The enormous, and ancient woods hung light with the weight of red and gold, and the sweet dusky smell of leaf rot mixed with wood smoke and wind. In the small openings in the trees, a small cabin stood watch over the wilting and rotting garden. Not in a diseased or pest ridden way, but a natural dust to dust rot so that the plants of this year would fertilize the ground, and provide the plants of next year with food for the season to come. The dust tracks sat well worn an dry from the absence of rain so that the car that made its way up the tracks kicked up clouds of dust in its wake, and rolled forward past the hood of the car, even as it stopped and the engine went silent, slight ripples from the heat of the engine causing the air to shimmer and bend above it.
A man with brown hair and a button up sat in the driver’s side seat and peered through the windshield at the cabin. Beside him sat a woman with blonde hair and behind them again sat a man and a woman dozing. On the front porch in a rocking chair sat an old woman with dry leathery skin, and who’s wrinkled hands held a long stemmed pipe. From her mouth issued a long trail of smoke that drifted out of her mouth, lazy with each draw on the stem. It seemed to hang beneath the brim of her wide hat until being blown away by the occasional drift of autumn wind. The lawn was covered in a layer of leaves, still light enough that the last green of summer still found its way upwards through the litter. A tall white sycamore stood to the left of the porch and hung over the roof like a totemic protector. It’s white bark was peeling in long strips in its preparation for the long winter months. As the man got out of the car looking nervous. Taking her pipe from her lips, and looking out at him from beneath her crinkled and battered hat, with a sharpness associated with birds of prey, then said in a strong voice,
“May I help you?”
“Yes please. Mam.” He said, adding the mam as its own separate word, as if remembering some small ritual
As she turned and crossed the threshold, he moved up the steps, and beneath the shadow of the porch. As he entered behind her, she was already walking across the room to a rotary phone that sat on a side table beside a small armchair. As she turned towards the phone, she felt the blow against the back of her head, and everything went black.
The man looked down at her body, and then went back to the door and waved his hand forward to the people in the car. The woman from the front and the woman from the back, got out of the car, and went to the man in the backseat, opening the back door and placing him between their shoulders. An opening on his shoulder, in the form of a floor, laid red against the open air. His napping in the car had been the lolling of someone between consciousness yes, but between life and death rather than dreaming and awake. As his legs dragged over the lawn and hit the stairs, he grunted in pain. The man held the door open as they got inside and closed the screen door behind him, latching it. Then closed the door and flipped the latch.
He turned around looked around at the room inside. The two woman had laid the Matt down on the ratty couch that occupied the space in front of a large iron wood stove. The rest of the room only contained an ancient rabbit eared television on an even older stand, and the armchair that stood beside the telephone. The woman on the ground stirred slightly, while her chest rose and fell.
“Laura, help me with her.” Dan said, pulling the extension cable of the television from the wall and pulling it over. They picked the woman up like a sack of grain and set her in the chair while Mary pressed the same shirt against Matt’s shoulder. Dan took the extension cable and began to pass it around the woman’s arms and chest and back behind the armchair in an attempt to secure her there. He tried as best he could to make what seemed to be a tight knot, but his fumbling fingers kept slipping and letting the cable go slack. Finally he found a way to twist it and turn it into something fairly acceptable and tight. Looking around he saw a turning staircase that leaned back towards them and overhead, and to the left a doorway that entered into a kitchen with a back door.
“I’m going to check upstairs for a first aid kit, keep an eye on her and yell if she wakes up.” Laura said as she walked towards the staircase and started up. At the top of the stairs she stood on the landing. To her right was a bedroom with a single bed she could see through the doorway, to her left was a bathroom, and at the end a closed door. She walked into the bathroom and started to search through the cabinets for bandages and rubbing alcohol. The house creaked under her feet as she walked around, and she could hear Matt’s groans from downstairs. She grabbed what she needed from the cabinets, as well as a recently filled yellow shaker that had a label OXYCONTIN. She hurried downstairs with her haul, and saw Julie and Dan standing above Matt, while behind them the woman in the armchair stared at them expressionless.
“I told you to watch her.” Laura said as she set the load down on the coffee table. Julie started sorting through the contents and looked up at Dan.
“Can you get some water for this?” She said holding up the bottle of pills. He walked obligingly into the kitchen, and the cupboard doors could be heard opening and closing in his search for glasses. Laura stared at the woman in the chair and she looked back with measured gaze.
“You should let me go.” The old woman said both matter of factly, and with no small trace of menace. “I already know what you did in town, and this won’t help you.” The old woman shifted her gaze to Julie and softened it with a kind, grandmotherly smile that one might use when explaining to a small child, but the smile stopped at her eyes which were hard like flint. Julie dropped her eyes from the woman’s gaze, and then looked towards Laura.
“Maybe we should leave Laura. We can just leave her tied up and make a run for it.” Julie looked uneasily at the woman in the chair. There was a bruise forming on the right side of her forehead and she seemed very frail in the larger armchair.
“No.” Laura looked away from the woman and towards the other three, “We’ve kicked the hornet’s nest and now it’s time to deal with them.” She walked over to the window and looked out, scanning the horizon, then turned back towards them.
“If we keep her here, we can trade for a way out. They don’t want her to die as much as we want to live.” She stepped over in front of the woman and looked down on her, then squatting looked her in the eyes.
“Am I wrong?” She said softly, searching for a clue in the old woman’s eyes. The old woman looked at her and said,
“No. You’re not wrong.” Laura smiled ever so slightly, like you might if you saw a kitten finally catch an insect, and turned towards the kitchen.
“Didja ever wunder ‘bout that town ya passt through? How’t looked like noone bin thar fer years? A regular old ghost town.” Laura stopped in front of the doorway.
“What do you mean?” Dan said, looking over from beside Matt. The old woman looked at them from the armchair with an air that exuded sympathy and grandmotherlyness.
“Something absurd I’m sure,” Said Laura from the door frame, “Don’t listen to whatever she has to say. Just keep an eye on her and I’m going to see where there’s a gun in this house.” She walked cast a glance around the kitchen, and then decided to look upstairs. Once the creaking stairs turned into boards squeaking overhead, Matt turned back to the woman and said, “What happened?”
The old Woman, seeing the captive audience in front of her, leaned back in the chair to relax. “Well, the best place to start is a beginnin.” She kicked her feet out as if she were on her front porch, the way that they’d found her and leaned her head back a bit, looking up at the ceiling.
“Back’n ’23, ‘fore thar waz pawer or water outthe tap. Tha lill town’a Daughtry was a decen’nough place ta live. Not ta say twas ‘citin, ya nnerstan?” She said looking at each of them, and seeing that she had a spellbound audience, “But I’was a decen nough place ta live. Things went on fairly normal until one day, group a people from the outside decided ta move inta town.”