A Conversation With Clovis Mouton, At The Tiki Bar

GOOD TO MEET YOU, BOYD. I’M CLOVIS MOUTON. I’m buying the next round if we’re talking. What are you drinking?

(Sometime Later…)

I never lied about a fish I caught or one that got away. Not a lot of fishermen can say that. I’ve lied my ass off about where I caught fish, but I always told The Gospel Truth about everything else.

What? Why lie about where I caught fish? Think about it. If I walked into a bar like this after a day on the water, bragging to every angler within earshot about all the fish I caught, and said where I caught them, there’d be a god damn fisherman’s convention out there next weekend when I went back! Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Mais yeah, it should make sense! *laughs*

Sailfish. That’s what brings me out here to Islamorada. Captain Chuck Higgins is the guy I use. Hired him to charter me every day this week. I always hire Chuck when I’m down here. I’m not gonna tell you where he takes me. Hire him next week if you want. *laughs*

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, right- I always lie about where I catch fish, but I always tell the truth, The Gospel Truth, about everything else. Cross my heart, Scout’s Honor, right hand to God. You believe me, don’t you? I have no reason to lie to you about anything else; follow me?

It’s important that you know I’m not bullshitting you when I tell you what I’m about to tell you. Trust me, I couldn’t spin a yarn like this one if I tried. Nobody could, not even Mark Twain. And I never told anybody about this before, not even my wife, and I tell her everything.

After all this time why tell you? Hell, Boyd, I don’t know. Maybe because I’m old, and probably because I’m a little drunk. And you just look like you’d be the type who’d understand; follow me?

It was all my fault, really. Can’t blame anybody else for it but me. I was working too much. Probably drinking too much, too. And I was lonely.

Years ago, not long after we’d gotten married, my wife’s sister’s baby boy passed away. Doctor said babies just die like that sometimes. They stop breathing, no good reason for it, and they die. Well, her sister was devastated. The daddy wasn’t in the picture. She was all alone up there in Kansas City.

I remember the phone rang at two in the morning. It was her sister. I hand the phone to my wife and she just sat there listening. Said she couldn’t live another day in a world where everything she loved would get taken away. Didn’t want to live anymore. My wife was on the next flight up there. Stayed with her and looked after her for damn-near six months. Six months, Boyd.

So like I was saying, I was lonely, I was putting-in too many hours at work, and maybe I was drinking more than I ought to have been.

Loneliness’ll do that to you. It’ll make you lose sight of The Bigger Picture; follow me?

The Bigger Picture? Okay, for example: me and my wife have been married for thirty-seven years. And damned if those years haven’t been good years. Real good years. Six months doesn’t amount to much when you look at it like that, hindsight being what it is. That’s what I mean by The Bigger Picture.

But I didn’t see things like that, back then. And maybe one mistake in thirty-seven years doesn’t amount to much either, Boyd, who knows?

Anyway, I had an affair. And I regretted it immediately. Still do. And I never told anybody about it. And I never told anybody about what happened after that either, that’s for damn sure! And that’s the most important part, Boyd.

It was with Abigail Duhon. Why she picked that dive on that Thursday night I will never know. She sat down at the bar next to me, and she wasn’t like the usual clientele who frequented that place. Most women like her drink down town; follow me? You don’t see old money being thrown around dive bars like that one. Bars like that are where people go when the money’s damn-near run out. But there she was, and damned if she wouldn’t leave me alone. Not that I made a herculean effort to fight-off her advances, either. Like I said, I was lonely.

I’ll put it this way- I missed my wife. I missed her terribly. But I missed the, what should we call it? Uh, the “connubial bliss,” I missed that more; follow me? A man can miss his wife like the French say- tu me manques, “You are missing from me,” or a man can miss his wife because a man has needs and she ain’t there to meet them. Well, that was how I justified it. “A man has needs, doesn’t he?”

I missed her too much the wrong way, Boyd.

The next morning Abigail was gone. Left me a note, “Had a nice evening Clovis, but it won’t happen again, take care of yourself” is what it said. And Boyd, do you want to know what the real irony was? I was too damn drunk that night to remember what the woman was like in bed, the next day! Not that I wanted to. I felt bona-fide horrible when the light of day shone on the decision I’d made, that morning. Horrible was all I felt.

I called my boss and told him I couldn’t come to work that morning. Told him I was sick. “Bullshit, you’re going fishing” he said. He was right of course. I’d already hooked the boat trailer up to the truck before I called him. He told me I could take the day off anyway, and I didn’t hear anything about it after that.

That’s when I met the Old Man, Boyd, down at the lake that afternoon. Christ, I still get the frissons when I think about… Him. He told me he was one-hundred and six years old, Boyd. Can you believe that? One-hundred and six years old, so help me God.

You’re going to need another drink for this, Boyd. You and me both. Tell Millie to make me another Test Pilot, and that I’d also like a Landshark with a lime, and order yourself whatever you’d like. Have her put it on my tab. I’ll be back in a minute.

I don’t like remembering him, Boyd. I thought -hell, hoped-beyond-hope- that the memory of meeting him would fade as I got on in years like all the other memories seem to, but it hasn’t; follow me? I don’t think even Alzheimer’s could erase it. God-forbid I ever get Alzheimers, of course.

I’m giving it all to you straight, Boyd. Just like I remember it, just like it was yesterday.

I was out there on the water in my old pirogue, about thirty or so yards from the bank just beyond the cypress trees and the lily pads. I hadn’t caught a damn thing all day, and it wasn’t because my mind was too wrapped-up in what’d happened the night before with Abigail, either. Nothing was biting.

Now, I’ve been fishing since I was eight years old and I know just as well as any other fisherman that days like that are why we call it “fishing” and not “catching.” So I cracked-open a beer and resigned myself to the fact that I’d be doing a whole lot more drinking than catching that day.

And that’s what brings us to him, Boyd. The Old Man. I was sitting there in my pirogue, drinking a beer, when I saw a tall, wiry-looking old man walking down the bank. He was wearing a pair of old blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and one of those bushman-style hats.

And he had a fly rod in his hand, of all things. In South Louisiana! Can you believe that, Boyd? “There’s no speckled trout within five-hundred square miles of here or more,” I thought to myself. I’d been throwing all my best lures and hadn’t got so much as a nibble all day, like walking through the TB ward and not even catching a cold; follow me?

“No way,” I thought, “is He going to catch anything with that fly rod.”

After a little while he picked a spot near the lily pads. I watched him cast a few times, that mid-air “back and forth, back and forth” way they do. A couple times he’d let that fly land on the water, and then he’d pull it off real fast and start all over again with that “back and forth, back and forth” stuff.

