shake hands and crack jokes over Lola’s dead body like she was some sort of decorative piece for them to drape their coats over or rest their coffee cups on. Black widows scurried to RJ’s side, making their play on the now single, rich widower and feeding him funeral rhetoric.
“I’m so sorry, RJ…”
“She’s with Jesus now, RJ…”
Their words rippled across his watery tear crest and were lost somewhere along his ridges. No words could comfort him. The glacier was gone. It had melted into mud, leaving behind a man weak as water.
RJ cowered at the widows’ black toes. They stared down upon him with swollen red eyes. Their pasty white faces glowed ghostly like the moon. Black dresses smothered sunlight like death’s dark veil. With fluttering fingers he clawed the widows’ legs hard enough to draw blood from their shins. Some shrieked. Some moaned sympathetically. All of them scattered. They knew what he was telling them to do and where he wanted to go. The widows had once been there themselves.
Mourners cleared a path through the aisle for RJ to crawl to his dead bride’s side. He poured down the aisle like lost liquid, leaving a trail of tears the entire way. She lay on red velvet, with arms crossing her firm breasts. A crimson tide of long, soft hair splashed her shoulders. Lola Rockhouse slept amidst the clutter. The sorrowful sobs of a thousand mourners did not disturb that beauty’s sleep. Her gentle face peacefully smiled, caught in the comfort of her crimson cradle. RJ squished tears from his eyelashes like a squeegee and looked around the buzzing room. All the people stared on in puzzled disbelief. Her subtle beauty had never been more evident.
Some of the gentlemen curved over Lola’s coffin a little too curiously. RJ was not quite sure, but he thought he could see their lips pucker into kissing position as their eyes crossed her breasts. A few went as far as to stroke her vibrant, velvet curls with their hungry fingers.
“How dare they!”
RJ feebly crawled to Lola’s side and clawed his way to her coffin’s lip.
“Lola,” he cried, “let’s go home.”
But the beauty did not awaken. Her electric, emerald eyes would not open. She was lost in Rumplestiltskin’s slumber. RJ brushed a tuft of ruby hair from her tender cheek.
“You’re so cold, darling,” he whispered, “wake up so we can go home.”
Black satin shreds and orchid petals flowed across the walls’ length like melting ice cream. Mourners spit hunks of slimy ham and creamy pie- some laughing, some crying. Was this a funeral or a festival?
The mourners surrounded RJ, spinning their web of sorrow like starving spiders. They were jealous. They wanted RJ’s money. They wanted his mansion. They wanted his woman.
“Get away from my wife!”
He looked down upon her. With the softness of silk, he rubbed the tip of his nose against hers. His tears splattered her eyelids. Black eyeliner cut creases down her temples and lodged like ink blots in her crimson curls.
“Are you crying, my darling?” he asked her, “don’t worry. I’m here.”
He wrapped his arms around his beloved Lola and lifted her from the cradle. He rocked her back and forth like he had done so many stormy nights before. His forehead kissed hers. Shimmering hair fell like flame around his face. Black tears blotched her dress.
“Come on, Lola. I’m taking you home.”
He kissed her with the softness of a man lost deep in love, before hoisting her over his shoulder. Lola’s dead body slumped. Stiff fingers dangled at his coat tails. Lifeless green eyes opened. Children scattered. Rows of red roses spilled to the floor. The suffocating smoke of stampeded posies arose like clouds from beneath the trampling feet of frightened children.
RJ lowered his head and plowed through the crowd. Some slipped and fell on the carpet, moist with RJ’s tears. Others grabbed at Lola, trying to steal her away
“Keep your hands off her,” he growled.
“RJ, get control of yourself…”
He held her tight. One arm wrapped her waist. The other defended his sweet lady from the circling crowd. The men tried to grasp RJ and save him from humiliation. The women hugged their children tightly, shielding their eyes from the morbid display.
RJ looked out across the crowd that called themselves his friends. Five years earlier, they showered them with rice. They wished them well. Now, however, they somehow seemed happier, knowing that RJ, who had it so easy with his millions, finally understood how it felt to be human. With their faces sculpted into stationary sadness, and the jerky movements of their black bodies, they resembled clay puppets. RJ never realized it before, but suddenly it became so apparent. The devil was pulling their strings, and if Satan had his way, lovely Lola would rot with the stinking corpses of Hell.
