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I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Burn Baby Burn Chapter Two: 3281 words

See chapter one for a disclaimer about rawness, formatting, etc.

Found a typewriter in the rubble today. Looks pretty beaten up, but it works. Seems old. The keys are perfectly round, yellowed with age. The ribbon barely leaves a mark on the brown sheets of grocery bag paper I’ve rolled into it.

There’s something sentimental about the sound of the keys clicking. I remember sitting in a hot room. It’s an attic somewhere; the walls are made of beadboard, painted pale puke green. There’s an oil lamp hanging on the hook next to me, unlit. The daylight is slowly fading out the window. For as far as the eye can see, there’s wasteland, little scrub bushes, dust and rocks everywhere, flat as can be.

I think it’s Texas. I think I grew up there.

Every day, I have more memories. One day, maybe she’ll remember as well.

Chapter Two
The Beast of Bladenboro

Ten Years Later

Bladenboro, North Carolina, can fairly be described as the middle of nowhere. It’s sits on a crossroad of two highways that don’t really go too or from anywhere. To the west lies Butters, south is Boardman, east is Clarkton and north is Dublin, but not the Dublin you’ve heard of. The primary think you’d remember about Bladenboro if you ever drove through it was how flat it was, surrounded by yellow dirt fields planted with soybeans and patches of pine forest. Beyond the forests lie long patches of swampland bordering meandering creeks.
Bladenboro’s only claim to fame is its monster. Starting back in the 1950s, residents reported livestock disappearing, only to be found later with bodies mangled with strange wounds no ordinary animal made. Then, in the sixties, the reports fell off, and by the turn of the century hardly any body remembered the Beast of Bladenboro.
Then goats started disappearing. Or at least, parts of them. Farmers would find the back half of a goat laying on the ground, with the front half nowhere to be seen. Bones weren’t crushed or even scratched by whatever made the cuts. The severing was as clean and neat as if an industrial laser had carved the beast in half.
The Discovery Channel came to town and shot some footage of the surrounding swamps, but they happened to arrive on a week that no animals were reported killed. They left with some grainy photos and edited together a one hour special on the beast. For a month after, amateur monster hunters would arrive in town and traipse around in the swamps with night vision goggles, taping motion-sensitive cameras to every other tree. They got a lot of pictures of deer, and more than a few pictures of startled hunters.
Bucky Cheraw was one of those hunters, and he was glad when a year had passed and it was deer season again. By now, the hoo-ha died down and the woods were quiet. The only people out here were other hunters smart enough to wear orange vests, not those yahoos from the city who’d been stupid enough to run around in tan and brown during hunting season, almost begging to get shot, and, even worse, spooking all the deer.
It was a cool September morning just before dawn when Bucky parked his truck at the end of the logging road and began traipsing into the woods armed with a hunting bow. Bow and arrow season started a few weeks before the regular season, and he liked getting a shot at the really big bucks before the less ambitious hunters flooded the woods.
His deer stand was only about a mile into the woods. He’d built it himself, treehouse style in a big maple, not wasting a dime on those fancy aluminum stands some hunters were now using. He considered himself a traditionalist, inheritor of a hunting tradition that dated back for a thousand years among the Lumbee Indians with whom his ancestors had intermarried. Of course, his ancestors might not have recognized his airplane grade aluminum arrow shafts with the titanium hunting heads, nor the laser scope he used to target his shots. But, Bucky was the first to admit that he was merely a traditionalist, not a primitive.
A hundred yards from his hunting stand, Bucky caught whiff of a terrible odor. Somewhere nearby, there was rotting meat. He looked up and through the trees he spotted buzzards. Pausing so that he no longer heard the sound of his feet crunching through the leaves, he could hear buzzards flapping around on the ground in the distance. He headed their way out of idle curiosity.
The found the buzzards picking apart a gray lump on the ground. They hopped and fluttered as the approached, backing off but not abandoning their prize completely. Bucky pressed his mouth and nose into the sleeve of his coat to breathe in an attempt to cut down the stench.
The thing had obviously been a deer, probably a buck, though by now the buzzards had picked apart the genitals and anus area so thoroughly he couldn’t be sure. Complicating identification further, the front half of the deer was simply gone.
