Bad Neighborhood

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Fiction,

Desc: Fiction Story: Folks around the lakes in far southern Illinois are pretty insular--you'd no doubt call them rednecks. Our nameless hero inherits some land from a cannibal he met in the Joliet lockup. It turned into a retirement with a twist.

I suppose that the shrinks have a nice little label for guys like me. Bad impulse control, anger management issues, something like that. Anyway, I was cooling my heels in the county pokey waiting for my court date. We were in what they laughably called an 'exercise yard', milling around like cattle. The gang guys hung together in their separate cliques, the druggies hung out in the corners and the skinheads gave everyone the evil eye. I was drifting around looking for anyone I knew. I came across one guy leaning against a brick wall with his eyes part shut, taking in the sun. Everyone gave him plenty of room--even the crazy skinheads. He had damned good situational awareness. I was half a dozen steps from him slowly making my way around when his eyes popped open and his head swiveled around like a target seeking radar. He looked like he was sizing me up for dinner. It raised the hair on the back of my head. I nodded. "Dude, you scary."

He slowly smiled. "What brings you to this fine establishment?"

I shrugged. "A guy hit my car, gave me the finger and drove off. I followed him, drove him into a concrete bridge support, pulled him out through the broken window and taught him the error of his ways." I smiled. "He'll be carrying his teeth around in a pill bottle once they resection his guts."

He smiled, one eyebrow rose and he gave me half a nod. "You?"

"Simply put, I killed and ate parts of seven people." I could feel my eyebrows rise to heaven. "Yep, that'll do it. They're gonna keep you in a pretty box just so they can take you out once in a while and poke you with a stick. You're, ah, 'newsworthy'."

He snorted. "Just what I wanted. Notoriety. Not."

"Now you've got me curious. What did you do with the gristly bits? Bury 'em? Run 'em through a wood chipper to fertilize the roses? Feed a bodacious snapping turtle farm?"

"Nothing so colorful. I just buried them."

"Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but I'd be looking for a 'blaze of glory' moment. Grab a guard's pistol and try a little target practice. With you're rep they're not gonna do anything but shoot to kill. They'd be shitting themselves blond."

I nodded at him and slowly made my way around the courtyard, trying not to attract any attention. That was the last time I saw him alive.

That evening we went to forced lock down at quarter to five. It lasted all night. We were released to go to lunch the next day.

Half a week later my court case came up. I was amazed that someone had come forward to say they'd seen the blind-side hit the guy had given me. My attorney argued the case down to extenuating circumstances. I got time served, mandatory counseling and two years probation. I did the proper obsequious thank yous and got the hell out of there. I honestly thought that I'd be spending the next eight years in the pokey.

It was back to work for me. Since I was on probation I didn't have any real time to myself. I kept a journal that noted where I was every fifteen minutes. My parole officer read through what I'd written and nodded. "Keep doing this and all I'll want is a monthly check-in." Damn! I got a good one!

A month and a half later I got a registered letter through the mail. As a parolee anything unusual was bad news and I wasn't happy. It was a letter from a lawyer. I had a legacy. I was floored. Hermann, the guy I'd met in the exercise yard, had willed me his property in southern Illinois. I checked it out at the library. That area was all washboard--up-and-down--from Harrisburg on south. The property lay on the south-east shores of Lake of Egypt, all forty acres of it. I kind of knew the general area as I'd driven from Illinois to Lexington on the Kentucky turnpike a few times. It was a real ridge-runner.

My probation officer didn't want to let me go out of the area. However, with the property deed in hand and after sweet-talking him he agreed to let me go down there for a few days if I checked in daily with the county sheriff. That took care of the hard part. The shop was shutting down for re-tooling for a couple of days which gave me the time off of work. I had five day's grace.

It took a full day to pack and get down there. I checked in immediately and got instructions on how to find the place starting from Marion, Illinois. When I told them that the guy had buried seven bodies on the property they knew where it was right off.