After a minute or two he made a cast and let the fly land on the water, right in the thick of those lily pads. I watched him strip a little bit of line, and then a little bit more, moving that fly along the surface of the water. All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, a fish hit that fly! Ever catch a bass top-water, Boyd? You see an explosion on the surface when the fish hits your popper, it’s wild! He pulled-back on that rod and I watched it bend with the weight of that fish. I watched him strip foot after foot of line until he had it on the bank, a nice little bass. He removed the fly from its mouth, inspected the fish for a moment, and then put it back in the water and let it swim away.

I opened another beer and kept on watching him. He’d cast in mid-air for several moments while surveying the water, looking for a spot he liked. Then he’d cast and let that fly land real gentle. Sometimes he’d leave the fly to sit there on the water for a minute or two and other times he’d strip some line and make it dart along the surface. And he caught three more fish that way, if you can believe it!

When he started walking toward another spot a little way down the bank from there, I pointed my pirogue at those lily pads and started making my way over to them. Damned if the fish didn’t seem to follow him though. *laughs* I tied-on one of my best popping lures and fished that spot for a damn hour, walking that lure through anywhere the way was clear, and didn’t get a single bite. And every time I’d look over at the Old Man he was turning another fish loose.

Didn’t take me long before I got fed-up with it and pointed my pirogue at the boat launch.

It was the curiosity that made me want to go talk to him. I wanted to know what the hell was on the end of his leader that the fish were so gaga for; follow me?

So after I’d gotten my pirogue back onto the trailer, I pulled my truck away from the boat launch, parked, and took-off down the bank in the direction I’d seen him walking.

When I found him he was kneeling down by the water, holding a large, bull chinquapin. Biggest one I’ve ever seen. I tell you Boyd, that sunfish must’ve weighed four pounds. He took what looked to me like a crude dragonfly out of the fish’s mouth, a then let it go.

“Nice catch” I said to him.

The Old Man didn’t say a word to me. He just stood-up slowly, and when he turned to me, Boyd I swear… The Old Man didn’t have any eyes

I said he had no god damn eyes!

Well he had, I don’t know damn it, just skin, shiny skin, scarred-like, over where his eyes should’ve been. I was staring right into his eyeless face, Boyd, and I could feel him staring back at me somehow!

No! No, I’m not kidding! I told you already, this is The Gospel Truth!

I’m trying to calm down! Where’s Millie? I need her to bring me another god damn drink.

When the Old Man turned to me, I forgot all about the fish. I forgot about Abigail Duhon and my wife, too. All I could do was stare into that eyeless face of his.

What’d the Old Man look like apart from having scarred patches of skin over where his eyes should’ve been, you mean? Well, he was a white man. And his face was long, and weathered. Tanned, too, like he’d been in the sun a lot. Strong jaw, and you could see the muscles under his cheeks when they twitched. And like I said before, he was wiry. Wiry but not frail. He was more sinewy-looking, tough. But he was tall, too, with long arms and long legs.

I don’t know how long I was standing there, staring at him, but he snapped me out of it when he spoke to me.

“Something’s bothering you” he said.

What’d I say back to him? Shit, Boyd, I said the only thing I could say back to him!

“Sir, you don’t have any eyes.”

“I know,” he said, “I burned them out, Clovis.”

Yes that’s right, the Old Man said he burned-out his own god damn eyeballs! Burned them right out of his own head! And yes he called me by my name, and before you ask- no, I have no idea how he knew what my name was!

Well of course I asked him why the hell he did it! And he told me, too! Told me the whole story and I remember it all, word-for-word:

“I met Alexandra, my wife, when I was eighteen years old. I loved her the moment I met her. I married her two months later. She gave me sixty-seven years of her life and eleven beautiful children, Clovis. And never, in that entire time, did I ever so much as look at another woman.

When she died, I swore I’d never fall in love again. I was an old man by then, didn’t think I could, anyway. But I’m still a man after all, and after she’d been gone a while, my eyes started looking. Much as I didn’t want them to, they looked. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, I’d look up and my eyes would find another woman, and they’d try to make me fall in love with her.

One morning I was at church, and my eyes kept looking up at a woman who was singing in the choir, when they should’ve been looking down at the words in the hymnal I was holding. I decided right then and there that something had to be done.

When I got home from church that afternoon I started a fire in the fireplace. Once it was going real good, I left the tip of a poker to sit in there and warm-up. I said prayers while it got good and hot. And once it was glowing red, I took it out of the fire and burned my eyes out with it. First the right one and then the left one.”

I was staring right at it and I still couldn’t believe it. And I don’t know what scared me worse- the scars where his damn eyes should’ve been, the fact he’d done it to himself, or Hell, that it felt like the Old Man could still see me somehow. Boyd, I’m telling you, I’d never been so scared in all my life, and Lord I hope I never am again, I’d probably have a heart attack and die!

And get this, Boyd. After he told me that story, after I had time to think about it, process it, I asked him how the hell he got himself down to the lake that afternoon.

Know what he told me?

He said, “I thought my way here…”

No I am not bullshitting you, Boyd! This what he told me, I swear to God!

“…after I ate my breakfast” he said, “I decided I wanted to go fishing. So I sat down in my rocking chair, started rocking back-and-forth, back-and-forth real good until I was real relaxed, and then I started thinking about the lake. Thinking about it real hard you know, like I could almost see it. And before I knew it, I could see it. Not with my eyes of course, they’re long gone. I’m talking about seeing it in my mind. And before I knew it, here I was.”

I can’t make this shit up!

I told him I didn’t believe him, that it was impossible! What the hell else do you think I told him? And you know what the Old Man said to me? I’ll tell you-

“Clovis,” he said, “I’m a hundred and six years-old, and I’m blind. You don’t honestly believe that I walked all the way here from Lafayette, do you?”

That’s why I never told anybody about it, Boyd! Because of how crazy it all sounds. I was afraid they’d have me committed!

Care to know what else he told me? He said that if I ever went looking for Abigail Duhon again, or any other girl for that matter, he’d let me borrow his fire poker. Said he’d bring it to me, himself! That’s what sent me running back to my truck, Boyd. That’s what put the fear of God in me.

So do you believe me, Boyd? Or do you think I’m crazy?

Hell no I haven’t! And if Millie has a Bible under the bar somewhere I’ll swear on it! I was never unfaithful again after that. Do you understand, Boyd? never again after that! At first it was because I was terrified the Old Man would come looking for me, ready to burn out my eyeballs with that fire poker of his. But after a while I guess you could say I started looking more at what I had, and not so much at what-all was going on out there; follow me?

I didn’t want to go on another ten, twenty years without telling someone about it. I couldn’t. Hell, I’ve carried it around with me for so long already that the idea of going another day without telling somebody about it felt like it’d kill me.

Imagine going all that time after something like that, thinking nobody’d believe you. Thinking they’d call you crazy.