RJ’s fist cut the crowd like Lancelot’s sword. Silky strands of Lola’s red hair clung to her husband’s tear streaked cheeks. For the briefest of moments, RJ regained glacier strength. He knocked men he had once called brother chin first into tear puddles. His damsel clung tightly to her hero. Her white gown circled his shoulders like smoke. He stumbled backwards, with fist flailing blindly, until he found the church door.
“Don’t you dare lay one more finger on my wife,” he threatened, opening the door, “I can destroy every one of you, and you know it. With the simple flip of my wallet, I can crush this church like a locust. I can buy up your houses and rape your land. If you desire to see the hatred in RJ Rockhouse’s heart manifested, touch my wife just one more time.”
Everyone backed away and stood still like a picture. Clay faces kept their sad sculpting, but the jerky movements ceased. RJ ran down the porch steps and through the yard. Lola looked out to the crowd, from over her husband’s shoulder with green, marble eyes. He made his way to the Buick, opened the passenger door, seat belted Lola, and took his place beside her at the stirring wheel. As the Buick sped away into mountain shadow, the crowd funneled through the door and wandered the yard aimlessly, moaning and shrieking like zombies. That was the last time RJ Rockhouse darkened the church door.
No one truly knows what happened next. Some perverts claim he took her home and made love to her dead body one last time. Others say he buried her somewhere in the acres of his estate. The popular belief, even to this day, is that Lola Rockhouse’s body is tucked away somewhere inside his mansion. All anyone knows is that RJ Rockhouse became a recluse. Seventy-five years after Lola’s passing, he had yet to be seen in town. Within a few years’ time, the town folk began to notice a change. The mountain on which RJ built his gaudy mansion started… melting. Mud seeped from the peak. All the pretty red buds, dogwoods, and daisies choked and died in the sludge. Folks began to blame the sudden mud on RJ’s tears.
“The man cries so much over his dead wife, the ground can’t hold all the tear water.”
Not a very logical theory- but then again- what else could anyone believe? Even during times of drought, the mountain kept a dark, milky coating. The mud clogged the creeks and sheeted the streets. Folks would have addressed RJ with their concern, but he remained out of sight and out of mind for seventy-five years.
Within that time period, Rockhouse had gone through seventy butlers. Occasionally, a long, black limousine would cut curves, weaving its way through town and climb the steep slope ascending Muddy Mountain. Right away everyone knew,
“RJ’s hired another poor soul as his butler.”
Some lasted a few years. Most made it only a day. RJ’s butler of the month would venture into town once a week to check the mail and buy whatever was necessary for the house. Some butlers were young. Some were older. None of them would speak to the town folk about RJ Rockhouse or what exactly was going on inside the mansion. In fact, whenever someone asked about RJ’s wellbeing, the butler would fade snowy pale, begin quivering, and simply say,
“Mr. Rockhouse wishes to be left alone.”
Eventually, it got to the point where the town grocer did not even quote the price to RJ’s butlers. There was no need to speak to them. They would not speak in return. If the butler needed a stamp, he would ask for it. If the butler needed fresh onions, he would ask for them. You ask him nothing, especially questions pertaining to RJ.
So, the stormy night Anthony stomped into the town pub, with his boots beating thunder and his deep blue coat beaten into black by December rain, it was only natural that all of the pub’s action froze like a paused movie. The bachelors lost their breath. The bachelorettes stopped giggling. Billy’s rhythm on the piano slowed like a record player with weak batteries. Joe, the bartender, stood like a fossil somehow hardened in the midst of cleaning a whiskey stained glass. The pub’s doors had never opened to welcome one of RJ’s butlers. This was an occasion that would forever be logged in the annals of town folklore. Everyone there knew it.
Anthony shuffled to the bar, leaving a stream of cold December through the aisle. None of the brawlers clinched their fists. None of the whores adjusted their bosoms. If he had something to say, they did not want to interrupt.
He sat on a barstool and sloshed winter water onto the hardwood floor. The cuffs of his deep blue slacks dripped muddy sludge. His tattered brown boots bled creek soot from the seams- the rubber souls flapped like loose tongues. He had obviously walked quite a distance through the storm.
