The Well Near Water

The Well Near Water

A Story by Joel McCarthy
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A first draft of a pretty long short story. If you bother finishing it, I'm open to what you think works, and more importantly, what doesn't.

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1

“If you’ll sign here, here and one more on this fourth page, I think everything will be in order Mr. Kaplan. Congratulations.”

            “When will I be able to call in my landscapers?”

            “By the end of the month at the latest. And you mentioned your contractors will be coming in for the demolition before then, am I correct?”

            “Well obviously I won’t have the gardens and gazebo built around that shack that’s managed to stay nailed together for -- how long was it?”

            “Before his death, Mr. Jennings had lived here thirty nine years. This property was very important to him.”

            “Couldn’t have been too important if his children were willing to sell it off to me so quickly.”

            “It seems it was in their financial interest. Your offer was more than generous I have to say.”

            “I don’t like to take advantage. Many of my associates would’ve jumped at the chance to swindle the Jennings into selling cheap for valuable real estate. I think I took care of them, though I’m confident the investment will grow.”

            “I’m sure you’re right. Crow’s Channel is becoming prime real-estate for developers like you.”

            “Now don’t get it twisted Carl, there aren’t other developers like me. Half of the cottages on this river were designed by me already, you know.”

            “Indeed, your name’s all over these waterways. You’re on course to renaming the river after yourself.”

            “You know what? Kaplan Channel doesn’t have a bad ring to it, Carl. Some people don’t like it"all the development, the traffic in the summer time, but what can you do?”

            “I hear you. We have a saying in real estate. You can’t stop the sprawl.”

            After a handshake, the realtor’s SUV rolled up the steep driveway. Douglass watched, losing sight of the vehicle in the aged trunks of birch and dense ivy leaves. He would be sure to tell Anthony, his landscaper, to make an effort to clean up the foliage around the driveway, which had been left to grow wild under the control of the late Frederick Jennings.

            He walked down the side of the cottage, finger skimming the knotted panels, his suede loafers stepping over fallen shingles coated with blue moss. He retrieved a small leather-bound journal and fountain pen from his breast pocket, noting that nothing from the cottage was likely to be salvaged, except possibly the hardwood. Douglass’s contractor could restore it, a solution to the question of flooring for the boat house that he envisioned just over the water.

            The property was lake-front, though one had quite a lengthy walk from cottage to water. This didn’t much matter to Douglass because he had planned to make good use of land. An idea came to him after discovering a discontinued well on the lot. It struck him as odd, a well being so close to the water. He’d estimated by the look of the brick that it was pushing at least a century, probably in place even just before Crow’s Channel was created to connect Lake Ceceibe with Lake Napew. The age and uncommonness of the well began cranking Douglass’s creative gears. He decided he would fill it in, utilizing the still intact brick to build a beautiful well-style fire pit. This, he thought, would be a major selling point, and distinguish its likeness from the other properties on Crow’s Channel.  

For the cottage itself, he told his contractor he wanted to bring an East Hampton flavour to the Northern Muskoka surroundings. For Douglass, this meant a substantial summer home that would be a matchless piece of real-estate for the area. Countless new developments around (many of them projects he had overseen) stayed within the conventions of back-woods comfort. Douglass insisted on something different, something two stories, not garish but substantial, with two fireplaces, three master suits and a small study in view of the river. He was disappointed to find that a basement would not be possible for the project due to large plates of granite beneath the planned foundation, but after taking twenty thousand off of his original offer to the Jennings, he felt it was a small price to pay. The view from the shoreline offered a Northwestern view of the water, one that captured an ideal setting sun that would, he imagined, perfectly accompany after-dinner cigars and evening cocktails in the lazy embrace of designer Muskoka chairs.

            Scanning the property a final time, Douglass was just short of pure satisfaction with his investment until he noticed the barbed fence. It was camouflaged in the brush, but there, like a rust plagued scar that edged its way to the shoreline on the southern end of the property.

He had unwisely overlooked his neighbours, an amateur mistake that this late in the real estate game, Douglass shouldn’t have made. In his experience as a developer, locals didn’t mesh well with the wealthy potential buyers he tried his best to attract. The locals were always uncooperative and territorial regarding the construction process. In the best situations, Douglass had been able to silence them with his cheque book, buying out their properties at more than reasonable prices (as far as they knew). In the worst case scenarios, the locals would reject all offers and refuse to depart out of protest, leaving him to swallow his pride and move on.

These days Douglass’s pride was becoming a sticky pill to swallow, especially when the buyers he had in mind, a pair of wealthy art dealers named Gilles and Margot LeConte, demanded privacy above all else. This new neighbour and his unsightly barbed fence would certainly put a snag in the deal. Douglass considered how little he had paid for the Jennings’s lot, and how he had some extra funds to deal with problems such as this. He hoped it would be enough.