I knew you’d understand. Christ, Boyd, I feel like a damn millstone’s been lifted from around my neck.

(Thirty-Six Years Earlier…)

An orderly at the Maison De Lafayette rest home checks-in on her favorite resident- a blind centenarian who often regales her with stories about his deceased wife, their children, their grandchildren, and occasionally- fly fishing. Sometimes he tells her about things that haven’t happened yet, like the time he told her that her she’d become pregnant with twins. The door to his room doesn’t fit right in the jamb, and it creaks loudly as she opens it.

“Bonnie, is that you?” he calls.

“You knew it was me before I opened the door” she answers, making her way to him. She’s smiling.

He’s in his rocking chair, by the only window in his room. The window is open, and the sunlight and the breeze coming through makes the room feel expansive.

Reaching him she places her hand on his shoulder. He pats her hand gently, and smiles.

“Be a dear and hang my fishing hat up over there, would you Bonnie?”

“All done fishing for the day, are we?”

“Yes ma’am, I think so.”

“Let me put your fishing rod away for you, too, then.”

He smiles. “Thank you, Bonnie. I appreciate that.”

Once his hat and his fly rod are put away, she pulls a chair up next to him, and they begin to talk.

“Catch anything good at the lake today?”

“As a matter of fact Bonnie, I did! But I can tell you all about that later. Right now I want to hear about how your babies are doing.”

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

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A Conversation With Clovis Mouton, At The Tiki Bar

The Landlord

“GOD DAMN IT, ROBBIE DOMINGUE,” she shouted, “deposit the god damn rent check already! It’s the eighteenth for crying out loud!”

He heard her over the din blasting from his headphones. Not her exact words per-se, but the sounds she was making. He removed the cans at once.

“What’s that, babe? Everything okay?”

“NO!”

She stormed from the kitchen into his office, smartphone in-hand, on-line banking app open, account balance at-the-ready. Reaching him she thrust her hand forward, forking-over the latest evidence of their Landlord’s ineptitude for him to examine.

He took it, and after adjusting his glasses, he peered at the cool, luminescent screen.

“Oh wow, there’s almost twenty-five hundred dollars in our checking account!”

“Yeah, because once-again that lazy-ass Robbie Domingue has yet to deposit our rent check!”

He chuckled to himself and shook his head.

“It must be nice y’know, to have so much money that you could just ignore a check for twelve-hundred dollars.”

“Repeatedly.”

“Yeah.”

She was pissed.

He pushed himself and his office chair backward, then reached for her and pulled her onto his lap. She couldn’t not giggle, and her little nose crinkled when she did. He adored it when she giggled like that. Her petite body resting on his lap felt good. She nuzzled his neck with her face, and that felt good to him too.

“Babe, what are we gonna do?” She asked him.

The next track on the playlist roared from his headphones, and she stopped.

“My Lord that’s loud! What’s that ‘song’ you’re listening to?” She used her fingers to put air-quotes around the word “song” when she said it.

“That’s ‘Cashing In.'”

(Ha-ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ho. How do you do, I don’t think that we’ve met. My name is Ian, and I’m from Minor Threat!)

She giggled again, and declared “It sounds terrible.”

He growled, then pulled-up her shirt and gave her a vigorous raspberry, right in the middle of her tummy. Her giggling turned to laughter and her nose crinkled again.

They lived in a three bedroom, two bathroom house which they referred to as The Love Nest. They rented it from one Mr. Robbie Domingue, an affable but terribly absent-minded and lazy Landlord who had never, in their entire history at that address, deposited any of their rent checks in a timely manner.

“But seriously, though! It’s like he doesn’t even want our money!”

“Who on Earth doesn’t want money?”

“Yeah. Even Ian from Minor Threat likes money!”

(I’m takin’ a walk on the yellow-brick road. I only walk where the bricks are made of gold. My mind and body are the only things that I’ve sold. I need a little money, ‘cuz I’m gettin’ old…)

She was laughing again.

It wasn’t just the fact that their Landlord was forever making a liar of their checking account, though. It was so much more than that and sadly, a lot of it had to do with The Love Nest itself, and the fact that Robbie Domingue materialized to fix the various problems they’d had with that house with roughly the same frequency as he’d materialize at the bank the first of every month to deposit their rent checks.

She’d settled into the tub one evening to enjoy a steaming-hot bubble bath after work. The tub was filling up, and he was in the kitchen, pouring a glass of wine for her, when the silence was broken by an abrupt shout-

“Oh my God I broke the hot water!”

He set the wine bottle on the counter and rushed into the bathroom. There she was, up to her neck in bubbles, while the hot water ran with reckless abandon. She was holding the knob in her hand.

“It just popped right off!”

“No problem babe, hold on just a sec!”

He dashed to the hall closet and rifled through the shoeboxes full of pictures, the shopping bags full of Christmas ornaments, and all the other sundry stuff looking for anything that resembled a useful tool.

He returned with vice grips, and torqued their toothy mouth parts down hard onto the little screw part protruding from the wall. Once secured, he gave it a few good turns, shutting off the water.

Later that evening, she’d texted Robbie Domingue about it. Not long after he answered her, apologizing. He mentioned that the previous tenants had problems with the hot water knob too, and that he’d “swing-by to fix it ASAP.”

Several months passed, and the vice grips remained the primary apparatus for turning the hot water on and off in the shower. Robbie had texted another apology a few weeks after it happened:

Hey! really sorry I haven’t been by to fix the faucet been traveling for work I’ll come by this week and fix it ASAP!!!!

But that had been it. Robbie never got around to actually coming over and fixing it. And they had never heard from Robbie about it again after that.

The twenty-fifth rolled around, and according to her on-line banking statement, the rent check had finally been deposited. The drier gave a loud buzz, alerting her to the fact that dry, toasty-warm bedsheets that smelled fantastic awaited her behind its flip-down door. She put down her cellphone, and went to unload the drier.

Moments later she walked into their room to put the fresh sheets on the bed. Entering the room she flipped the switch on the wall by the dresser. The ceiling fan began to turn, but the lights mounted below it did not spring to life. She reached for the chain suspended below and gave it a tug. The ceiling fan, the entire thing lights and all, came crashing down onto the bed, followed by a cascade of plaster dust, and little bits of pink insulation from the attic.

“Fuuuuuck!” she shouted.

He was on his way home from fly fishing when he got her text:

You won’t believe this. The ceiling fan in our bedroom fell out of the god damn ceiling a minute ago.

While stopped at a red light, he texted-back:

Oh for fuck’s sake.

And she text-replied-back with:

Yeah. Texting Domingue.

Later that evening, while he was cooking dinner, he heard her phone ding-ding twice from the table. It was a text from Robbie Domingue. He picked up her phone and walked down the hall to the bathroom with it. He gave a soft knock at the bathroom door.