The place was pretty much torn to hell by the cops. Still, the cabin was standing and the key I was given fit the new lock. Everything was thrown on the floor so it took me a couple hours to clean up. It was a little two room place with a car port. It had been made out of thick limestone blocks a long time ago and had a heavy slate roof. It looked more like a bunker than a cabin. It sat on a little crest at the end of a small ridge so that the land fell away on all sides except the driveway. The main room and kitchen was about twenty by twenty. The bedroom was about twelve by twenty. That really made it pretty roomy. Once I threw open the shutters it was well-lit. There was no running water or electricity but there were a couple kerosene lanterns and a green five gallon can which was bone dry stashed behind the door. The place was heated by the kitchen stove, a wood burner. A hand pump pulled up water from a well or cistern. There was an out-house back along the ridge within easy walking distance. A sheet of steel had been laid over the chimney to keep critters out.

Nobody had lived there for at least a couple of years, and probably more than that. The bog paper in the out-house was shredded by critters and useless. The pit didn't smell at all. Someone had torn apart the wood pile stacked against the rear wall. It was all very old wood, some of it was rotting away.

There were raspberry canes everywhere. The bottom-lands were filled with nettles and the gravel drive to the cabin was a menace. I took the kerosene can, locked up and drove the sixteen miles or so to town. I bought heavy gloves, a weed sickle, a big shovel, a heavy rake and some 2x4s to clean up the wood pile, got the kerosene can filled, bought bog paper, white paint, a brush and a broom. I picked up some grub and ice in a cooler, then headed for the Target for a little mattress, bedding, a towel and a pillow. I had a bucket of rags and some cleaning stuff in the truck. I checked in again and let them know what I was doing.

I started on the outside first. I cleared away the canes within twenty feet of the cabin and stacked them up on the driveway to burn. I made a strip down the middle so the fire wouldn't spread and used a little kerosene to get things started. All the rotted wood and bark got sprinkled onto the fire after it got going. Then I laid down two rows of 2x4s to stack the wood on so that it would all sit clear of the damp. I cut back the canes leading to the out-house and around it then burned them too. by mid-morning I was ready for a break. I sat down with a nice cool glass of water and looked around the place, figuring on what to attack next. The spider webs had to come down and I wanted to get the windows cleaned. Then I'd stack everything outside, sweep and paint. By the time it was dry I'd be about ready for dinner and bed.

I should have bought a wide-bladed putty knife to get all the crap out of the corners but a screwdriver helped a lot. There wasn't any ceiling, just open rafters and the bottoms of the roof sheathing boards. There was a rough ladder outside that I used to get up to the sheathing boards to paint them, and I got the inside walls, shelves and cupboard painted. I cleaned up the windows with a razor blade after I was done to scrape away all my sloppy brushwork. Those old windows weren't designed to open. The solid frames were nailed in place. Once I was done there I used the rest of the paint to do the treat to the out-house, inside and out. Paint fumes drive off critters and I didn't want spider bites on my ass. I even lifted the seat boards and painted under them as well.

It was time to sort through all the stuff I'd brought out of the cabin. There was a lot of crap that I bagged up to throw away later. Still, I had a couple glasses, a couple china plates, some flatware, a covered pot and a fry pan. The fry pan was cast iron and needed burning off so I gathered the fire coals together, put the pan on them and cut some more canes to cover.

I wondered where the root cellar was. Nobody in their right mind would build a place like that and forget to include a cellar. It took some work with a flashlight, a screwdriver and some persistence to find a trap door next to the wall at the end of the kitchen counter. I had to use water and a broom to scrub clear the seams and find the lift ring. Once I found it, I ruined a butter knife getting the decades of crap out of the seams. A rope and a hefty tree branch helped me get it open. I stuck my nose down there with my flashlight and stopped cold with one foot on the stairs. There was a nest of copperheads on the floor writhing around. I closed that sucker quick and thought for a while. How the hell would I get rid of all those snakes? And where did they come from? There had to be an access hole around the foundation somewhere, and I had to plug it. That's what I figured to be the easiest way to kill 'em too. Starve them to death, then come back later with a shovel and buckets to clean up the dried out remains. If I could get it all sealed the problem would solve itself by the time I came back the next spring.