            “B*****d!” echoed down the water as Douglass’s pant leg caught in the fence, tearing into the expensive fabric just below his inseam. He thought of how it could have been worse; it could have been his balls getting snagged on the rusted metal, but still, what an inconvenience it was for him to have to hop the thing in the first place. He’d tried simply walking down the driveway, but was denied access by a large gate erected there"if it could be called one. It was twice his height, built of browning aluminum siding and whatever other junkyard relics the owner could weld together. As ugly as it was, it did its job, forcing Douglass down through the thick bush to find a suitable spot to hop the fence.

            The property was a mess of uneven ground, exposed roots and rusted debris. There were at least three scrapped cars rotting away, half overtaken by moss and ivy and nearly impossible to identify. He kicked at a corroded hubcap attached to a vehicle that seemed to be a mixture of an 87’ Cadillac, a Chrysler K-car and, of all things, a John Deere tractor"the whole mess of metal jointed together with slapdash welds and warped bolts like some automotive Frankenstein experiment.

            There was a small structure erected in the same spirit near the water. It looked like the offspring of a mobile home and a school bus, definite traits of both things apparent, the windows draped with stained floral curtains, a screen door nailed half heartedly over the opening that Douglass assumed used to be the rear emergency exit. There was a makeshift chimney jutting out from the roof made of old Maxwell tins, which breathed out plumes of blue smoke into the fresh country air. Douglass approached the home and smelled an odour of stale urine and grilled fish. He knocked his car keys against the wood frame of the door, peering through the bug littered screen. He noticed an antique bear trap mounted above the door, its rusted teeth looming overhead, as if warning him.

            “Anyone home?” he called.

            Nothing greeted him except for the mild static of an AM radio placed near the doorway that was running off of an old car battery. Another knock and another silence. He pulled out his notebook, scrawling down a short message and his cell phone number, tearing off the page and sticking it through a stray nail below the door handle.

            “That better not be no bullshit government notice,” proclaimed a voice behind him. “Otherwise yer’ brains’re about’ to be evicted all over that screen door. I paid up good and proper.” This statement was accompanied by the unmistakable clack of a closing barrel.

            Douglass didn’t move.

            “You’re trespassing, you know that?”

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t see a sign. I just wanted to come by and introduce myself. Douglass Kaplan, I’ve purchased the lot next door"”

            “Bullshit you didn’t see no sign and horseshit you wasn’t aware you was trespassing. That rip in your pants tells me you was climbin’ the fence. I’d say a ripped out crotch is the mark of a trespassing m**********r, you think?”

            “I’m awful sorry.” Douglass said, choosing his words wisely, though in his mind all he could envision was a pack of steamrollers flattening this obnoxious character and his junkyard home. “You see"”

            “I see a man full of buckshot if he don’t explain what the f**k he’s doin’ at my door.”

            “I’m a developer here. I just purchased the Jennings place next door.”

            “I seen the signs. Turn around.”

            Douglass turned carefully, an innocent smile creeping across his face, bearing a top row of bleached teeth. To Douglass, the man before him holding the shotgun looked as though he had never seen city lights before. He looked like a man who had never eaten a meal that wasn’t cooked over a fire pit. His mouth consisted of negative space except for a stray tooth or two, and it sat in the center of an unkempt nest of a beard. He had a string of gutted trout slung over his shoulder, traces of blood and bile dribbling down the front of his plaid hunting jacket. His sleeves were rolled up to reveal large meaty forearms, one of them marked with a greening tattoo of a pitchfork.  

“I’m really no harm to you here. Like I was saying, my name’s Douglass Kaplan. I’m a developer. I’m interested in your fine plot of land here.”

The man spit, which squirted out between his lips, landing at the base of his beard. He didn’t bother wiping it. “I know the name,” he said, lowering the rifle.

“Is that so?”

“It is. I seen a lot of signs go up round these parts in the past couple summers. Signs with that name on em’.”

“You mean the ‘Kaplan Enterprise’ signs,” explained Douglass, lowering his arms.

“They’re the ones. Every time one of them goes up I start seeing dump trucks an’ diggers an’ I start hearing jackhammers. I tell you one thing; it’s been a real f*****g task tryin’ to catch my dinner with all that s**t going on.”

Douglass didn’t know how to respond at first, but he’d dealt with people of this ilk before many times. He knew there was only one thing he could do to get the ball rolling. He put his pen to a piece of paper and scribbled down a number, trying to hide the fact that his hand was shaking. He hoped the number ended with enough zeros to convince this grizzled character to head for the hills for good. He folded the paper once, handing it to him. “I don’t wish to waste your time. This is what I can offer you. I think you’ll find it more than generous. You don’t have to decide now, but my cell number is on there if you’d like to discuss this further.”