“Yeah?”

“Hey baby, it’s me.”

“Yeah? Me who?”

“Me. Your husband. Do you recognize my voice?”

Giggling- “What?”

“Are you peeing?”

She giggled again, and then added “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”

“Well, Robbie Domingue texted you back, finally.”

“Yeah, what did he say? Will he be here to fix the ceiling fan in the bedroom ‘A-S-A-P’?”

“Winner winner, chicken dinner” he deadpanned.

She cackled. He smiled and went back to cooking dinner.

Several weeks and a smattering of text messages from Robbie Domingue begging them to forgive him for his tardiness in getting-around to fixing their ceiling fan later, an electrician friend of theirs came by the house and fixed it for them, asking for nothing more in return than an invitation to stay for dinner. They happily obliged.

Not long after, on a Friday, he was returning home from an absolutely shit day at the ponds. His Boss had given him the day off. He’d wanted to go catch fish, but hadn’t felt like driving out to Lake Martin, or to the bar pits in Henderson. He’d opted instead to visit the small, two-acre drainage ponds he was fond of, in a nearby neighborhood. Hardly anybody fished there, and most of the time he could catch blue gill all the livelong day and not be bothered. It hadn’t been one of those days though. Nothing was biting.

His sour mood lifted when he returned home and saw her ‘vette in the driveway. He knew she’d gone to veiller with her mother and aunt earlier that afternoon and figured she’d still be there.

He parked, unbuckled his seatbelt, made sure to turn the volume on the stereo down from a 42 to a 6 lest she get punched in the ears by his music the next time they got in there to drive somewhere together, killed the engine and exited the Jeep.

He came in through the back door, to the kitchen. And there she was.

On entering he announced “There’s my baby” with a happy exuberance in his voice.

She didn’t respond. She just stood there, looking up at the ceiling.

“What’s going on, babe?” he asked.

Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling and she raised her index finger, pointing in the direction she was looking just as a large water droplet fell, landing on his head with a soft, wet thump.

“What the Hell?”

He looked up. The ceiling was soggy from the edge of the fluorescent light fixture up there, all the way to the back door.

“Something’s leaking up there!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Fuck, could it be the roof?”

“No, I don’t think it’s the roof. It hasn’t rained in a couple of weeks.”

The Love Nest’s attic was accessible by way of a panel in the ceiling of the spare bedroom. He gave the cord affixed to it a tug. It opened, and out came the fold-up wooden steps. And what piss-poor shape they were in, too. The bottom segment barely held on to the frame of the segment above it, and several of the steps on both segments were broken. It looked like nobody had ascended them to the attic in years, which made perfect sense to them because Lord knew, it’d probably take another several years for Robbie Domingue to show up and take care of which ever tenant’s request it was -probably the first, probably fifteen fucking years ago- to come and fix them.

“You’re way too heavy to get up those steps safely, babe. I’ll have to go.”

“You’re probably right. But I don’t want you on those steps, either. Look at them!”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, No problem. Here’s what we do- I’m going to lift you up, and you’re going to grab that top step up there. It looks solid. Then, I’ll boost you up by your feet, and you can pull yourself the rest of the way in. Sound good?”

“Mmmhm.”

He took his petite wife by the waist and hoisted her up overhead. She took hold of the top step and it did indeed feel solid. Next he stooped, took her by the feet, and boosted her the rest of the way in while she pulled herself up.

“Alright babe, make your way in the direction of the kitchen and see if you can find the source of the leak.”

Moments later she hollered-back to him, “Found it! It’s a little clear plastic tube. It’s all wet, and I can hear it hissing.”

“I bet that’s the line that runs water to the fridge!”

“Huh?”

“The water and the ice maker in the fridge;” he hollered more loudly, then adding “I bet that’s where it gets the water from.”

“Oh yeah, definitely! It looks like it’s coming from where the pantry is, I think.”

The water heater occupied a small alcove just off the pantry. He wasn’t a plumber, but it still made sense in a plumbing sort of way that the line which fed water to the fridge would terminate in that alcove somewhere. It also made sense in a Robbie Domingue sort of way that it would pick today to start leaking.

“Alright, stay up there and keep your eye on it. I’m gonna go see if I can find where it ends. Stand-by.”

“It’s absolutely soaking-wet up here!”

A second or two later he was in the pantry, opening the makeshift door which hid the alcove in which the water heater stood. Four clear plastic tubes like the one she’d described snaked up the wall.

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a couple-few down here. I’m gonna pull on each one. Shout if you see it move.”

“Okay!”

He took hold of the first and gave it a yank.

“Anything?”

“Nope.”

He tried the second. Nothing.

Then he gave the third a yank, and she shouted “It moved!”

“Okay! Stay there and keep watching. I’m gonna see if I can find a shut-off knob or something down here.”

He began to trace the tube, down the wall, part-way across the floor where it coiled several times over, and then into the wall the alcove shared with the kitchen, by way of a large, raggedy hole. He remembered seeing similar coils of tubing under the sink.

“Hang tight, baby!”

He dashed into the kitchen, opened the cabinet below the sink, and peered in. Sure enough, way in the back, were two more of those tubes. One in particular had a little metal valve on it.

“I think I’ve got it. Holler if the hissing stops!”

He flipped the valve into what he figured would be the “off” position.

“It stopped!” she shouted.

After helping her down from the attic, he sent a text message to Robbie Domingue:

There was a leak in the attic ceiling in kitchen soaked. Shut-off fridge water to stop leak. Ceiling will need to be repaired.

Several minutes later Robbie returned the volley, with:

Really sorry!!!!! In Shreveport for work till next fri

And:

will handle that for ya’ ASAP when I get back!!!!!!

And the dingy-looking brown stain on the kitchen ceiling, and the bubbled, peeling sheetrock the stain clung to, had henceforth remained un-handled, even until the day they found the dead body.

He didn’t want her climbing into, or around in, that attic ever again. If the condition of the rafters up there was anything like the shape those steps were in, he surmised, it was better that he should fall through the ceiling than her.

They had been cleaning-up the other spare bedroom, the one they called The Calamity Room. It was where they’d put old clothes, all the things they didn’t use like that old bicycle, and boxes of Christmas ornaments, stuff like that.

For want of storage space anywhere else in the house, he set about moving the bike, the bins full of old clothes, the boxes of computer parts and old CD’s, and so forth, into the attic. He climbed the decrepit steps as gingerly as he could, and was relieved when he reached the attic safely.

From below, she hoisted the boxes and bins up to him. The bicycle was trickier, but they managed.

Once finished, he stopped to have a look around. Aside from their things, there wasn’t much else up there, save for a large cardboard box or two in corner, along with an old rocking horse and a large steamer trunk. The dust and the cobwebs on them were thick, like they’d been left there the day after the house was built and were forgotten about.