I found a couple gaps in the stone foundation after shovelling back the dirt and weeds. I was sure that the hardware store would have a bucket of some sort of weatherproof gunk to stuff in the cracks that would solve my whole problem. I brought the furniture back in, put the crockery on the shelves and made my bed. The old musty mattress went into the bed of my truck to get rid of later along with all the bagged up crap I'd found in the cabin.

I fished the fry pan out of the ashes and wiped it out then made a fried steak on the coals. I figured learning to use the stove would take longer than I wanted to fool with right then. I rinsed out the pan after dinner and set it back on the coals to burn off once more. I'd have to oil or grease it before I left or it would rust in no time. I'd done some real work that day. Sleep came easy.

I used the out-house and cleaned up the next morning. After locking down the place I headed to town once again to check in and pick the brains of the guy that ran the hardware store. He suggested using a wire mesh fill then packing it with heavy roofing cement. It was tough to work with though and a pair of rubber gloves would come in handy. I needed some lard to treat the fry-pan so I picked that up, then I told the sheriff's deputy about the root cellar. He got all excited. He radioed his boss then everybody and their little brothers met back at the cabin. I warned them about the snakes. I really did. I guess that some people just don't listen. That deputy was half way down the steps before he noticed that the ground under him was moving. He shot up that hole like he'd been air-lifted. I sat him down with a glass of water until he stopped shaking. The sheriff said, "You mean to tell me you slept in here last night?"

I nodded. "Yep. I figure if they could get in here they would be in here and I've seen no sign except for in the root cellar." We shot the shit for a while then they took off. I spent the rest of the day pulling and cutting raspberry canes. I burned off the rest of the path between the cabin and the out-house to kill all the root stock there so the things wouldn't be so fast to come back. I did a little smoothing of the gravel lane closest to the cabin before giving up for the day. I had a steak sandwich and a beer, cleaned up and went to bed.

I was out of time. I packed up all the bedding, made sure my foundation patches looked secure, locked down the place and after a final survey around the place I headed into town to check in one final time. The hardware store guy let me dump my mattress and garbage bag in his dumpster for ten bucks. I filled the gas tank and headed for home. It was back to work the next day.

Owning the property meant more expenses. I had to pay for the property tax for one, but it was pretty cheap. Then I had the improvement expenses for what I wanted to fix up. For one, I wanted to get back there early in the season and mark off the area I wanted replanted. If I could find someone with a tractor that would cooperate I wanted most of the berry canes plowed up, the top twelve inches of soil run through a shaker to separate out the roots and the remaining dirt replanted in clover. A lot of new-growth trees had to come down because they were sheltering the property where the nettles were growing. I wanted that area replanted in clover too. I had plans to plant a grove of fruit trees and put in a small vegetable garden.

Once I'd walked the property line I'd want to quarter the place to see what was there. Since according to the map I owned some river frontage I wanted to put in a short dock to do a little fishing.

Inside, I wanted to pull the wood burner and put in a gas stove and a gas refrigerator/freezer. With a good regulator I could then run a couple lines to support propane lights like camping trailers used. Maybe I'd put in a hot water heater. Now that would be luxury! I'd need a water tank set up in the rafters to feed it though.

I kept a picture of the place on my desk to keep me on track. It was my retirement home. If I could stay away from cities and stay away from people then my temper wouldn't have any reason to cook off, or so I hoped.

I ran a milling machine for a living and could use a metal lathe with a machine advance. I had hopes to find a job down there. I managed to sock away quite a bit into my savings so I didn't see a problem with getting the place in shape.