“Give me a whiskey,” he wheezed to Joe, still standing dumbfounded with his wrist buried in bourbon stained glass.
Joe sat a shot glass on the bar before Anthony and filled it with the most expensive brand in the house.
“Not a shot,” Anthony coughed, “give me the whole bottle.”
The pub people were propped stiffly in their chairs like cardboard cutouts. They gave Joe a look that said, ‘for the love of God, give the man what he wants.’
Joe popped the cork on a fifth of his finest whiskey and sat it by Anthony’s shot glass. Whether he knew it or not, a good enough story would pay for his tab.
The people were scared of him. In fact, the very presence of anything representing Muddy Mountain frightened the people the same way a graveyard seems to intimidate folks on full moon nights. Rockhouse had gone through forty-five butlers before hiring Anthony. Anthony was no different than the rest. He was just as cold and spooky. All of RJ’s butlers were as much icons of local horror as The Headless Horseman and The Grim Reaper, Anthony even more so. He managed to do what most butlers could not. He stayed with Mr. Rockhouse for over a year.
Anthony began services for RJ twenty-five years after Lola’s death. By then, rumors of dark deeds in the mansion on the hill were as common as Mother Goose tales. The town’s children sang jump-rope nursery rhymes about warlock RJ and his hunger for misbehaving children’s blood. The adults thumbed their noses to their kid’s foolish limericks but continued to lock the doors and pull the shades late at night. Of course, no one knew the truth, and they figured they would probably never know the truth, until the night Anthony dripped December poison at the beak of the local pub.
His hair shaped hard on his head, as if winter’s dark clouds had opened up to rain enamel. Misshapen features jutted further from his face in pub shadow, giving him the squared appearance of Frankenstein’s monster. He downed drinks of whiskey with no grimace against the gasoline taste.
“It all started with Hector,” he laughed, running gnarled fingers through strands of watery charcoal hair, “that damn dog. I hated that mongrel from day one, and I thought I was smarter than him. That was my first mistake. I’m telling every one of you right now, your life will be more golden when you figure out you don’t know a damn thing. None of us know a damn thing.”
By now, Billy had abandoned the piano. Everyone looked straight ahead to the bar with slacked jaws dangling open. Until that moment, most of them thought Anthony was a mute. He swallowed a gulp of fiery grain and continued without stutter.
“Hector was a mutt. He knew it, too. He knew he wasn’t born of a fighter’s breed. That’s why he prowled around late at night, when he thought I was asleep. Hector always rummaged through the garbage, sniffing out a morsel of steak. I heard his hungry panting from the window of my quarters.
He was a weak dog. His hide bore deep, purple mange scars. His nose was crooked. His teeth were corn colored. And he had only three legs. His rear right leg had been amputated, and from the looks of things, it had not been removed by any skilled veterinarian.
Sometimes I could spot him crouching near the timber at the north end of the grounds- his snout matted with chunks of rotting green meat he had stolen from the trash, and his ears endlessly fanning the flea storm nesting on his head. The tiny splinter of bone that had once connected to knee wagged below his belly. That ignorant mutt was too stupid to realize his leg was gone. He was always trying to scratch mange bumps cracking across his belly with claws connected to paws connected to a leg that was not there.”
Anthony’s eyes never peeped about the pub. He was not concerned with entertaining the audience. More than likely, he would have continued his story with the same enthusiasm had there been no one else there. Anthony stared straight ahead into the mirror behind the bar like he was somehow seeing his story unfold on the glass. The audience slowly moved closer so they could hear clearly. They synchronized their movements. Whenever Anthony paused to take a shot of whiskey, they would do the same. When he lowered his voice, they leaned toward him. When he raised his voice, they tilted backwards like people dodging a darting bee. By now, Joe had waxed the whiskey stained glass to a diamond shine and continued waxing unaware, with his fascination locked on Anthony.