“Babe,” she called up to him, “are you about done? I don’t like you being up there so long.”

“Yeah baby, I just want to check out this stuff I found over here in the corner.”

“What, that old hobby horse?”

“Yeah.”

“That fucking thing’s evil-looking.”

And it was. What he could see of it’s painted-on expression through the dust, anyway. And the scaffolding of cobwebs that arose from the beams up to it’s nose enhanced the effect. He gave it’s nose a tap and it rocked, and stirred up some dust which looked like smoke in the beam of his flashlight.

Next he turned his attention to the old steamer trunk. A large thing, it reminded him of the kind of trunk you’d see floating around in the icy water near the Titanic while it sank. There was no lock, its lid was sealed only by a film of dust, and a buckle affixed to a leather strap.

“There’s a big-ass trunk up here! I’m going to have a look inside, maybe there’s something valuable in there.”

“Okay.”

“Antiques Roadshow here we come!”

He heard her giggling. “I’m not holding my breath!”

He unfastened the buckle and removed the leather strip from it. He raised the lid, and a gentle creek emerged from the hinges. What greeted him next was the musty scent of dry rot with notes, oddly enough, of old beef jerky. It wasn’t so much a stench but rather, what remained left-behind after whatever had caused a stench had run its course.

He shined his flashlight into the trunk.

His heart stopped mid-beat and his lungs stopped mid-breath at the sight of what greeted him from inside the steamer trunk.

There before him lie what was left of the body of what appeared to be a smallish woman -definitely a smallish old woman, curled up in the fetal position, with a multicolored mumu clinging to her desiccated frame. Her head was turned sharply to the left, several degrees farther than a human head is supposed to turn. The vista of her skull, replete with empty eye sockets and patches of preserved tissue still clinging to it, looking up at him and grinning wildly, gave his mind the impetus it needed to command his brain to flood the rest of his system with adrenaline, freeing him from the suspended animation the fright had gripped him with.

With no regard for safety he bolted across the attic, negotiating each beam with wild, clumsy, ambling strides in the direction of the light which shone through the open trapdoor.

She dove out of the way of his feet and watched from the floor as the rest of his body followed, assholes-and-elbows, in a cloud of dust and cobwebs. A split second later he, too, was on the floor, and he launched his body toward the corner opposite them in a frantic lunge. Once there he stood, and pressing the palms of his hands against the walls as hard as he could, in an effort to center himself, he tried to get his breathing under control.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” he whispered, on every quick exhalation.

She dashed to him.

“Baby, baby what is it? What happened?” she asked, with the tone of a calm-but-urgent concern for her husband in her voice.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

“Baby? Baby? What is it?” she asked again, with a voice still concerned, but more soothing this time, while she rubbed his chest firmly with the palm of her hand.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! Fuck!”

“What is it my baby?”

“Body. Fuck. Dead body in the trunk. Dead body in the fucking trunk!”

She thought of the trunk of her car first, but that wasn’t rational. Obviously he was being irrational. So she rubbed his chest harder, and squeezed his upper-arm with her other hand.

“Baby, what body? What trunk?”

He gasped and then his knees buckled. His ass hit the floor hard. He looked up at her, and after a deep breath, offered “That trunk in the attic. There’s a dead body in it, so help me God a dead body in the fucking trunk.”

He joked around with her all the time. It was one of the things she loved about him. But his demeanor was not indicative of any light-hearted bullshitting and playful skullduggery. He was telling the truth. And where the truth had rendered him scared shitless when first he glanced at it, it had now rendered him completely horrified after validating its existence up there in the attic, by speaking it out-loud.

Her eyes, which always reminded him of Princess Jasmine’s from that Disney movie, immediately became red at the edges, and welled-up with tears. Seeing this, he felt the sutures she’d fastened the fissures in his heart back together with begin to burn, and he snapped-out the horror-induced fugue. He was on his feet with a jolt, in time to catch her as she collapsed in a fit of tears against his body.

He held her for a long time. Then she held him.

Robbie Domingue set his tallboy of Budweiser down on the deck next to the folding chair he was sitting in, and dug after the vibrating cellphone in his pocket. There hadn’t been so much as a nibble on any of his lines all evening. The boat bobbed up and down gently in the water. He removed the cell from his pocket, inspected the screen, and answered forthwith-

“Hey there! How’s it going at the house?”

“Robbie *crackle* fucked, Robbie *crackle* completely *crackle* fucked!”

“What’s that? I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you, I’m out here on the boat and the signal is terrible.”

“This is important *crackle* important God damn it *crackle crackle* big problem!”

“A problem? Hello?”

“Hello? *crackle* Big fucking *crackle* ass here right fucking now!”

“Aw gee I’m sorry. I’m out here at my camp for the next two weeks.”

“*crackle* the fuck you are!”

“I’m really sorry about this. But listen, you or your wife just text me. Whatever it is, text me a reminder in the next week or so, and when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP!”

“You *crackle* be fucking kidding *crackle*!”

“Alright got that? Just text me a reminder! Thanks!” *boop*

*sound of dead air*

The impact against the tile floor exploded his cellphone into a million shiny pieces. It made her jump.

“Baby!”

He stretched-out his arms, extended the index fingers on both of his hands upward, and then lowered his head, and took-in an inhalation through his nose so gargantuan as to inflate his belly so much that it made him look fat. He held the air inside him, and stood motionless. Then, with a huge heave he exhaled and slowly lowered his arms, placing his hands on her shoulders gently.

“I’m really, really sorry about that, my baby.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, you’ll be relieved to know that while we’re tidying-up around the house and discovering bodies in the attic, our erstwhile Landlord is relaxing, and taking-in a beautiful evening on his boat.”

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“Where?”

“I have no idea, his signal kept cutting-out. He could be all the way out in Gulf Shores for all I know. He could be anywhere!”

“Did he say anything else? And please don’t tell me what I think he told you.”

“I caught ‘reminder in the next week’ and ‘when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP’.”

“Oh my God this is such fucking bullshit!”

Level-headed, rational individuals sometimes make not-level-headed, irrational decisions when pushed beyond their collective wit’s end and by-and-large, they oughtn’t be faulted for it. They discussed calling the Police as they sat at the table, poring-over the day’s events and what to do about them. Neither of them were thinking clearly but then, who would be? They hadn’t had much luck with the cops when trouble arose in times past, and the whole story- the house, the problems with the house, their absentee landlord, all culminating in the grizzly discovery of a desiccated corpse upstairs seemed too ridiculous to believe.

“It’s insane!” she’d exclaimed.

“Yeah, and there’s no way they’ll buy it. Getting the cops involved will probably just make it all worse.”

“Mmmhm.”

“Probably best to not report it. Just let sleeping dogs lie, y’know?”

