Jim did not see. His return to the cottage was not accompanied by a deepend reverence. Quite the opposite, his recklessness increased.
“This is all bullshit.” He said as he tossed his uncle’s letter into the fire.
Whenever he heard the chirping he’d run out like a wildman, Mossberg in hand, and fire wildly at the trees. Wooping profanities that would put any sailor to shame.
“I can always get more shells, cocksuckers!”
It did seem to work.
“Goblins my ass…hicks with whistles aren’t about to make a heel outta Jim Cleary.”
He actually considered burning the wood. His life had not been easy and, once kindled, his nihilistic rage was capable of profound wickedness. He wasn’t unfamiliar with a cellblock nor much afraid of returning to one.
But the pay was good. And despite Lizzy’s warnings it had not ceased.
He kept finding those strange heel-less tracks. But remained unphased. Figuring it was just another trick.
It was weeks since the ordeal that had found him on the shores of Luckadoo’s lake that denial began to grow impossible.
First, his temper finally began to subside, allowing for a touch of introspection. He felt bad for consigning crazy Hant’s ramblings to the flame. It was like sucker punching his spirit in the gut. The old nut meant well.
It did not help that Jim received a sudden fortune. A turn of luck that explained everything and could only mean one thing.
On his return from the post office, bank statement in hand, he heard an inhuman wailing.
It made his heart sink to the very depths of his stomach.
Lizzy was at the stump doubled over and shreiking into the evening. Her long gray locks hung in ragged clumps completely obscuring her face.
A twig snapped as Jim approached to comfort her. She gazed up. And he turned to go.
All the fire was gone from her eyes. The spry twiggy motions had given way to shivers and sobs. He could not bear it and fled into the wood.
He sat by the cold stones a long time. Staring at the bit of paper that informed him that he was a sevenfold millionaire. It gave him a stomach ache. He actually felt naseaus.
He’d done nothing but surreptriously mock the old man his whole life. To reveive such a kindness after burning the last bit of spirit that Hant had passed on was flooring. Jim lay on the cold granite, too callous for weeping, too penitent for comfort.
The heavens that peaked through the swaying trees were agonizingly bright. With a cheerful beauty that mocked the mercenary hideousness of his soul. Sagitarius with his bow was hypnotic.
He did not know how long he lay there staring till thirst took hold. He tried to rise but to his horror found himself unable to move at all.
It was then that he realized it was absolutely silent.
The buzz of the cicada had ceased. No more did he hear the song of the owl and whippoorwill. Not even the strange chirping could be heard. Normally he would have been greatful for this fact. Especially given his current handicap. But, the damnable sound was replaced by something worse. It was a low and subtle sort of hum accompanied on occasion by light stealthy footsteps. As if a troop of children were playing hide and seek. Except the gait suggested by the footfalls was all wrong.
Jim could not move his head. But his eyes rolled freely. He gazed left at the sound of a snapping twig and beheld a silver head. A small bald thing was bobbing in his direction with several more in tow.
They stopped just beyond his line of sight and began to sway rhythmically. To his horror he found himself sinking into the stone. He tried to cry out but his dry constricted throat failed to produce so much as a chortle. Slowly, agonizingly, he felt himself becoming one with the granite.
Then quite suddenly a booming voice burst through the nightmare. “Fool!”
It was Hant’s voice. But the figure he glimpsed was not Hant. It was not the clean cut rustic but a wild bearded silver haired apparation.
The wicked dwarves scattered before the cold grey light of the wizard.
“I hope ye choke on drink. All that I gave ye..may you drink up…to the dregs…you fool.”
Jim felt a vicious kick in his rib.
But the pain was soon replaced by pleasure as he realized he could move again. He raced homeward not heeding the briars. Collapsing on the soft leather of the couch Jim fell into the deepest sleep of his life.
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