Since I had a record I figured that I'd have a problem buying firearms. I still wanted three rifles; a .22 LR for critters; a .308 for deer, wild pigs and bear; and a .500 just because I wanted one. I had to be a little sneaky getting the CAD drawings for the weapons but after that it was just more time on the mill and lathe. I regularly bought metal stock for the company so adding a few billets of high quality steel to our orders slid right under the radar, as long as I kicked in with the cost. I bought the cutting heads I'd need and since I built from standardized patterns I was able to buy commercial stocks, rails and sights for them. I took my time, checking my measurements and making my cuts. The head spacing on the .308 was critical and it took a while to get right. When I was finished I had a clone of a Savage FP-110 in my hands. After bolting on a stock and a scope I took it out to zero it. I was quite pleased. After that the .22 was a walk in the park. I made a couple silencers for it so nobody 'd know I was harvesting critters. The .500 break-open single shot now, that was tricky. I didn't have a design to go by so it was all experimental. I had a .500 breech on top and a 12-gauge on the bottom. I had to take care so that the first shot wouldn't torque the whole thing into a corkscrew yet it didn't weight fifty pounds.

Buying ammunition was an under-the-table job that I worked through an intermediary at a gun show. He had an Illinois FOID card and wasn't afraid to use it.

I had to be very careful about having those weapons. I was committing a felony just by owning them and/or the ammunition.

Come spring I headed back south with 12-volt lights, switches, wiring, wall boxes and a waterproof plastic box that held a charging circuit and four batteries. I'd made arrangements with a landscaping contractor to take out the black berry canes and plant the clover. He was waiting on my marking out the sites. I got about six acres laid out. Then I opened up the root cellar and started cleaning out the desiccated snake carcasses. After I got the place cleaned out it got a good scrubbing down with Lysol to remove the stink, a paint job and another coat of roofer's cement on the inside of the foundation voids. I carefully inspected the roof and replaced over a dozen cracked slates.

I installed my 12-volt light system with a long cable to recharge the batteries from the truck Both rooms recieved outlets for 12-volt fans. The place was starting to feel comfortable! I had a little radio in the kitchen, the place was clean and bright and it smelled good. It still had a wood stove for heating and cooking though. A contractor in Marion was willing to put in the gas bulk tank and appliances but I didn't have enough free time to get the job done that spring.

I was tired of my own cooking. I headed into town for a Saturday night dinner and a beer. I saw a sign for fresh-caught lake perch dinners and pulled into the lot. I should have checked the place out better. The bikes were out back with the picnic tables and grills.

It was all you could eat fried lake perch with fries for ten bucks, drinks extra. I looked over at the bar and only saw four taps. The had Miller Light, Michelob, Shiner Bock and Icehouse. A sign on the wall said 'no pool after 9:00 PM'. I told myself that I didn't want to be in that place after the kitchen closed. Another sign that a restaurant doesn't belong on the Michelin list--the waitress had tattoos. I got a Shiner Bock, emptied my plate and had two more pieces. They had some damned good fish. After two beers I called it quits. I left a ten buck tip, paid off and left. Another sign that you didn't want to be there after dark--the music outside was louder than inside. Still, I'd have to come back and try their pork cutlet sandwich. I'd only found good ones in biker bars. I shook my head with a grin. The damned place was Porky's without the neon.

Back at the cabin I pulled a chair outside to sit and listen to the night sounds. I heard a lot of peepers coming off the lake. The freshly plowed soil absorbed the moonlight like a wet blacktop on a cloudy night. This was a good place. I closed up shop for the night and hit the rack.

Once I was back up north in Joliet I realized that I was past the half-way point on my probation. I made an appointment to see my probation officer after work and took my journals. They had everything in them except the rifles and ammunition deals. He nodded along as he read and laughed in a couple places. "You're doing well. I don't blame you for taking advantage of this being dropped in your lap. If you can get a job down there and want to move before your probation ends I'm willing to sign off on it, but I'll need proof of your employment. Then it'll be a once-a-month check-in with the sheriff."

I started blowing my telephone bill sky high by calling down there, knocking on doors via the phone. A few places wanted a copy of my resume and what machines I'd worked on so I got those out the door. It was early September when I got a call-back from a place that did CnC milling. I told 'em that I needed a letter guaranteeing my employment to get released. I didn't hold anything back. They knew about my beating the tar out of that guy but they were okay with it. The letter came within a week. I gave my resignation, letting my boss know that I was moving south where the cost of living was less but I'd be getting more income from the job. He wished me luck and told me to catch a fish for him. I gave the accounting department my new address to send my final check, packed up my stuff and got shut of my lease. With all my tools and stuff that was a pretty full pickup once I hit the road. I took it easy. I still grounded out on that damned pot-holed driveway.