Where was a crew from the Discovery Channel when you needed one?
He left the area slightly spooked, but only slightly. It made more sense to believe in poachers than to believe in monsters. A man had probably killed the deer ahead of season. He kept the head for a trophy, and had probably started butchering the animal, cutting off it’s front half with a chainsaw. This isn’t the technique he would have used to butcher a deer, but hey, they were poachers. If they’d been bright, they would have carried out the hind quarters first since this is where the good meat was. Instead, they’d probably carted out the front quarters, then spotted a game warden and gotten spooked before coming back for the rest of the meat. Case closed. Mystery solved.
The only monsters skulking around in these woods were lawless men.
Fortunately, his hunting blind was upwind of the stink. He spotted it while he was still a dozen yards off. The leaves were still thick on the trees and it looked like he would need to trim a few of the low hanging ones to have a good view of his target area. The tree was in an area where the woods trimmed out as the bled into a field. Running the edge of this field was an irrigation ditch. Deer would congregate on the field to chew the plants around the ditch and get a drink. It was a rare day he didn’t spot at least a dozen deer. The true skill lay in simply having the patience to wait for the right trophy buck to come along.
Bucky reached the wooden ladder that led up into his blind. He stopped and stared up.
Someone was snoring.
Someone was asleep in the blind.
The blind was just barely big enough for a grown man to lie down in if he stretched form one corner to the other of the five by five square platform. The blind was about fifteen feet off the ground, with the back wall away from the field completely open and a couple of long narrow windows on the other walls for him to line up his shots. He stepped back, standing on his tiptoes to see who was inside, but could never get the right angle to see beyond the edge of the floor.
Maybe it wasn’t a man? Did raccoons snore? Did skunks? What else could go up a tree like that?
If it was a skunk, he didn’t want to startle it. On the other hand, he didn’t want to waste a lot of time, either. The sun was up proper now, and the next hour was the golden hour for hunting.
And what if it was a man? Would it be someone he knew? Some local teen maybe, who’d found the tree house a convenient hiding place for getting drunk? Or maybe some other hunter who’d wandered this way to find him, got here early, gone up and fallen asleep waiting?
Or a convict. While he hadn’t heard any news, what if a prisoner had escaped a prison? What better place to hide than here in these woods? If it was a prisoner, he’d be desperate. Dangerous. Should he call the sheriff?
On the other hand, he’d be a laughing stock if he called the sheriff and it turned out to be a noisy raccoon.
Bucky wondered what his proud Indian ancestors would have done. So, he hid behind a tree and let out a loud “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!”
The snoring stopped.
The boards of the blind creaked as something heavy began to stir.
Then, a man’s voice: “Christ almighty.”
Bucky placed an arrow against his bowstring. If the man had a gun, he’d have to let loose a shot in the space of a heartbeat. He stepped from behind the tree.
An old gray haired man was sitting in the blind, his feet bare feet dangling over the edge. The legs of his pants were little more than tatters. He was wearing a green flannel shirt that looked matted with dark blood. His face was nightmarish; to Bucky, it looked as if someone had attacked the man with an axe and split his face in two, and the two halves hadn’t been lined up properly before they were stitched back together. The wound still looked filled with puss seeping from beneath thick scabs. The man’s bleary eyes were unfocused; he hadn’t spotted Bucky, though Bucky was standing in plain sight wearing a bright orange jacket.
“Who are you?” Bucky called out, drawing the arrow back to a firing position, but not yet bringing it toward the man.
The stranger scratched his thin gray hair as he looked in Bucky’s direction. One eye seemed to sit a half inch lower than the other, but finally both eyes spotted him. “Well now, I don’t rightly know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I’ve had kind of a rough time of late,” said the man. “Got my head split open. Lot of memories spilled out.”
“If you were in a fight, the sheriff probably has a report of it,” said Bucky. “Come down and I’ll call him. He can help you out.”
“Naw,” said the stranger, shaking his head. “Don’t need the law involved.”
“You a fugitive?” asked Bucky.