The man snatched the paper out of Douglass’s hand, not unfolding it. “You’ll get an answer soon enough,” he said, laying one of the trout down on a nearby stump. “But don’t let me catch you sniffin’ around here again. Remember that I’m in my rights to blow your head off next time you show up. You can leave through the front drive-in. There’s a chain latch to open the gate.”

“Understood,” said Douglass, nodding graciously, heading towards the gate.

 

Inside his BMW, he cranked the AC and pointed the vent toward his drenched face. He began backing out of the Jennings’s"his property, hoping to get a phone call from the man next door in the near future. Just as he was passing the neighbour’s makeshift gate, his phone rang. He stopped the car, glancing at the call display, letting out a sigh when the name of his ex-wife lit up the screen. He put the vehicle into park and answered.

“Yes Carol, let’s make this as civil as possible please, I’ve had a horrible day…”

He listened as she recited more demands, words artfully crafted by her lawyers, and images of his bank account being smashed open like a child’s piggybank plagued his mind. Carol was holding the sledge hammer, her brood of lawyers picking through every valuable scrap like vultures in knockoff Valentino suits.

Through the receiver her nicotine tone simply reinforced the need for him to make a sale to the LeConte’s by any means possible. It was going to be a long, hard divorce, and divorce meant brigades of high paid lawyers, which ultimately meant money above all else. He looked to the gnarled, corroded gate next to his window, asking himself if the hick next door had the sense to take the offer and lumber off into wilderness like he was supposed to.

An answer to this question came to Douglass all at once in a splattered mess off pink and yellow across his windshield, causing him to drop his cell phone as Carol was midway through telling him she wanted the BMW. A bleeding clutter of goop slid down the glass like some hellish snail, and Douglass smelled the unmistakable musk of fish coming through the AC vents.

The offer had been rejected, and not in the form of a polite phone call or letter. Instead, the neighbour had opted for the less formal method of hurling fish entrails to communicate his decline.

Douglass put the car into drive, switching on the wipers to their highest setting and blasting the mess with blue fluid. He decided then that he was going to have to get rid of this neighbour, one way or another.

 

2

The drawer from a discarded filling cabinet lay in the center of the shack. It served as a bed for a small litter of calico kittens that frolicked inside, trying to climb the walls of the drawer to reach their mother. The mother woke only when a tin was opened in the kitchen, and with the scent of tuna, she and her kittens started mewing in a communal plea.

            “It isn’t for you guys,” said Mandy, slathering the tuna over a piece of stale white bread. She cracked a bag of barbecue chips to accompany the sandwich.

            “Zep! Lunch’s on!”  

The crack of a rifle sounded in the near distance. The cats looked up in unison.

“Always firing the damn guns,” she told the mother calico, slipping on rubber boots and one of her husband’s hunting jackets, the Styrofoam plate in her hand.

            She reached the back of the shack and handed Zep his lunch. He thanked her with a playful swat on the butt. A murder of crows hovered in the sky above them.

“You wanna’ give her a try?” he said, offering the rifle.

            “You kidding? I couldn’t hit a moose if it were a foot in front of me.”

            A crow landed on a satellite dish that was mounted to the side of their shack. Zep aimed the rifle up at it.

            “Zep, leave it be!”

            “Now calm down, it’s just a crow--probably came from hell,” he said, one eye closed, the bird in his sights. “They’re bad luck, you know.”

            “I don’t care about the bird or its luck, I care about the dish. You hit that thing and no more eight hundred channels. It’ll be back to that f****n’ antenna and rabbit ears where it’s like watching Oprah through a snowstorm.”

             A shot cracked against the air, echoing off of the surrounding forest and granite formations that bordered their property. The bird exploded into a mess of red and feathers.

            “Crow pie,” said Zep with a gingivitis grin.

            “I can’t make no crow’s pie. If there’s anything left on that thing, maybe I can do up a stew,” she said.

            “Stew’ll do.”

            Mandy walked to the other side of the shack to retrieve the kill, holding it up by its stiff black legs, weighing it. A car appeared in the distance, a wake of red dust tailing it.

            “You expecting someone this afternoon?”

            He moved beside her, slinging the rifle around to his back. “Nope.”

            “Well who in the hell is that driving a fancy black car like that?”

            Zep squinted, watching the car move in closer. “Kaplan.”

            “Didn’t you finish your business with him?”

            “We got a new TV with a satellite dish, don’t we?”

            “Well you deal with him,” she said, plucking away tufts of black feathers. “I’ll get started on dinner.”

            The BMW came to a stop, remnants of the fish guts now dried onto the windshield. Douglass got out of the car and removed his sunglasses.

            “You look like you drove through a swarm of shads or somethin’.”

            Douglass ignored this statement. “We need to talk.”

            “Not much’s left to be talked about. Deal’s been finalized. Case you hadn’t noticed, they found a man up river on the wrong side of his boat three weeks ago. They say his head got banged up good on them rocks. Name was Jennings.”