“Yeah. But what do we do about-”

“About the body?”

“Yeah?”

“Well it goes without saying she can’t stay here!”

“I can’t believe we’ve been sleeping under the same roof as a corpse. Oh my God, I’m gonna throw up…”

He loaded the steamer trunk into the back of his Jeep. It was 1:30 AM, and the humidity still hung heavy in the air.

He opened the door for her and helped her up into her seat, then he piled-in. He turned the key, the engine roared to life, and after grabbing the volume knob on the stereo and turning it the rest of the way to zero -neither were in any mood at all for music- he flipped-on the headlights, and they took off.

She gripped his hand tight and stared straight ahead, as he drove.

Finally, she spoke-up. “Do we have anything that even vaguely resembles a plan?”

“Well, I’ve never gotten rid of a dead body before.”

“I should hope not…”

He laughed uncomfortably, then offered “That said, I was thinking we could just dump her over the swamp bridge. Hopefully what’s left of her will sink, and it’ll be like she’s been down there under the water for years if anybody finds her, and that’ll be that. So, I move that we dump her over the bridge into the Basin. What do you think about that?”

“Sounds faster than digging a hole somewhere and it gets her the fuck out of our house. I second that motion.”

“Motion seconded. All in favor, say ‘aye.’”

They said “aye” in unison.

“All opposed?”

Silence.

Several minutes later they were heading East on I-10 toward the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. There they’d have twenty-six miles-worth of water to decide where to dispose of the corpse.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the bridge, and that was a relief. Once on it, they began to discuss where, exactly, to drop off their passenger.

“I’m thinking the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel would be a good place,” she said.

“Sounds like a good bet, to me.”

She looked to him and they nodded slowly together, sealing their agreement.

He checked the rear-view, nobody was behind them. He brought the car to a halt cautiously, on the shoulder. He killed the headlights. A few moments passed before several eighteen-wheelers passed-by, opposite them. Things settled down not long after that, and soon there were no headlights approaching from either direction, signaling in-bound company.

Before leaving The Love Nest, after bringing the trunk down from the attic, he’d wiped it clean of dust and fingerprints. He had also grabbed a fresh pair of those yellow, rubber dishwashing gloves from the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. He withdrew them from his back pocket and put them on.

“Stay here, baby. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“Please let me help you.”

“I don’t want you to have to see her. Plus, I only brought one pair of gloves and I don’t want your fingerprints on anything.”

He got down, and after he closed the door, she hopped over into the driver’s seat and took the wheel. “It’ll be way faster for us to get the Hell out of here,” she thought to herself as she buckled-up.

He removed the steamer trunk from the back of the Jeep. It was heavy, but easy enough for him to manage. He set it down on top of the concrete guardrail, and flipped the lid open. He didn’t care to see her himself, either, not again. No way.

He tipped the trunk over, and felt the weight of the contents take leave of it. Hearing a series of soft splashes below, he let-go of the trunk, and another, slightly louder splash assured him that they had once again successfully handled a problem that Robbie Domingue should have taken care of, “ASAP.”

He didn’t have to look at the Jeep to discern what she’d been thinking moments earlier. He had just to turn, open the passenger’s side door, and jump in. And just as soon as his ass was in the seat, her foot was on the pedal.

[…]

They awoke the following morning to an incessant pounding coming from the living room. He was still clutching her to him, just as he had been earlier that night when they were finally able to retire after the previous day’s ordeal. She was still clinging-fast to his arms. Neither had moved.

*bang* *bang* *bang*

They rose and made themselves relatively presentable- she in her robe and he, in his pajama pants. They went to the front door. He opened it.

They were greeted by a young couple, each twenty-something, and behind them was a large moving truck.

“Oh what’s this happy horse shit?” she inquired of their morning visitors, with more than just a dash of irritation peppering her voice.

“Hi,” the husband said, “we’re really sorry to bother you-”

His wife interjected, with “Yes! Really, really sorry, but-”

The husband continued, “I’m Robbie Domingue’s nephew, Ted. Two months ago he said we could rent this house.”

“Yes,” Ted’s wife affirmed, “Ted is Robbie Domingue’s nephew. Robbie said we could rent the house.”

“Yeah, uh, we saw your Jeep out there, and your Corvette in the driveway, and wait,” Ted peered inside, “is that your living room couch in there?”

“Has Robbie talked to y’all about this?”

“Uncle Robbie told us month before last that your lease was about to end, and that he’d tell you he’d decided to rent the house to us, ‘ASAP,’ so you’d have plenty of time to move-out and stuff. Gave us today as our move-in date, and everything.”

Staring slack-jawed at the couple, in silence, was the only response they could muster. Neither of them could believe it, but at the same time, it totally made sense. All of it.

Ted and his wife just stood there, looking at the two of them.

Answering Ted, after several more moments of gobsmacked silence, he said “No problem, just give my wife and me until noon to be out of your way.”

Ted and his wife were nodding in perplexed agreement as the front door closed on them.

He put his arms around the small of her back and held her close. She felt good pressed against him, and he gave a huge sigh. She placed the palm of her hand on his chest, and began to laugh. And after a moment, he was laughing right along with her.

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

The Landlord

The Beekeepers

HE’D LIVED BACK EAST IN PITTSBURGH FOR FIVE YEARS before moving South to Louisiana. He stood on the patio by the back door, watching the pup as he vacillated from prancing to ambling about the yard gaily. As he watched he thought about how, in the entire time he’d lived in Pittsburgh, he’d never seen a Sunday afternoon so beautiful. He’d lived in Louisiana for one month and aside from a passing thunderstorm that welled-up to welcome him home the day after he’d arrived, there had been no slow, incessant drizzle, no soul-crushing, gray skies; just day after day of glorious sunshine. He marveled at it. A smile broke as he watched the pup chasing after a butterfly at the precise moment that the thought “And I’ll never have to shovel snow ever again” occurred to him.

“Okay! I’m just about ready to go!” her voice arose from inside, in the kitchen.

His smile widened when he heard her. He always either smiled, or smiled wider, when the silence was broken by her voice.

“Alright, babe. Let me get our little gargoyle back inside…”

He called for the pup, who’d taken to answering to his name damn-near right away when they’d gotten him, and he came quickly, assholes-and-elbows as all fat-and-happy pups do when their master calls for them, offering treats. A minute later, as she was putting the grocery list they’d been writing-up into her purse, the pup was fast asleep in his little dog bed by the sofa, snoring and giving soft barks.

She giggled at the audible wuffs and snarls and said “I love that. That never gets old.”

“He’s probably dreaming about chasing those butterflies.”

They were off and he was driving. Errands helped him learn how to find his way around, and though “shopping for groceries” probably seems like the most mundane of all the things you could be doing together on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, he was enjoying himself. She was singing along to Eva Cassidy and her hand rested on his thigh. He took her hand, and sighed. It didn’t matter much to him what they were doing, his elation that they were doing it together, finally, was all.