“I must admit, I had it out for Hector. No matter how hard I tried, he always found a way to root into the trash and spread it across the yard. I guess the dog had more brains than I gave him credit for. First, I tried poisoning him, but I swear that dog’s guts were cast of iron. Finally, I’d had enough of picking through maggot infested scraps and shoveling up foul green droppings. So, I asked Mr. Rockhouse for the liberty to shoot the dog. He seemed rather keen on the idea. He loaded his .45 and handed it over to me. ‘You should name it, if you’re going to kill it. Does the dog have a name?’ he asked.
I told him I named the dog Hector in honor of a drunken bum uncle that lived with my family briefly when I was a child. ‘Hector,’ he chuckled, ‘that’s an odd name for a girl.’
I began to correct him, but decided against it. I knew Hector was a boy. I’d seen his sagging balls more times than I cared to. ‘If you shoot her between the eyes, one shot is all you will need. After you kill her, bury her in the backyard. Every lady deserves a proper burial.”
Had anyone else in the world wandered into the pub with this story, he probably would have lost a few teeth and more than a few dollars. Not Anthony. Thus far his story had been rather bland. However, he had not lost one whisper’s worth of interest from the audience. They sat around him like kids cozying to a campfire, engulfed in a ghost story. This was no average Joe sharing some tall-tale about a fish he never caught. This was RJ Rockhouse’s butler. They submitted unto him complete control of their inquiring minds because they knew his story was leading somewhere colder than a grave and darker than new moon midnight.
“I shot him,” Anthony rasped with bourbon breath. The crowd flinched backwards, once again dodging darting bees, “right between the eyes. Hector stumbled back onto his imaginary leg and fell over deader than Lincoln. God did that dog bleed. Gallons of blood gushed from his open wound and poured across the yard. The place looked like Bunker Hill with the grass painted the rusty color of fresh blood. I did as Mr. Rockhouse asked. I wrapped Hector in an old blanket and buried him in the valley.
Maybe if I hadn’t seen the dog’s head burst open like a rotting melon; maybe if the red blood and gray brains hadn’t been so apparent against the green grass; maybe if I hadn’t felt the dog’s dead body grow cold and stiff in my arms as I carried him to his grave, I would have been able to find some logical explanation as to why he returned.”
The audience hardened like wax figures. Their hands steadied against half empty shot glasses. Breaths were short. Muscles thickened like tar. Even the old grandfather clock propped in the corner seemed to slow the beat of its pendulum. Each time December’s clouds opened, letting loose a gust of rain against the gutters, the audience jerked in their chairs and turned toward the entrance like they were expecting zombie Hector to come waddling on three legs through the pub doors.
“I was in the laundry room,” Anthony continued, now gulping whiskey with the smoothness of milk, “The night was still and warm. A storm was brewing but not yet percolating. I heard shuffling noises outside the window. My first thought was, ‘a raccoon; maybe a fox.’ I stood before the window looking out into the night. I saw a silhouette in the moonlight and noticed the creature was limping, but not once did I dare think it was Hector returned from the grave, until he drew close enough to the glass for me to smell his breath. There was no mistaking those dumb red eyes, and that ugly, flea bitten face. I swear to you, the bullet hole was still bleeding. A scab formed around the wound. Maggots crawled all around it. Drool dripped from Hector’s green fangs as he growled. His growl wasn’t loud, but it was so fierce. It was deep and evil like something you would hear from a Hellhound, driven mad. That jaded hunk of leg bone vibrated like a jigsaw. With his snot hardened snout, he pecked the window softly, as if he were begging me to invite him in.”
Bachelorettes clung tightly to their suitors’ shoulders, much to the bachelors’ delight. Everyone double-timed their shots of whisky and shivered with each gust of wet wind. By now, Anthony had pushed aside the shot glass and drank his bourbon straight from the bottle.
“I dashed from the laundry room and locked the door behind me. I could still hear Hector pecking the glass softly and patiently. I took a moment to gather my senses. Then the pecking stopped and I knew Hector was sniffing around the house, searching for a way inside. I burst through the mansion, checking to make sure every window and door was bolted solid.
As I passed Mr. Rockhouse’s study, I noticed the door was open. Mr. Rockhouse was sitting at his desk in the dark. The red ash of his cigar glowed from deep within the room like a demon snake eye. ‘Anthony,’ he called, ‘you’re fumbling through this house like a hen on Christmas. For Christ’s sake, what’s the problem?’