            “I’m aware of his situation,” Douglass replied.

            “Well I hope so, because him being caught in them rapids puts an end to our business.” 

            There was a long beat before Douglass noticed the satellite dish.

            “I have the same one in my place, well, my cottage I mean,” Douglass said.

            “Got her up and running last week due to a pretty big payout--”

            “Can we cut the formalities? I know you took care of our business. Jennings is... that’s not why I’m here.”

            “Well what else would a suit like you be doing on my lot?”

            Douglass looked around at the property, a collection of tree stumps, yellowed grass, and rotted out tires. “Your lot is a shithole, Zep, like your life. What if I told you I wanted to help you and Mandy buy a real lot. I want to see a new truck parked outside that lot. Maybe even a nice speedboat. I want to help you get these things. Do you get me?”

            Zep considered him a moment, reaching into his inside pocked and retrieving a silver tin. He snapped his wrist, expertly smacked his forefinger against the small metal cylinder before popping the lid. The contents looked like chunks of scorched earth. He snatched up a wad of it, sticking it between his lip and his lower gum. “Come on to the back. I don’t want Mandy hearing.”

            He led Douglass to a workbench where several firearms were laid out, a box of corresponding ammo placed next to each gun.

            “The dish and TV was Mandy’s idea. I figured it’d be good for her if we got it, you know. Keeps her off of my back well I’m out here. You like em’?”

            “This is what you spent the money on?”

            He spat a brown string of saliva into an old mason jar that was already half filled with what looked like bacon fat. “This here’s the pride of the pack,” he said, holding up one of the rifles. “She’s a Weatherby Mark V Ultramark. Adjustable trigger, triple A grade walnut stock, high luster finish. Check out the metalwork, see that? It’s blued.”

            “Great hobby you got there,” Douglass said checking his watch.

            “But there’s this.” Zep pointed to a symbol carved into the wood of the rifle. It illustrated two opposing arrows, a sphere between them. “Paid extra for some custom work.”

            “What is that supposed to mean?”

            “My Granny was Cree. I used to get left with her a lot as a kid up in Fort Severn. One day I got left there for good and she had to go on raising me. I didn’t have no school but she’d tell me about the ways of the old world, bout’ what the white men done, bout’ what the Redman done too. There’s a lot of blood been sucked into the soil over the years. People don’t like to talk about the bad parts of the past but it happened, sure as s**t. She was real superstitious, black cats and bad omens and all that stuff. She’d talk about the blood of the past hanging around, letting off wicked vibrations. She said that’s why history has a way of repeating.”

            “Right,” said Douglass, brushing away red dust from his loafer.

            “She painted this symbol over her door and I’d ask her why she did it. She told me it was to protect against the evil spirits. Now I ain’t superstitious, but I took something from what she said. I got the symbol carved on the gun because I believe it stands for protection, the way she protected me, and the way the Redman used to protect their land. There’s always something to be protected, you know?”

            Douglass checked his watch again. “Listen Zep, what you did"what we planned with Jennings"it needs to happen again.”

            “On what scale?”

            “What I paid you before will be doubled.”

            Zep considered, letting his tongue push the tobacco from one side of his mouth to the other. He nodded. “I could use the money,” he said.

            “No s**t you can use it,” Douglass laughed, looking at the untouched tuna sandwich, flies landing on the bread.

            “So give me details.”

            “Crow’s Channel. The property I’ve invested in. There’s a neighbour"”

            “I was hoping you weren’t gonna’ say that,” Zep said, loading a brass bullet into the rifle.

            “What are you talking about? You know the son of a b***h?”

            Zep chuckled now. “I know more than just know him.”

            “What does that mean?”

            Zep pulled back the plaid sleeve of his hunting jacket, revealing a small tattoo on his wrist, the same pitchfork Douglass had seen earlier that day. “Me and him used to ride together… back in the days. We was with the Devlin Devils, North chapter.”

            Douglass gripped the bridge of his nose, feeling as though his skull were going to rip through his forehead. He composed himself, turned back. “Triple. I’ll make it triple. I don’t give a s**t, I need him gone.”

            “He have a buncha’ s**t lying around his lot?”

            “Yes, he did.”

            Zep snorted. “We used to call him The Highwayman on account of all the s**t he used to pick up off the highway. He was always welding and bolting it all together. Sort of a hobby I suppose. He’s a junker for life, that guy. We’d rip on him for it but goddamn if he didn’t have the best ride outta’ all of us. He may be a hoarding b*****d, but a talented one.”

            “Well I want the f*****g hick dead, you get that? Are you up to it or not?”