“Oh babe! Quick, turn Right, here-” she said as they approached the side-street that would take them the other way across town and eventually spit them out on the Interstate.

“Here? But isn’t the store the other way?”

“Yes, but we need honey and we’ll get that from the farm first.”

“Honey from the farm? Sounds like a hot ticket to me” he said, making a hard right and hammering the accelerator. Had it not been for the seatbelt she was wearing, she’d have ended up in his lap. She giggled loudly.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun, you’ll enjoy the drive out there and back.”

The sky that stretched-out above the interstate was expansive and the horizon looked to be a thousand miles away. The long stretch of flat, straight road pleaded with him to let it all unwind, go Wide-Fucking-Open, and make all those cylinders work for a living. The windows were down and the fresh air that buffeted them, and the sound of the road, and the music, had the effect of a dose of morphine administered straight to the soul, everything melted into a feeling of deep wellbeing.

Four exits whizzed-by before he rolled the windows up half-way, so he could ask where, exactly, they were going.

“You’ll be taking the next exit, and making a Left,” she told him.

“Next exit, then Left. Got it!”

Two and a quarter miles and a Left after the exit later, they were cruising down a back country road that cut through the sugarcane fields and crawfish ponds. Occasionally colorful little shotgun houses or larger Acadian-style homes would appear. Some were built-up, the result, she said, of the insurance companies demanding that they be raised after flooding had damaged them. Spanish moss and resurrection fern draped the ancient oak trees that lined the road and that stood immovable in the yards of the people who lived there. Some of them were gargantuan.

“Alright babe, what’s this place look like, what am I looking for?”

“I always get mixed-up down here, have we passed the little cattle farm yet? It’s about a mile or two down the road from there.”

“I don’t think so, all I’ve seen is cane fields and houses, and crawfish ponds.”

“Those crawfish ponds will be re-purposed into rice paddies soon as crawfish season is over.”

“Really?”

“Mmmmhm.”

“Crawfish season? That’s a thing?”

“Yep, sure is.”

“When’s it end?”

“In another month or two.”

“Well shit. We need to go eat crawfish again before that happens. Probably three or four more times at-least.”

She laughed.

“Oh! I see cows!”

She leaned forward to have a look.

“That’s the one, we’re almost there, but–”

As they approached he slowed the car. There were indeed cattle in the pasture that faced the road. From farther away, when he’d first taken notice of them, they looked as if they were lying in the field, lazing in the warm afternoon sun. But as the picture slowly came into focus the closer they got, an altogether different reality began to reveal its self.

The cows weren’t lying down relaxing. They were dead. Fifteen head of cattle in that small pasture lie there, swollen and bloated in the sun.

“That’s… That’s… “ she stammered.

He checked the rear-view, and seeing no motorists behind them, he brought the car to a halt in the middle of the road.

He answered her, with- “That’s not normal, that’s what that is.”

A small farmhouse stood at the end of a long driveway which was flanked on both sides by pasture. Pasture littered with dead cattle that looked like large red and white boulders. The front door stood open, and a Sheriff’s cruiser was parked nearby next to a large pickup truck.

“No. Not normal at all…”

He checked the rear-view. Still not a car in-sight. They could rubberneck all the livelong day it they wanted to, it seemed, and that seemed not normal to him, too. No, not normal at all, and neither of them wanted to rubberneck.

She spoke up- “At least the cops are here.”

“They’ll figure it out, whatever it is.”

He eased-off the brake and once again they were moving down the road toward their destination. The feeling in the car however, was different. The air inside felt thick. The feeling in his stomach had changed, too. Where there was once jubilance and the warmth of calm wellbeing, there was now heaviness. Thinking she might be feeling the same, he reached for her hand and took it.

He wanted to tell her that everything was probably okay, that the cops would adjudicate and follow-through with a resolution where needed, and that there was absolutely no reason to let that macabre spectacle set the tone for the rest of the day. But something in his head told him that it would be stupid to say those things. Not because they would come out sounding trite or placating, but because in all actuality everything was probably not okay, the cop was wholly unprepared for whatever it was that greeted him when he’d arrived and could not in any way, shape, or form adjudicate and resolve anything, and that things, by-and-large, would be getting a whole Hell of a lot worse, today. He opted to adjust the volume knob on the car stereo instead, bringing Otis Redding up from a 4 to an 18. He took notice of her settling into her seat. Her hand felt soft as he took it. They didn’t speak, just breathed together.

Not long after, she spoke-up- “Alright, it’s going to be coming-up on the Right. Look for the yellow mailbox. It’s coming up, it has a sign underneath it with a cute bumblebee on it.”

He took notice of it just ahead, flipped the blinker, and checked the rear-view. There was still nobody behind them.

The mailbox was a bright canary yellow, and there was indeed a sign under it.

“FRESH, LOCAL HONEY!” proclaimed the speech bubble that emerged from the smiling, chubby bumblebee with the cartoony eyes.

He steered the car into the driveway, and at her direction, drove past the farmhouse.

The house was very old, little paint remained clinging to the exterior, most of which having given-up and fallen off in ragged chunks years earlier. There was a tractor which sat in a state of extreme disrepair nearby. He kept driving.

Directly ahead of them was a large shipping container, a small wooden shack, and to the right there was a barn and several wooden boxes set side-by-side which presumably held hives.

“That shack is where they keep the honey. You can go in, fill-up as many jars as you’d like, and leave four dollars for each jar. It’s on the ‘Honor System’” she said.

He stopped the car by the shack, while she rummaged in her purse for her wallet. He looked around as she dug. It all looked relatively normal except for one thing- the faint cloud that seemed to undulate over everything.

He adjusted his glasses, thinking he wasn’t seeing things properly, and asked- “Uh, baby? Are those bees?”

She looked up from her purse, fixing her eyes on the small wooden shack.

“Yes. Yes they are, look at them all!”

He directed her attention toward the hives that sat on the ground by the barn. The cloud was thicker there.

“It looks like they’re swarming” he told her.

“Yeah, it sure does. You okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I’m just a little confused, aren’t they supposed to be in their hive, or something?”

“It’s probably no problem babe, just wait right here and I’ll go get the honey. It’ll only take a minute.”

She reached for the latch on her door and he stopped her. “Wait!”

“What?”

He pointed at the shack. There were bees all over the two small windows, and on the door as well.

“I don’t like this. This doesn’t seem right.”

“It’s okay, babe. I’ve been here lots of times. There’s always bees around.”

“Look closer though. I mean, they’re crawling all over that shack. Hundreds of them. It’s like the God damn patients are running the asylum!”