I debated whether or not I should explain my dilemma to Mr. Rockhouse. But we had known each other personally for quite some time, and he is wise and very charismatic. I told him about Hector. The tip of his cigar blinked like a winking snake for a moment. Then he stood, turned on the light, and made his way past me. ‘This isn’t right,’ he said, exiting down the hall, ‘something is certainly bizarre here, Anthony. A dog should never survive a pointblank shot to the head from a .45. How do you explain this?’
I followed him down the hall deeply pondering. ‘He must be one tough dog,’ I replied, unable to think of any more reasonable explanation.
Mr. Rockhouse made his way to his sleeping quarters. He loaded the same gun he lent me to kill Hector, checked the safety, licked his thumb, and wetted the sights. ‘She’s not tough,’ Mr. Rockhouse said, in that typical, know it all, Rockhouse way, ‘she’s made of simple flesh and bone just like me and you.’
He strolled down the hall toward the door without a worry in the world. Just before he exited the front parlor, I dared to ask him how he could explain it. ‘Simple,’ he said, ‘it just wasn’t her time to go.’
He opened the door. Hector was waiting for him there. That same dog that had growled Hell’s fury to me at the laundry room window, backed away from Mr. Rockhouse, quaking with fear. Mr. Rockouse steadied his pistol and fired away. He filled Hector’s body with bullets, reloaded, and fired again. Once he was satisfied Hector’d had enough, he scooped the dead dog into his arms, disappeared over the mountain, and returned an hour or so later with a triumphant smile on his face. ‘Filet Mignon for dinner,’ he said with that arrogant prick smirk on his lips.
We never heard from Hector again. His bones are still decaying somewhere deep in the ravine, to the best of my knowledge.”
“That’s a hell of a story,” one drunken brawler called from the corner. Everyone looked at him the way an audience looks at a screaming baby in the theater. To speak to Anthony would remind him he was in the midst of a crowd, and may hinder him from continuing his story. However, it mattered not. By this time, Anthony’s head was warm with whiskey and his tongue was loose.
“That’s just the beginning,” Anthony boasted, “I was willing to dismiss the Hector incident all together. Everyone has one or two occurrences in their lifetime that makes us question whether or not the unreal can be real. What happened after that is what truly led me to this pub on this dark night, seeking the comfort of a bottle.”
Anthony took another gulp of whiskey. His fifth was nearly halfway gone.
“Shortly after that, everything started to get weird. Mr. Rockhouse would disappear into the basement and stay there sometimes for days. Coyotes began to circle the grounds late at night. This would not have been unusual had they always been there, but they hadn’t. They came from nowhere not long after Hector’s second death, keeping me awake all hours of the night with their demonic howls. They never scavenged the trash. They never came any closer than fifty yards or so to the mansion, but they lingered always. Their howling laughter filled the night. Mr. Rockhouse never acknowledged their existence, neither did I. I pretended everything was perfect and played the part of subservient butler, until the day Mr. Rockhouse’s brother, Randy, showed up with that Chinese couple.”
Anthony swallowed a mouthful of whiskey and shook his head like a wet dog. His eyes burned with bourbon, and his tone sharpened.
“Randy Rockhouse was very polite to me. And he seemed to bring out a side of Mr. Rockhouse I had never seen before. Mr. Rockhouse drank wine and cut jokes. Everything probably would have been perfect had it not been for the Chinese couple. Neither of them spoke a word of English, but they were young and in love. Their love transcended the boundaries of language.
Randy had gained some success in the real estate and cattle business up north in Chicago. He claimed he found the Chinese couple begging for pennies on the street corner, took pity on them, and hired them as his servants. They were illegal immigrants looking for a new start in the new world.
For a few days, everything was pleasant, despite the howling coyotes. Mr. Rockhouse was in a festive mood. Randy lightened the atmosphere with his humor and wit. Even the love struck foreigners seemed to add freshness to the stale mansion air.
About the third night of Randy’s visit, he and Mr. Rockhouse began disappearing to the basement for hours at a time. I could feel the winds of change blow harder and harder each time the brothers crept away downstairs. Something unexplainable was going on down there. Randy changed. His humor became dark. His eyebrows slanted to an evil point. He began to smile at misfortune. I no longer felt comfortable with him.