            “He’s not like Jennings was. Jennings was an old shut-in, could barley cook his f*****g eggs in the morning. Taking him out and dumping him in those rapids was no task at all. But now, you’re talking about taking out a dude who I seen do s**t you can’t even imagine. Before cops raided us out in 83’, there wasn’t a dude with balls big enough to step up to Highwayman, and if there was, balls’d be hacked off and boiled before anyone had a chance to say ‘boo’.”

            The sweat came upon Douglass’s face again. “So what is this, some kind of biker code? Because the two of you rode together you’re going to turn down more money than you’ve ever seen? And for what? Your f*****g tuna sandwich and your rifle?!”

            Zep didn’t look at him; just peered an eye through the scope of his rifle, a rusted soup can in his sights.

            “If you don’t help me, it’s not going to be good Zep. It will be very bad for you, trust me. I’ll make sure you"”

            The deafening blast of the rifle interrupted Douglass’s threat, the soup can toppling backward into a sea of yellow grass in the distance.

            “You won’t do a f*****g thing,” Zep said. “But I will.”

            There was a long beat.

            “Is that a yes?” Douglass finally asked.

Zep nodded, unloading another wad into the Mason jar. “I done a lot of it when I rode with the Devils. We took pride in taking someone out. It wasn’t just a bullet to the head or a slit throat. It was like a ritual, like how Gran used to talk about those Cree rituals. You made sure the killing meant something. The natives used every single part of an animal after hunting it. Killing should be done right, but also done with purpose.”

            “Enough,” said Douglass, reaching into his inside pocket, retrieving a scrap of paper. “When it’s done you contact me on this number and only this number. I’m having a well filled in on the property, and I want you to pretend you are my contractor. You tell me ‘the well is dry’ when he’s gone. Is that understood?”

            “And the money?”

            “After I get the call, I’ll bring it out to you. In the meantime…” Douglass retrieved a white sealed envelope, thick with the weight of currency. “This should get you started.”

            With that, Douglass moved back to his car and took off toward a pink setting sun leisurely begging its descent behind the tree line like a giant halved grapefruit.

Zep swiped at a cluster of flies, taking a bite out of the stale sandwich before chucking it out onto his unkempt lawn. Another crow swooped down out of nowhere, its dark beak pecking away at the pink tuna, its eyes black and hidden. Zep lined up the crosshairs again, watching the bird eat through the cylinder of the scope. His callused finger rested on the trigger, still and patient. He did not fire.

 

3

            The house was always quite at night, and Douglass had never really gotten used to it. He’d crank the radio for artificial company, but the endless drawl of commercials, newscasts and top forty ballads did little to battle the solitude. He wanted to hear the kids bouncing around in their room above him while they were supposed to be asleep. He wanted to hear the gentle scratching of pages while Carol read her paperback. He wanted to hear the dog butting its head against his closed office door, whimpering to be let in. But all these sounds, these familiarities, his family, were now detached from his reality. So he drank wine and he missed Carol and the kids, but only as long as the bottle of vino lasted.  His next sip was of cognac, followed by many others, and soon he hated Carol and the kids. She took them with her and they wanted to go. She took the f*****g dog. No time for Daddy and his workaholic temper, despite all I gave them. He thought about how Carol was probably with another man, his old partner maybe, Glen Delouse. Carol had become such a socialite around him at last year’s Christmas party. He thought she was probably with him now, with the kids and dog. One big happy f*****g family.

These sour thoughts festered inside of his hazy state of mind, fueling anger, fueling hate, until everything he thought about seemed to enrage him. Naturally, his thoughts came to his developments, his income, and how much he despised the neighbour, the so called Highwayman. His eyes closed, driving him into a drunken slumber, but not before he vowed that though he may not be able to control his wife and spoiled kids, but by hell or high water, he would not let an inbred-mongrel-biker-scumbag skew his development plans.

“It’s Kaplan f*****g Channel,” he slurred to no one, his voice echoing through the empty house before passing out.   

 

Douglass heard the cell phone from inside of the desk. It was enough to wake him, and his bloodshot eyes burned against the morning light piercing through the Venetian shades. He reached into his jacket pocket, slung around the back of the button leather chair where he had spent the night. He discovered that his cell phone wasn’t even ringing, and it took him a moment to remember the second phone in the desk. He’d managed to open the locked drawer and answer it before it sung its last note.

            “Zep,” he croaked.

            He listened carefully, hearing Zep’s words, words he had waited almost a month to hear. He smiled, rubbing his eye. “It better be f*****g dry,” he said into the receiver. “I’ll be there by noon.”

 

 

4

By the time he exited the highway, his hangover had been marginally quelled by a handful of Tylenol and a large coffee from a service station, two miles from Crow’s Channel. A duffle bag sat on the passenger’s side floor, the same one that had housed Zep’s first payment for taking care of Jennings. Douglass figured he’d let old Zep keep the bag this time.

