Broodwood

Part One.

Now’s when you tell me why you killed me, the man says from his resting place, slumped and halved and bleeding against the wall of the cabin.

The walls and floors and roof are cedar, and they smell fragrant in the summertime, but in the winter they smell like the bitter, indifferent cold which possesses them.

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She, the lady that is, bends to her knee a safe distance from the man. Her knees, along with feet and shins and legs entire are made amorphous by the dark brown cloak of her long skirt. Squatting there, her skirt is like a round sprout of fertile earth. The black shawl that hangs about her shoulders she clutches with her left hand, an act which always seems to occur instinctually, intrinsically, while her right hand that clutches the man’s own knife appears anything but.

The blade shines in orange fire-light. It shines through the man’s blood, still wet and dripping.

Do you want a drink?

The man breathes hard for a long minute, but he doesn’t say a word.

The lady cranks her neck sideways, stiffly like an old bird, and gives the slightest of nods.

The weakling steals from where he had been pacing furiously, arms crossed with fingers drumming, head wilting forward on a long, bent neck atop the question-mark of a spine, steals forward and grabs up the bottle of shine from the table, and the glass.

He comes forward a few more steps and stops abreast with the lady’s radius of safety from the man. He pours a drink and sets it on the floor of the cabin, then backs away.

I can’t reach that.

The weakling comes forward, pauses at the lady’s side.

Come on, the man hangs his head and mumbles the words into his chest. He wheezes, and coughs, and spits.

The lady grips the hilt of the knife tighter, and the weakling creeps in and picks up the glass and reaches it forward a foot.

The man doesn’t move, just lays there crumpled and bleeding and breathing hard. The glass goes forward another half foot.

The man’s right arm, the one closest to home, shoots out like a rattlesnake, shoots out and nabs the weakling’s wrist. The man’s hand clamps an iron-grip, as steady and remorseless as the weather-rusted animal traps that hang from the cabin’s ceiling.

His eyes which moments before sagged in sunken sockets, half-closed and glassy and a thousand miles from shore, now glow with a brilliantly terrifying luminance, a hate-filled inferno with dark grey pupils surrounded by a crackle of rose and crimson.

The large and hard hand of the man grips the other, fair and frail, as the weakling pulls, the leather soles of his shoes planted on cedar planks, body bent backward and away like a tree rocked by wind but anchored unrelentingly to the ground in the face of its death.

The man forms a hideous grin of victory and gives not an inch for all the weakling’s feeble pulling and bent-bodied contortions. A word begins to form on the man’s red, grinning lips but before it can croak out, the knife whips out like cruel, sharp lightning.

It cuts the air itself and then the skin, and thin, stringy muscle of the man’s wrist.

He lets out a yelp like a winged coyote, sharp and fierce and over as quick as it starts, and he lets go of the weakling’s hand and retracts the wounded limb deep into the tartan wool of his bosom. The other hand leaves the bloody mess at the man’s side and goes to hold his wrist, but the wound now pulses with new fervor as a result of this newest flash of effort.

He closes his eyes and goes back into himself. His red lips quiver, the muttering of curses can be heard rumbling like a hive of angry bees from deep in the man’s heaving chest.

I’ll cut you up all day and never tire, the lady says. You want in? I’m game. Tomorrow is Sunday.

The man continues to mutter under breath, eyes closed and head back against the cedar wall of the cabin. The muttering becomes a groan which pitches into a fit of raspy laughter.

Look at me.

The fit quiets on the man, and his head still back on the wall he lets it flop to the side, to face the lady dead-on, and he opens his eyes.

Do you know who I am?

I know, he says and spit runs in a string from his bottom lip. You’re a bitch. You’re just some stupid bitch. You’re angry at me. Probably because I beat up your husband. Or your father. Or your brother, or your boyfriend. Or maybe you don’t even know me. Maybe you think I got some gold hiding under the floor. Maybe you think you get some nice treasure by doing me in. What’s it matter who you are, I don’t care a shit for you. Or your two pups!

He kicks his leg out, and it stamps down on the cabin floor.

He curses the new pain in his side the action births with a fury, but seems to feed from its heat, gaining a measure of power, for his eyes become clearer, wider, with a strange calm that seems alien in the chaotic scene unfolding.

The kick was meant for the ox, whose over two hundred-pound body lay face-down, just out of reach of the man’s boot, in a pool of dark blood, his dull and pale face mercifully hidden from sight by stark shadows cast sideways from the brightly burning wood-stove.

I’m going to tell you who I am, the lady says.

She does.

 

To be continued…

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Back on Earth

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~Part Nine~

You are close enough, you decide. You wait.

The men share a glance between themselves. The larger man returns to the truck and sits inside, behind the wheel. He waits.

The first man walks to the back of the vehicle, which must apparently be empty and open. The man confirms this by dropping the rear gate and waving you to come.