Two weeks or so after he showed up, Randy asked the Chinese couple to join him in the basement. They obliged. At first, there was silence, then screams. Those high-pitched Chinese shrieks cut the air like shattered glass. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Yet I understood everything perfectly. Randy stayed down there with them for three days solid. Finally, the screaming stopped. Randy came into the mansion, sluggish and tired like a snake fresh from a feeding. Mr. Rockhouse disappeared into the basement. He also stayed down there for three days. Randy slept the entire time. There were no screams. Everything in the house stayed dead silent. Not even the coyotes dared to break the hush.
Finally, Mr. Rockhouse came from the basement. Instantly, he demanded a feast of pork be prepared. I did as instructed. Not long after, the Chinese couple clumsily climbed the stairs and made their way drunkenly through the mansion. Everything about them was different. They no longer cared to be by each other’s side. They shuffled the halls like sleepwalkers with their slanted glossy eyes never focused on the floor unfurling before them. Eventually, the female made her way to the kitchen where I was preparing the requested feast. She took a seat at the table, stared straight through me with those yellow, cat eyes, and asked me in perfect English for a glass of water. There was not a hint of accent in her voice.”
Anthony took another swallow of whiskey and jiggled the bottle- proud of the fact he had inhaled two thirds of the fifth without so much as a belch. The crowd shuffled uneasily in their chairs, unable to find any proper response to Anthony’s mythical tale.
“I know what you might think,” Anthony smiled, “perhaps the Chinese couple knew English the entire time and just chose not to speak it. Maybe all of them had disappeared to the basement to partake in an orgy or some other display of ‘rich folk’ entertainment. I thought that myself. That’s how I remained sane through it all. But tonight something happened that I cannot deny. What I witnessed tonight, I hope none of you ever see, despite whatever criminal deeds you may have preformed.
It’s been days since I last saw the Chinese couple. Maybe they’re dead. Maybe they escaped. I don’t know. Mr. Rockhouse has been subdued in his study. Since the incident in the basement, I haven’t seen much of him. Randy, however, has been scurrying the house like a starving rat. He searches the closets. He roams the yard with a look in his eyes much like a broke dope fiend begging for loose change outside an opium den.
Finally, tonight the deaf silence broke me. It had been days since I had spoken and I needed to talk to someone. I didn’t care what the topic of conversation might be. I needed companionship, the same as anyone of you. So, I asked Randy, as he paced the halls, what he thought of the mountain’s coyote situation. ‘I thought you’d never ask,’ he said, ‘you want those coyotes gone don’t you?’
Naturally, I replied yes, expecting him to load a gun and go Wild West on the festering pack. Instead, he walked unarmed into the yard and began calling the coyotes the way you would call an old, familiar pet. Soon, one coyote heeded Randy’s beckoning. It came to him meek as a lamb. He scratched it behind the ears. The coyote wagged its tale and licked his palm. Once Randy had gained the coyote’s trust, he grabbed it firmly by the throat and flipped it over on its back. Before the animal had time to react, Randy was on his knees, holding the coyote’s jaws shut. He clamped his teeth over the coyote’s throat and began eating, as if the animal were delicate pudding. Blood coated his collar. The coyote twitched, but was too stunned to retaliate. After awhile, Randy arose from the coyote’s throat. Blood poured from his lips like wine. He had a look in his eyes like a man fresh from good sex. ‘Want a bite?’ He asked me, with fur dangling from his teeth.
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t take the time to pack my belongings. I simply gathered together the money I had saved and made my way through the wilderness, off the mountain, and into town. Now, here I am, sharing a drink with you fine folks. I just feel fortunate my underwear is not saturated with piss. You all want to know what goes on in that mansion. Now, you know.”
There was silence for a long while. Finally, a brawler spoke up.
“That’s a damn fine story,” he teased, “put his whiskey on my tab, Joe.”
Anthony stood, downed what was left of his whiskey, and slapped a few bills on the bar.
“I’ll pay for my own tab,” he slurred, “I don’t blame you guys for not believing my story. Hell, I saw it with my own two eyes, and I still don’t believe it.”
Anthony staggered out the door and washed away into cold December rain. No one ever heard from him again.