First, empty the truck and put stuff away. Second, touch base with the sheriff's office, third, give copious thanks to my new boss. Fourth, give the "go" to the propane contractor. I wasn't going to risk burning my ass to the ground with that wood stove in the interim. I bought a little camper's propane cooker and a bridge connector to fasten it to the top of a twenty pound bulk tank. After that I rolled into that weird bar and ordered their pork cutlet sandwich. Jackpot. I'd have to make going there a treat or they'd start calling me Tubby. Maybe I'd just stop by for a fish dinner after work on Fridays.

I stuck my nose down the root cellar to make sure the damned snakes hadn't come back. It was high and dry without a single scaly little bugger to be seen. Once I was satisfied that the critters wouldn't come back I started stocking the larder. I got tired of that heavy hatch in a hurry and unbolted the hinges, then put up a little 2x4 railing. I had 12-volt lighting down there and it was painted white. The contractor showed up, dropped off a thousand-pound bulk tank and plumbed it in. Then the wood stove came out, the new one went in as well as the gas fridge/freezer. We talked about mounting a water tank in the rafters and putting in a hot water heater so I could have a bath tub. It would mean putting in a 12-volt pump down the well. I put that off until it got colder.

For laundry I packed it up and took it to town for Thursday nights. The place stayed open till 9 three days a week for working stiffs like me. It gave me an excuse to buy into a decent dinner once a week.

It was right on seventeen miles from my place to work so that burned a half hour twice a day, more if there was ice on the roads. I thought about getting a four-wheel drive truck. I don't care how good a driver you are. When you start sliding down the hill backwards you're screwed.

The boss made a decent living fabricating custom parts for professional and amateur antique car and truck rebuilders. About the only things we didn't do were sheet metal, glass and upholstery. We even had a hot dipping tank to reproduce those damnedably hard to find logo pieces that turn to gray pot-metal over time. I proved that I was capable of turning out blocks, heads, camshafts and intake manifolds. Some guys did nothing but make gears for transmissions all day. That would have driven me crazy. The fun ones were the orders for complete, tested engines. Damn, but I learned to hate building those old carburetors though. All in all it was satisfying work and what I didn't like to do, someone else did. I worked the seven to four shift with a long lunch. (unless it was a paid-for emergency. Then we worked until the job was finished. Not many of those came through.)

I hammered together a heavy bench seat for the front of the cabin so that I had a place to sit and watch the day come alive. All that clover sure looked good, and smelled good too. I wondered if I should have it turned over in the spring or not. I'd have to ask a pro. I'd need someone with a tractor to come out anyway as I wanted to start my garden in the spring, and it was time to start an orchard.

A devious little part of my mind wanted to expand the cabin, add a big covered front porch with a little wood stove and another attached room to use as a work room. I couldn't find those big 250 pound limestone blocks for less than eighty-five bucks each so that was going to wait.

I finally got around to walking the property line, then criss-crossing the deep valleys to see what was there. I sure saw some pretty valleys. Some were covered in moss with spring-fed rivulets that kept everything moist. They were almost impossible to get to though. I'd have had to use a bulldozer to tear tracks through the place, the thought of which left a bad taste in my mouth. I did find a few small fields close to the cabin. The tracks to them were so overgrown that I didn't even know that they were there. I marked the borders with spray paint and surveyor's tape so that I could go back over the winter after the die-back with a chainsaw and an axe to clear out the lanes. At the moment they were nothing but burdock and thorn apple sanctuaries. They'd be perfect for orchards though.

A fourth field had an access through one of other the three that I found. The trace went over a low pass into an adjoining valley. It was a very long, narrow strip that was mostly overhung by tree limbs. I wondered what the hell to do with it. I was resolved to get them all cleaned up and planted in clover. If nothing else it would make great deer fodder. I'd read at the library that white clover had a higher protein percentage than most hay or other fodder.