            The traffic was light heading north. The warm weather had died off, fall now on the brink of winter. The cold had done its job of warding off the weekly mass of minivan tourists, their cargos packed to capacity with sleeping bags, fishing gear and cold cut sandwiches in preparation for the cottage weekend.  Despite the lack of traffic, there were a few instances where he was slowed along Highway 11 behind the endless construction vehicles that always seemed clog certain stretches of road. He was eager to get to Zep, pay him his money, and be rid of this particular headache once and for all.

 

He pulled into the driveway of his property just before noon. The forest was completely bare, save the thick pines that stood in preparation for the coming winter. Zep’s motorcycle was parked just outside of the Jennings shack, his helmet resting on the seat.  It began to snow.

There was no sign of Zep on the property, which annoyed Douglass. He was eager to finalize the situation and get back on the road before the snow started to pile up. He noted that his contractor had been at the property recently, as a pile of tarped earth had been sat near the vacant well. A wheelbarrow and several shovels were leaning against it, and as Douglass peered down, slightly peeved that the job had barely begun. He’d hoped they would finish before the first snow fall, but his expectations were rarely met by the contactor.  

There was a clatter coming from the shack, and Douglass noticed a light had been switched on inside. He sauntered over and climbed the unbalanced steps of the porch, pulling back the screen and pushing the door open.

            Inside was just the same old empty shack, exactly the way Jennings had left it. It reeked of stale tobacco, charcoal and mothballs. The light bulb above him swayed back and forth, lengthening and retracting the shadows coming from the taxidermy that decorated the walls. He heard a thud behind him, as if someone had been hiding behind the door. Before he managed to turn around, he felt something being firmly pressed against his nose and mouth. A callused hand wrapped around his neck from behind him, and he gasped against soiled fabric. There was a potent, yet sweet-smelling odor forcing itself into his lungs, causing Douglass to drop to his knees. His vision blurred, blackness moving in around him like the closing iris of a silent film. A stuffed walleye gawked down at him from the wall above; its lifeless white lobes watching him sink into a forced slumber.

 

5

He woke up shivering. His eyes were forced to squint against the harsh white of freshly fallen snow that twinkled in the afternoon sun. He could still smell the faint sweetness above his upper lip, a scent that instantly brought him to his senior year’s chemistry class. They were learning about organic compounds and he had mistakenly sniffed out of a small vile of colourless liquid that was being passed around as an example. The white piece of tape on the vial had the formula CHCI3 written on it. When he had come to minutes later, he was sprawled out on the tile floor of the science room, his peers grouped around him. He asked the teacher what had happened and Mr. Roots had snidely responded with, “Chloroform, Mr. Kaplan. I suppose you won’t forget this particular compound now will you?”

            He was in the heart of the forest, he knew that much. Ancient trees stood over him in all directions like ancient totems against the blue winter sky. His shirt was missing and his back was stinging. This pain was registering fully now that he was awake, and it swept across his spine in hot waves. He reached a hand back to investigate the disturbance, wincing as he touched what felt like a deep gouge. The red on his hand was further proof of a cut, a particularly fresh one, as the blood still felt warm against his finger.

            He rose, slouched forward, not sure which direction he was going. He had sense enough to realize that the longer he stayed put, the quicker he would freeze, so moving seemed his only clear option. He checked his back pocket and felt that his wallet was missing, which reminded him of the briefcase locked in his car. His car keys were still in his front pocket, and he remembered the small Swiss army knife on the key ring. He unfolded the pen knife and gripped it as though it were a short sword. He moved on, his mind racing, droplets of red forming a crimson trail behind him.

            He considered the current situation and came to the conclusion that the deal had gone wrong. Obviously Zep had failed to take care of The Highwayman, which probably meant that Zep was dead.

            So why wasn’t Douglass? Why had he been kidnapped, cut open, and dropped in the middle of the forest like some wounded animal? The answer became clear when he put his left foot forward.

            With an instantaneous clank, Douglass felt the forest floor take a vicious bite into his ankle. The pain was awesome; an explosion of sensory distress that shot up his leg and literally made his temples throb. He thought he would pass out, but knew he needed to take care of whatever had caused it. His foot was buried in a snow that was absorbing a steady flow of blood like wine into a white table cloth. He fell to his knee, frantically brushing away snow until he excavated the root of the pain. His foot was sandwiched between rusted iron teeth that had bitten into his ankle on both sides, meeting bone. He recognized the contraption. It was the same antique trap Douglass had seen hanging over the door of The Highwayman’s shack.

            With a strength Douglass didn’t think he had in him, he managed to pry apart the catch just enough to pull out his bloodied ankle before it slammed shut again. The pain was devastating. Douglass wanted to cry out at the top of his lungs but realized this would not help him. Clearly he was being hunted; this had become all too obvious, and if his chances for survival were any, he would have to be as quiet as the forest surrounding him.