She looked closer. But what captivated her attention was not the bees he’d tried to call her attention to, but an arm. On the ground, by the far corner of the shack, a human arm.

“Oh my God” she exclaimed before clasping her hands tight over her mouth and nose.

He saw it too, and gently urged the car forward, bringing it to rest adjacent to the body. It was an elderly man, wearing a pair of overalls and a white t-shirt. A green mesh trucker’s hat lie in the dirt next to his head. His other arm was bent, and his hand clutched his chest.

He urged the car forward again more quickly this time, and turned sharply, to get a better look. The elderly man was dead from what looked like thousands of bee stings. Every square inch of his exposed flesh was pocked, and his eyes were swollen shut. The legs of his overalls changed color from dark blue to brown and appeared to be alive. So did the back wall of the shack. Each was crawling with bees.

He heard her gasp through her hands.

He slammed the shifter into reverse, and nailed the accelerator while cutting the wheel hard. He was about to shift into drive and launch them back down the driveway after an abrupt stop, when she screamed.

There were three more bodies. A woman and a dog lying in the backyard, and a man on the back porch by the door. They’d been ravaged. Blood and red welts covered their skin.

The next scream came from him. It escaped his throat without him realizing it, when a teenage boy ran from the direction of the barn to the driveway and collapsed, enveloped in a violent black cloud. The boy’s arms were flailing and he whipped his head back and forth so fast and hard it looked like his neck could break. The cloud intensified in fury, and the boy’s screams, which rang out while his body heaved up and down, were audible over Otis Redding. The screams were audible over everything.

Inside the car grew an incipient dark, as if thunderheads were blotting-out the sun. Bees. They’d begun to coat the driver’s side windows, and the rear windshield. The eyes of his love, which peered out above her still-clasped hands, showed a primal terror that he was certain must be totally new to her human experience. He caught his reflection in the rear-view mirror and beheld in his own reflection that same inexorable terror.

He let off the brake and brought his foot down on the accelerator. The car shot backwards. He nailed the brake again, sending both his, and her head backward into the seat-backs. The impact brought them both to their senses immediately.

“FUCKING GO!” she shouted.

He shifted into drive and punched it. The engine roared as the car rocketed forward. It was blind, frantic acceleration and the still-darkening windows. That was it. No thought. No breathing. He swerved to avoid hitting the young man who was now lying perfectly still in the driveway, and nearly sent them careening across the front lawn into the ditch by the road. With his attention divided between the growing dark on the windows and keeping them on the driveway, he managed to right the car and finish traversing the driveway, and made a hard Left by the canary yellow mailbox with the cute bumblebee sign which hung beneath it.

Back on the road, with his foot and the pedal beneath it jammed firmly into the floorboard, he watched as the vibrating mass of bees coating the windows began to break-up. He hadn’t drawn a breath since the driveway, neither of them had, but neither of them had noticed. The adrenaline kept them from passing-out until the bees were gone, at which time the breaths came back in loud, deep heaves.

“We have to call 9-1-1!” she shouted.

“What about the cop at the cattle farm? Maybe he’s still there!”

The speedometer read 120 miles per-hour, and the farm wasn’t much farther. If the cop was still there he’d stop, and they would explain everything.

He saw the pastures just ahead, and let-off the accelerator almost completely. He moved his foot to the brake, and slowed to negotiate the turn.

The Sheriff’s cruiser was still in the driveway. And the front door of the house remained open.

It still felt not normal, to him.

He stopped the car two-thirds of the way up the driveway and shifted into park. After killing the engine he exited the car, she followed, and they began a slow walk toward the house, shouting as they went.

Nobody emerged, not a soul.

Someone was sitting in the cruiser, he stopped her and directed her attention to it. They approached the car silently, their minds collectively urging them to turn back more loudly with every step. They pressed-on, cautiously. It was a Deputy they found when they reached the car- sitting in the driver’s seat, cheek resting against the wheel, hands clutching it. The Deputy’s eyes and mouth were wide-open, frozen in a loud utterance of pain and horror. Around the Deputy’s mouth and neck were stings. So many stings. He wanted to throw up but he couldn’t- his belly had tied itself into some kind of knot that would allow no spasm at all, it just squeezed and squeezed.

And then there was a soft thump. Something hit the driver’s side window of the cruiser from the inside. It startled them both.

Then another, and two more-

Thump.

Thump, thump!

Bees.

They’d flown out from somewhere deep-down inside the Deputy’s esophagus, or worse- “Maybe his stomach” he thought to himself without actually thinking it.

Thump!

They both jumped, and then watched in horror as a waterfall of bees poured-forth from the Deputy’s gaping mouth, before taking flight and thumping against the window.

More bees emerged from underneath the cruiser.

He took her hand and bolted with her back to the car. He felt two sharp stings on his cheek and another on his neck. She swatted at her wrist hard where a tiny assailant landed, and she felt two more sting her ankles. She turned her head and beheld the cloud forming around the cruiser. It was organizing rapidly, and soon she feared, it would be on them both.

They reached the car and the swarm pursued them. The doors were unlocked -thankfully- and they wasted no time in sealing themselves inside. The engine roared loyally to life when he turned the key, the very moment when a living, malevolent quilt began to spread its self over the hood and windshield. He traversed the driveway in reverse, while she frantically inspected the both of them, as well as the interior, for bees. None had found an ingress. Reaching the road he cut the wheel, shifted into drive, and once again hammered the accelerator. The swarm which had blanked the car began to dissipate, and he kept accelerating until it was running Wide-Fucking-Open, as he was fond of saying. The bees had lifted completely, and were left as an ominous thunderhead undulating low to the ground, visible in the rear-view mirror.

Once safely on the Interstate, she called 9-1-1 from her cellular telephone…

[…]

In the days that followed they were interviewed by the local and state police, as well as by several shadowy Government people who asked a lot of questions but never said too much. They were advised not to speak about what they’d seen that day and save for talking about it with each other, they didn’t mention any of it to family members or close friends.

Several days later, as they sat at the table eating their dinner, he turned-on the television. Wheel of Fortune would be on soon. He didn’t care much about what they watched, because -again- he was happy, elated by the simple fact that they were watching it together -and that was doubly-so in the wake of certain events they’d witnessed recently, events which the shadowy Government people and the police had advised them not to talk to anybody about. The evening news was wrapping-up, and the Anchorwoman, a chubby-but-still-kind-of-pretty Latina gave a brief report of so-called Africanized honeybees swarming in nearby counties. They both dropped their forks at the exact same time. She was still chewing. He’d been in the middle of swallowing a mouthful of chicken and the sudden reminder of the bees crawling up from deep within the Deputy’s throat made him gag hard.

As he took his love’s hand, “Government scientists,” the Latina Anchorwoman said, “are working to contain the swarms.”

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

The Beekeepers