I didn't want anyone hunting through my lands so I walked the property line again with a roll of wire on my back and stapled it to the trees about chest height all around, then wired no trespassing signs to it. It wouldn't keep out shit but it gave me legal recourse.

I thought about how to take game without resorting to firearms. I'd heard about special forces teams that led Montagnards in VietNam. They carried crossbows with stainless steel limbs and using a braided steel aircraft cable for the 'string'. Everything I saw on the web was a bunch of conflicting crap so I started a project. I designed one and built it. I used steel dart points and aircraft aluminum shafts. I had to use steel knocks to keep the shafts from splitting. I had a tough time cocking the thing with a stirrup. It was pretty impressive and I could hang it on the wall of the cabin, unlike my firearms which I kept in a locked chest down in the larder.

I bought enough limestone blocks to make the roof support pillars and the side walls of the front porch. I dug out and poured the footings as solid beams that ran out from the cabin walls and across the front. I had a contractor build the roof and cover it with slates to match the cabin. He had an idea on how to add on a small smoke house that would match so I turned him loose on it. The whole project set me back about a thousand bucks, maybe a little more. It gave me a nice covered path from the truck's car port to the front door.

I came home from work one day to find my windows broken in. and the smoke house door hung open. Nobody got into the cabin--all my stuff was still there. Pissed? I was angry enough to string someone up and peel their skin off. I cleaned up the glass then took some kitchen parchment, smeared it with lard and scraped it down. To tack it up I used little splits I chiseled off of a 2x4 and tacked them over the edges of the greased paper, all over the broken out window frames I covered my makeshift windows with their shutters before I left for work. During my lunch break I talked to the guy at the hardware store about getting some window cells that no asshole would be able to break out. He had a line on some armored glass windows. I pulled out my notebook and reeled off the sizes. I paid for them as well as a hasp and lock for the smokehouse. I told the sheriff about the vandalism but I knew there wasn't shit he could do.

When I got home I grabbed my flashlight and went looking for traces. Tracks. Someone had come up my driveway with a big truck sporting big, fat tires with off-road lugs. There were dog prints all over and I found two spots where the animal had pissed on my cabin and the smoke house, about two feet up. That day someone had sat on my porch and smoked half a pack of Pall Malls. That was two days in a row. I called my boss telling him about my vandals and said I'd be taking a day off. He told me to just call if I needed any 'help'.

I ate a full breakfast and dressed to stay outside all day. I had a couple old wool blankets and a tarp. My truck got parked around back of the cabin so it wouldn't be seen from the driveway. I put down the tarp and two blankets in a little depression, then laid down on top and flipped the tarp over everything. Well, whaddaya know. About ten a big four wheel drive truck rolled up. A guy got out carrying a gas can. This was getting serious. I carefully aimed for his belly just under the belt line and took my shot. He screamed like a dying rabbit and dropped the gas can. His mutt was raising hell but it was trapped in the truck's cab. I called the sheriff and told him I had an arsonist down. He asked, "Did you kill him?" I told him that despite the temptation, no. I just put a broad head through his bladder. After all, I was still on probation, right? He sighed and promised to be right out. I knew it would take him a half hour, easy. I stepped on the guy's chest to keep him from rolling over on me and pulled his wallet. Elmer. From his address he was my neighbor. Bastard.

I walked around to face him and squatted down. I kept his license and threw the rest at him. "So, Elmer. You're not a very neighborly fuck, are you?"

"Fuck you. You shot me, you asshole."

"Elmer, Elmer. You're in no position to do more than whine and grovel right now. That's a gas can I saw you carrying, and from the way you were swinging it, it's full. Now, we've got a few options here. I could give that quarrel a good kick and drive it right through your spine. I could douse you in your own gasoline and loan you a lit match. I could douse your truck and set it on fire and watch your dog slowly roast to death. I could even harness you to my rear bumper and drag your nasty ass home. Or you can talk. Now what's it gonna be?"

"Nobody tells me where I can and can't hunt!"