            Douglass used the Swiss army knife to tear off a scrap of his pants to bandage the wound. He buried his ankle into snow for two minutes to numb the unrelenting pain. He attempted to raise himself up several times and realized that his left foot could not stand any pressure. Since staying where he was at the moment was a sure ticket to death, Douglass knew he needed to be on the move, even though a maniac was hunting him. He was lucky enough to find a length of branch that was long enough to hold him up and make movement possible.

            The sun above him was making its western advance  , and the air was growing cooler. Despite the cold Douglass was sweating and could feel a fever pulsing through him. The winter chill seemed to take a back seat in the pain-carpool that was his body, his stump of a left foot driving, his wounded back riding shotgun. Stopping to rest a moment, he heard the gentle trickling of water.

            The small stream weaved between the feet of the forest for a distance that was greater than Douglass could see. He wondered if it met with Crow’s Channel, and for the first time felt a glimmer of hope pass over him. He carefully let himself down to face the stream, sucking in the cool trickling liquid, aware that it was doing no good for his body temperature, but not caring. After his thirst was quenched, he lay back on the undisturbed snow, his spine trembling against the cold.

After what seemed like an hour, he managed to lift himself up again, planning to walk along the stream. Before he turned to do this, he noticed the imprint of snow where he had been lying, where the wound on his back had been bleeding. Suddenly he realized Zep was not dead.

The symbol Zep had carved into his rifle had also been carved into Douglass’s back. It looked up at him from the snow, red imprinted in white, like a wax seal against an envelope. He had remembered what Zep had told him about it, that it stood for protection, that there was always something to be protected.

Before Douglass could consider anything more, he felt something punch through his shoulder. It spun him around like a top, his face falling into the shallow stream before him. The sound of the forest was replaced by the numb trickle of water as his head was partially submerged. It was eerily peaceful to Douglass, and he’d hoped it would last, but of course it did not.

A hand grabbed a tuft of Douglass’s wet hair, yanking him back onto the snow. The two bikers stood over him; Zep and The Highwayman, rifles loaded and aimed at his face. The Highwayman smiled his toothless grin. Zep did not, but let a wad of tobacco fall onto Douglass’s forehead.

“Please…” Douglass managed to choke out before the butt of a rifle came down over his nose.

“Where do you think you are, Kaplan?” asked Zep, his expression unchanged.

Douglass did not answer for fear of another strike.

“The forest, the lakes, the rocks,” Zep continued, “they been here a long time. Longer than you can imagine. Men’ve been trying to claim these parts as their own for centuries. Even us.”

The Highwayman nodded his head solemnly.

“Why the f**k you think we joined the Devils in the first place? For a hobby? To be tough?”

“I don’t know…” Douglass managed.

 “It was because we wanted our stake of the land. We was tired of seeing the city move in on the north. We didn’t wanna see f*****g campers and RV’s and minivans clogging up that highway, so we joined The Devils to protect these parts"to protect the local blood against greedy f***s like you, Kaplan.”

The Highwayman pushed the barrel of his rifle into Douglass’s cheek.

Zep continued. “The Devil’s are long gone, but don’t think for one goddamn second that I ain’t concerned about what happens here. You drive up with BMW, your clipboard, and your fountain pen and you start re-drawing borders that’ve been in place for longer than you’ve been alive, and I let it happen. I helped you. Jennings’s death is my failing too, I know it. But when you told me to do it again, I realized Jennings’s death meant absolutely nothing to you. You wanted more, you greedy m**********r. Just the way the white man wanted it all from the Redman. You’re exactly the type of scum my Gran wanted to protect against, and that’s what’s happening now, Kaplan. I’m protecting the north from you. You may have left your mark on the river already, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m gonna let you have it all for yourself.”

Zep motioned to The Highwayman, reaching into his pocket. Together, they revealed a carving knife and a small hand axe, and with these daunting tools, the two bent over Douglass’s shivering form. At this moment, Douglass had remembered what the real estate agent had told him when he first signed the papers for the Jenning’s lot. The words turned in his mind like an infinite loop. You can’t stop the sprawl.

 

6

            A rack of squirrel meat was roasting overtop a healthy charcoal flame, bordered in the well-style fire pit, which was now filled. The summer was in its prime again, and Zep marveled in the sunlight that came down through the trees above him. He let his foot rest on the edge of the pit, picking at his fingernail with a Swiss Army knife. Next door, smoke floated up to the clouds from the coffee tin chimney.

Zep rarely saw The Highwayman anymore; even though they had since become neighbours. He thought of giving him a call and inviting him over for dinner, but decided to pass on the idea. He probably didn’t even have a phone and Zep wasn’t about to go over there to disturb him. The man cherished his privacy, even while in the company of friends. Zep understood this, it was a right to privacy, and he was grateful to have his own.

