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.

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