I screamed out "YOU ASSHOLE, ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS ASK! " I drew a deep shuddering breath. I was so damned close to start carving on his rib cage. "But no, you had to get all Deliverance on me, didn't you, shit head?" I pulled out my pocket knife, opened it and let him watch it glisten in the sunlight. "You want this to be the last thing you see? I've got no trouble with slicing you into table scraps. None at all." I made a fast, deep slice through his eyebrows so the blood would immediately blind him. I stood up and pocketed my knife. I knelt down beside him and quietly said, "You made an enemy here today, Elmer. You made several mistakes, too. I know who you are and I know where you live. I figure you paid me a few visits, so it'd only be neighborly for me to pay YOU a few visits. You won't see me coming, either. I'll kill your dogs then you in the quiet of the night. I'll be seeing you, Elmer."

I heard the ambulance coming fast. They must have broken a few speed limits. The sheriff rolled up and looked at me real carefully. I spread my empty hands, smiled and slowly turned around. "Hi, sheriff. Old Elmer, here, must have decided to burn me out today." I motioned to the gas can. "I doubt like hell that it's full of water. If you look at my bench you'll see the Pall Malls that he stubbed out there yesterday."

He sighed. "Damn if this isn't a cluster fuck. You got him dead to rights, though."

"You gonna arrest him for attempted arson?"

"Yeah, I pretty well have to."

"I want a pay-out for my windows. That truck was here two days in a row. The tracks match the wheel-base and the tires." He got out a camera to get some oblique shots of the tracks.

"Unless you've got one hell of a tow truck you're going to have to take out that dog. He looks a little territorial to me." He quietly said, "I'll call animal control. They can gas him" I nodded. "It's a better solution. If they're careful the dog will live. It's not the dog's fault that his owner's an asshole.

The sheriff looked at me surprised. I said, "The dog is only acting according to his nature. Can't blame him for that." He walked over to my cabin to take a picture of the cigarette butts and show how they'd been stubbed out against the wall. I opened up the shutters and he grunted at seeing the paper. I said, "It's an old trick. Candle wax or lard applied to parchment is a serviceable window replacement. I needed something to keep the heat in last night. I've got bullet-proofs on order." I looked over to where the medics were lifting their gurney. "I figure that he planned on dousing the underside of the rafters to burn to roof off. Real neighborly bastard. Is he married?"

The sheriff screwed up his face. "Are you kiddin'? What woman in their right mind would have him?" I laughed. "Good argument for sanity, that." I went over to my hide to collect my weapon and blankets, then called my boss. I told him that old Elmer just got busted for attempted arson and I'd be in the next morning.

Back outside, the sheriff and I sat on the bench to wait for animal control. "For a guy with anger issues you sure take care of business."

I leaned back to get my thoughts in order. "You spend a few years playing games with guys wearing their underwear on their heads that want you dead, you get a little abrupt. I don't go near mosques or universities in case I lose it. I try to know my limits. I haven't killed anyone in a few years. I don't miss it, but I can't help think that it would solve a few persistent problems."

I got in my truck to visit my other close neighbors. I warned 'em that Elmer was down for a while and if he had any stock someone might want to take 'em home for a while. Terry was just to the West of me. He was married with a few kids and his wife's sister on the place. He ran a pretty big operation for a mountain farm. I let him know that I was a machinist and wouldn't mind fabricating anything goofy he needed like a pump housing for his tractor, but I'd need a schematic to do any milling work. I figured that I'd have a friend there sooner or later, once the 'new' wore off and they got used to me.

I went the other direction and talked to old man Simmons. He was a caution and not easy to get close to, but with Elmer for a neighbor I couldn't blame him. A six-pack of Model Negro was a good icebreaker. I had no problem giving him permission to wander and hunt anywhere on my place. I could tell that he was an avid hunter--his barn was covered with raccoon hides and deer antlers. He was a good guy, just trying to get along the best he could. I let him know that he could call on me if it went to shit.