Like a dog, you think. You don’t know what the phrase means, because you’re not sure what a dog is. The words simply come to you, as you continue forward toward the man.

He pats his hand twice on the bed of the truck and stands back and says, “We’ll get you to town, and stop wherever you want. You got an address around here?”

You pause before climbing up onto the truck. You say, “I can’t say.” It is the best that you can think to say. You climb onto the flat-bed and sit, facing back to the open gate and the bearded man, who is studying you with hands on hips and thumbs hooked into pockets.

“You don’t got any more of your clothes with you?” he asks.

“I don’t think so,” you say.

He breathes in deep through his nose. He sighs, and says, “I got a jacket in the truck. You might get chilly back here.” The man walks around to the open door and retrieves a plaid jacket of hard, blue and black wool. He throws it to you and you catch it, and he slams the gate closed and slaps it twice with the palm of his hand.

He says, “We’re gonna take you to the hospital, if that’s all right with you. You don’t seem like you’re hurt, but if you can’t remember your address and you got no clothes with you, then you gotta reckon you’ll want somebody to take a look at you. Take care of you.” He waits a moment, then nods his head once and says, “Okay?”

“Okay,” you say. You have a feeling you should say more.

Back on Earth

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~Part Seven~

You don’t move. You wait.

The other door of the truck opens, and the second man steps onto the road. He is larger. You cannot see his face. Leaving the door open and the truck’s engine running, the second man walks around the front of the vehicle. He stops to stand between the beams of the headlights. You can see particles of amber dust floating in the light. He posts his hands on his hips. You can see the man’s belt buckle, large and round.

The first man calls, “It’s all good, Mister. You just come on with us, and we can drive you anywhere you like. You need to go to the hospital? We can take you there, it’s not far.”

You don’t move.

You know you can’t just keep waiting. They will come to you. If you do nothing, they will come.

Jack, or was it Jake?

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I.

Jack. Or Jake. I don’t exactly know for sure, ’cause everybody used to call the cat one or the other.

One night old Paul’d be in and see the skinny cat hangin’ out in his usual spot at the end of the counter. He’d holler, “How you been, Jake?” And cat would nod and say somethin’ like, “Not bad,” or what have you. Continue reading

Back on Earth

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~Part Six~

The man ducks his head back inside the truck. You notice for the first time that the man is wearing a baseball cap.

You vaguely know what baseball is, but you’re not sure. Presently however, you can’t devote any attention to attempting to remember baseball, you are too consumed with trying to hear the two men talking. You see their heads bobbing, but you can’t make out what they say.

The country field is still and quiet, with not even a breeze blowing. You listen to the truck’s engine rumbling low.

The man draws his head back out. He calls to you again.

“So, you’re okay?” the man asks.

Okay. You know what the word means.

“Yes,” you say.

Another pause, and the first man ducks into the truck to talk with his companion again, and then turns back to you.

“You don’t look like you’re okay, Mister. You sure you don’t want a ride?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

The truck rumbles. You wait. You don’t move, not even your hands that hang at your sides.

“Well,” the man says, “I reckon Mister and Missus Tablowski wouldn’t appreciate any half-naked strangers, okay or not, hangin’ around in their pasture. How about you come on over here, and we’ll take you back into town?”

It doesn’t sound much like a request.

Back on Earth

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~Part Four~

You don’t move. The truck comes to a stop. The door opens, and a man gets out. You know it is a man. You know the difference between woman and man. The man is hidden in shadow and a hundred paces away from you, and you cannot see him very well. But, it seems, he can see you.

You wait.

“Howdy!” the man calls.

You don’t answer. You wait. Maybe he will get back in the truck and they will leave.

The man calls again. “Hello!” Louder, and more articulated than the first time.

You are not sure what your voice sounds like, but you do know that you can speak. You begin to question whether or not you should answer the man, who waits behind the open door of the rumbling truck. Your thoughts of indecision are interrupted by your own voice, answering.

“Hello,” you say.

Back on Earth

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~Part Three~

You hear a sound. It is small, far off. You listen. You know the difference between hearing and listening. The sound you hear is that of an automobile’s engine. Most likely a truck, for the distant drone is deep, low. A guttural growl, instead of a car’s comparatively angelic hum. You know cars, and you know trucks.

The sound of this truck makes your gut tighten, but you’re not sure why. As the sound grows louder and closer, you see headlights emerge from behind a rise in the landscape. Tracing a line with your eyes forward from the distant beams, you become aware of the road which cuts across the field of grass and passes you by. You are less than a hundred paces from the asphalt country path.

The headlights grow larger, brighter, as the engine grumbles louder. Your gut tightens further as the approaching beams of light fall across you. You are illuminated in the dark openness, and you feel the inexplicable urge to run, to hide, to cower – but you stand still and wait.

The truck approaches closer. It slows.