The Cottage – Part Nine – (Short Story)

Image result for ginseng appalachia
Part One | Part Two |Part Three |  Part Four |Part Five |  Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

His eye fell on the neat red script. He should probably read the contents.

Maybe they’d offer up some clue as to the identity of his furtive visitors.

Then he remembered the meandering sentences, the puerile mysticism, the Talmudic dryness. He could not bring himself to do it.

‘It’s just hicks being hicks.’

Still, he thought it wise to postpone his exploration. At least for a couple of days. He needed to mull a bit. It was imperative to get to grips with the peculiarities of the situation.

‘If Dutch and Lizzy roam fearless there must be a reason.’ He theorized. ‘Though they sure are superstitious fucks.’

Then it occurred to him. Maybe, all of this worked like a mob. Maybe there were some degenerates in the woods. And townsfolk like Lizzy payed them protection. Maybe that was the cause of the Seng offering. It was, after all, a root that fetched a handsome price.

It did make sense. It made perfect sense. All the voodoo bullshit was a great way to throw the assuredly few cops off the scent. The feds probably didn’t care unless there was meth involved.

Hell, there probably was. How else did Hant afford all that crystal-ware.

‘What kind of redneck melodrama have I gotten myself into?’ Jim shook his head.

Yes. The Seng and the ways were probably some sort of elaborate communication system for a drug ring.

This put Jim at ease. He was used to dealing with criminals. Hell, he was a criminal in some regards.

A wicked smirk broke out. ‘I don’t think they’re used to city cunning.’

He very much doubted these blissful surroundings could produce the same level of soul crushing cynicism as cold blood-stained concrete.

Truth was Jim had grown icy under the bleak grey Boston sky.

“I’m gonna catch me a hick!” He murmured with amusement as he lit another cigarette.

The second Thursday was approaching. The due date was three days out. This was ample time ‘to go all Vietcong ‘n shit.’

He slept on that notion.

Awaking before dawn with the aid of an antique alarm Jim set out for the drop zone with a shovel in hand.

‘Yep, that’s the angle they’re gonna come at it from.’ He said looking at the moss the hicks had mentioned.

He began to dig. Country living had made him strong. So intense was his focus that neither root nor rock impeded a steady progress. It was just over three hours toiling that a six-foot-deep, three-foot-wide, manhole appeared on the mossy side of the stump.

He filled the hole three quarters of the way with loose leaves and twigs. Then covered these with a layer of topsoil. He made good and certain that the thick grass looked as natural as it had before the soil was disturbed.

This being done he lugged the wheelbarrow full of remaining earth back to the cottage and into the basement.

The early waking and the heavy labor took their toll. So, having assured that he was neither watched nor followed he resumed his self-interrupted slumber.

This time he dreamt of nothing whatsoever.

He awoke with a sense of foreboding.  Something was off though he couldn’t place his finger on it.

It wasn’t the fact that it was dark outside. This much he had expected.

He went round the cottage checking all the windows and all the doors. He even went into the basement.

Everything was in order. Yet he still couldn’t put his mind at ease.

‘Maybe it’s been too long since my last whiskey.’

He poured a glass and sat on the couch. He sat and his ears began to listen.

There was no owl. There was no whippoorwill. All that he heard was the strange pleasant chirping.

A chill ran down his spine.

‘They’re talkin’. That’s how these assholes signal each other. Clever fucks.’

The chirping was louder and closer than usual.

‘Shit they might actually be plannin’ an ambush.’

That’s why the actual fauna opted for radio silence.

Jim sought higher ground in his uncle’s attic bedroom. He was used to raids from hooligans. The Carter economy wasn’t kind to latchkey kids. And latchkey kids weren’t kind to each other.

He switched his .38 for the Mossberg he’d found in the safe he’d cracked. Sometimes crime did pay.

He made certain to leave the light off. Carefully, tentatively, with the gingerness of a practiced surgeon he moved the curtain and peeked down into the yard.

Sure, enough every so often he saw brisk silhouettes flitting through the dark. But they moved so quickly he couldn’t make out any details.

‘Methed up fuckers…’

What the hell were they doing though. Leapfrogging? He was familiar with some military tactics on account of Kenny, but this pattern of motion made no sense. It was really more like serpentine but there were no snipers.

An ambush usually involved a slow, steady advance, like a cat stalking a mouse. Or a sudden strike like a snake in the grass.

This was neither.

‘Fuckin’ crazy hicks.’

He was entranced. So, entranced in fact that he almost didn’t notice the quick light footsteps overhead.

‘O hell no.’ Jim said releasing the safety and backing away from the window.

The chirping was everywhere. It sounded like a whole army of stealthy hicks were runnin’ unshod on Hant’s roof.

‘How the hell…’ Jim couldn’t figure it out. The angles of the cabin were so neat and the roof so lofty that access from outside was damn near impossible.

Suddenly, just as quickly as the chorus had started, it ceased.

Still, Jim held his position till dawn. As the sun began to rise, he fetched the alarm and set it for noon. This being done he laid down in Hant’s bed with shotgun in hand and napped.


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