I got in the new windows and epoxied the frames into the stone lintels. I worried a bit because it removed my ability of creating firing points by breaking out windows, but in exchange they were laminated glass that could, if not shrug off, then stop at least one RPG hit. I'd been trained to follow the doctrine that any bunker needed two ways out. It made a lot of sense to me. Over the winter I mused over how to provide a second avenue in and out of the cabin. With stone walls over a foot thick I knew that it would be more than a little work but it would alleviate that creepy 'trapped' feeling I'd been having.

It wouldn't be used casually so leaned towards the idea of a tunnel. I decided to expand on the idea of what the snakes had discovered--a foundation void. I could buy precast concrete tunnel segments made for sewer lines. The trick I saw was two-fold: keep out the snakes and make the tunnel and egress look natural. I decided to raise the entire ground profile at the back of the cabin by two feet then let it gradually run off to the cut in the hillside that led to the dry wash where my dump water went. Now how to keep out the snakes?

Critters don't like chemical irritants. I decided to use an old stand-by: moth balls, or para di-chloro benzene. You can heat up mothballs until they melt, then paint the resultant mess over a surface and let it harden. I buried the tunnel segments so that they angled a bit down and away from the cabin so that they wouldn't let in ground water, and sealed their junctions and at the foundation with plenty of construction adhesive. I faced the basement egress with an insulated panel that I could pop out of the hole and built a set of shelves with a solid back on rollers to sit over the doorway to disguise it. Engineering the exit end took some thought. I covered the egress with thorny brush and plugged the far end of the tunnel with two overlapping pieces of heavy plastic, like a flapper valve. It was damned near impossible to get in through, but possible. However, I could bull through it in a hurry from the inside and it would push away the brush from the top and bottom as I exited. I didn't have a way to deny access to anyone following me but for an escape mechanism it was the tits. I admit though, it was damned hard on the knees. The three-foot sewer pipe would even make a decent hide-out in case someone broke in and I had to wait them out. I later built a pocket into the back of the shelving to hold my firearms and ammo so that it would be available when and where I really needed it. Besides, It'd be a lot harder to find during a search that way.

My two years of probation ran out and died without a whimper. It took a load off my ass as I could get into a fight without worrying about landing back in prison in a heartbeat. I didn't worry so much about going to my favorite bar any more.

I saved up my money in an attempt to build up enough cushion to buy a replacement vehicle if my truck died or got trashed by someone. It was a Mitsubishi. I figured that ever since I'd moved to redneck land, it had a big target drawn on it because it wasn't a Ford, Chevy or GMC. How did that go? "If you've ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to defend your sister's honor you might be a redneck..."

I got goddamned tired of taking cold baths. I broke down and put in a water tank over a plywood floor, a water heater and a bath tub. The place was getting pretty cramped so I decided to build an addition off the back to hold my bathroom and a laundry. First, I had a big concrete septic tank put in off to one side. That took care of two month's spare bucks. Next I had an addition built onto the rear that started out life in the catalogs as a three-season room. I was too damned stubborn to buy into county electricity because I knew it would cut out at the first winter ice storm with no apology or reasonable guess as to how long it would take to fix. I had a generator installed in a shed out back. It was pretty damned quiet and fed off of the propane tank. I only had to run it while the washer and dryer needed the juice, and it made charging the 12-volt farm a lot simpler.

There went four more month's worth of discretionary funds.

Looking back on it, I must have felt more comfortable around there because the new construction certainly wasn't in line with the bullet-proof bunker design used by the rest of the cabin. As a matter of fact it took me two full weekends with a wet saw to cut a doorway through the back wall to get to the new room!

Round about October I had the water tank, electric water pump and water heater put in. That cleaned me out until January. I got a tub installed as soon as I could which sure improved my lifestyle. I had to save up for my tax bill, so it was June before I bought a cheap stacking washer and dryer.

In the mean time, I used some of my pin money to get a garden plot plowed out mixed with plenty of a farmer's composted manure pile. I used stakes and lines to figure out my row spacing before I planted. I'd spent a few Sunday afternoons at the library learning about simple gardening. I knew that it would be work, but the whole idea was to get more out of it than what I put in.

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