            Mandy came down the steps of their half renovated home. The windows had been sealed before winter and Zep planned to finish the exterior paneling just before the fall came. The new cottage was a daunting task for one man, but that didn’t concern Zep. He had the time, patience, and most importantly, the money to complete the task. The first thing he had made sure of, before even paying for the property, was that the well was filled properly filled in. He and Highwayman had taken care of that task themselves weeks before Zep signed the papers to buy the old Jennings’s lot. There were only the two them filling it in with shovelfuls of half frozen soil, but in a way Douglas Kaplan had helped to fill the floor of the well.

            “We should get some corn,” Mandy told him. “If you hurry now you can grab a bag before they close.”

            “Sunday, store isn’t even open.”

            “Well we haven’t got any sides.”

            “Don’t fret. I think I know a spot.”

 

Zep climbed into his truck, the latest F-150, and headed off down the dirt road. Before long he came to a roadside produce stand where an old native man was selling whatever he had managed to pick earlier that day. Zep parked the truck and approached him.

            “Got any corn?”

            “The sweetest and the best,” the native replied, offering a white smile.

            “That’s good news,” Zep said, grabbing a bag of corn and fishing out his wallet. “How much do I owe you?”

            “Three fifty,” he said.

            “No s**t?”

            “No sir.” 

            “Well the price is right,” Zep said, paying him. “You mind if I ask you something, pal?”

            “Not at all.”

            “What tribe you hail from. My Granny was Cree.”

            “That’s what I am,” said the man.

            “I thought so. She told me Cree’r the biggest group in the country.”

            “We aren’t so big anymore. Not in today’s world.”

            “No, I guess that’s a fact.” Zep loaded the bag into the bed of his truck.

            “Thanks for the business. Come back if you need anything else.”

            “We usually just go to the supermarket they built up on 11,” Zep started.

            “Right, I guess so,” said the man, hearing this statement often.

            “But f**k em’,” Zep smiled. “They charge me eight bucks a bag. I’ll make sure to stop by here next time the wife sends me out.”

            “Well I appreciate it. My name’s Arthur and I’m here almost every day. Can’t miss a Cree up here, you know?”

            Zep laughed, tipping his hat. “I guess not.”

            The truck took off into the distance and Arthur replaced the bag of corn that he had sold to Zep. A cicada hummed its droning melody somewhere unseen. The light faded momentarily as the summer breeze pushed a cluster of clouds over the sun. A pristine looking RV pulled up to Arthur, the automatic window rolling down.

            “Excuse me sir?” asked the driver, mirrored sunglasses reflecting the flanks of trees behind Arthur. His wife sat in the passenger’s seat, playing with a mobile phone. Children giggled from the back seat, the soundtrack of a DVD singing through the window.

            “What can I help you with today?”

            “You look like you know these parts pretty well. Can you tell me where I can find the Water Park?”

            Arthur paused, confused. “Did you say a water park?”

“Oh yeah, kid’s can’t wait. There’s a hotel and everything. We’d love to get there and check in if only we could find the damn place. GPS is on the fritz. Guess I better think about upgrading to a better model, eh?”

            Arthur told them it was thirty kilometers north, which was a lie. He had no idea there was a water park"that one had even been built, but he was sure if they kept driving, they’d find one eventually.              

© 2011 Joel McCarthy


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I've got to hand it to you: You write exquisitely. I absolutely love your writing style. I've never seen anything quite like it.

On the subject of grammar:
"The house was always quite at night, and Douglass had never really gotten used to it."
I think you meant to say "quiet," which is a mistake I make a lot.

"“Why the f**k you think we joined the Devils in the first place? For a hobby? To be tough?”"
a few lines later...
"“The Devil’s are long gone, but don’t think for one goddamn second that I ain’t concerned about what happens here."
For the sake of consistency, pick either "Devils" or "Devil's."

"...but in a way Douglas Kaplan had helped to fill the floor of the well."
Again, for consistency reasons, it should be "Douglass."

As for the story, I really liked it. You have this style of presenting something that looks like it's not going to go anywhere, and then BAM you hit your reader with something dark and deep and interesting. As I said above, I just love your writing style.
The beginning seems like it needs some work though. The balance between dialogue and description is maintained, but, at the same time, it's hard to follow a piece that starts out with dialogue and is followed by a bunch of description.
Keep on writing; I don't know what I'd turn to when I want to read something good if you weren't here.
PBP

Posted 8 Years Ago



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Added on April 18, 2011
Last Updated on April 18, 2011
Tags: Short Story, Fiction

Author

Joel McCarthy
Joel McCarthy

Mississauga, Canada



About
My name is Joel McCarthy and I write. Some of work has been published in magazines like PRISM International, The Feathertale Review, and Macabre Cadaver. I'll review whatever work I find that is polis.. more..

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