“What kind of question is that?” asked the man. “If I was, why would I tell you? And if I ain’t, why would you believe me if I say I ain’t. It’s like me asking you if you’re still beating your wife.”
“I’m not married,” said Bucky.
“Well I ain’t either,” said the stranger. “You and me, we could be buddies. Pal around. I bet there’s a place around here we could go drink beer and watch women take their clothes off.”
“I think you’ve had enough beer,” said Bucky. He slowly released the tension on his arrow. The stranger didn’t look like he was armed, and he looked too groggy to climb down from the tree. Convict or not, this land belonged to Bucky’s second cousin and the stranger was trespassing. He pulled his cell phone from his vest pocket.
“Aw, don’t call the cops,” said the stranger. “Can’t you be cool?”
“I’m practically cold,” said Bucky. “Look, I’m doing you a favor. You look like you need medical attention.”
“What? ‘Cause of my face? Shoot. It would heal if I’d just stop picking at it.”
Bucky dialed the phone.
The stranger rose, perched precariously on the edge of the platform. “I asked you nicely not to call the law.”
“You just sit down before you fall and hurt yourself,” said Bucky as the phone began to ring on the other end.
Then the man stepped forward, seeming to forget where he was at, and crashed into the ground fifteen feet below with a loud THUMP.
“Shit!” said Bucky.
“Excuse me?” said Sally Henderson on the other end of the phone. He knew Sally well, since they’d gone to High School together. She was now one of the dispatchers for the Sheriff’s Department.
“Sally, it’s Bucky Cheraw!”
“Bucky! How are you this fine morning!”
“It’s weird one, Sally. I’m out at Billy’s farm where I do my hunting. When I got here, I found some homeless guy asleep in my stand! He might be a fugitive; he didn’t want me to call the law.”
“Where’s he at now?”
“Not fifty feet in front of me, and he might be dead. He just fell out of my blind right before I called, and he didn’t look none to healthy to start with.”
“I’ll get an ambulance out there immediately. Deputy Tucker is already out near there as well.”
“Thank you, Sally.”
“No problem. Want me to stay on the line until they get there?”
“Ah, I guess not,” said Bucky. He didn’t want to sound like he needed somebody to hold his hand though this. “You got other calls to take.”
“Probably,” said Sally. “First day of bow season. Always at least one call of somebody getting hurt. You take care.”
“Take care now,” said Bucky, hanging up.
The second he put the phone back into his pocket, the stranger stirred. A fifteen foot fall onto concrete might kill a man, but on soft ground he wasn’t surprised the man was alright. He drew his bow and took aim as the man sat up.
“Don’t move a muscle,” said Bucky. “The law and an ambulance are on their way.”
The man shook his head and sighed. “Mister, I don’t remember killing anyone for almost three months now. You’re about to make me ruin a perfectly good streak.”
“The only thing I’m going to do is put an arrow through your neck if you try to stand up.”
The man stood up.
Bucky’s laser sight had a perfect red dot an inch to the left of the man’s Adam’s apple. He let go of the arrow, certain it would hit the carotid artery. On a deer, this would be the ultimate kill shot, dropping a buck where it stood without having it run wounded through the wood for five miles before it finally gave it.
The arrow found its mark, coming to rest with the tip of the arrow jutting out a good foot from the back of the man’s neck. Dark blood gushed down his neck in a veritable fountain. The stranger sighed, but didn’t fall down. He reached back behind his neck and drew the arrow all the way through, then tossed it to the ground.
“I bet about now, the beer and topless dancers seem like the smarter choice,” the man said, his voice little more than a faint gurgle.
Bucky drew another arrow. The man walked toward him. The arrow came to a stop deep in the man’s left breast. The man stumbled, but kept on his feet, still moving forward.
“Christ almighty,” he said. “I wish you knew how bad that stings.”
Bucky dropped his bow and spun on his heels. He leaned forward to run but not before the stranger grabbed him by the collar. He spun around in the man’s grasp, reaching for the hunting knife in his belt. He snapped the sheath open, but in his panic nearly dropped the knife. With a shaking hand he thrust upward, driving the blade into the man’s gut.
The man grinned at him. His breath was rancid as he asked, “How’s that stabbing working out for ya?”
Bucky reared back to punch the man in the face. His fist flew toward the man’s ragged, rotting teeth. An instant before his hand hit, the man opened his mouth. It seemed no bigger than an ordinary mouth, but somehow Bucky’s fist seemed to shrink as it slipped between the teeth, vanishing all the way down to the bicep. He paused, feeling as is his fist should now be a good foot and a half out the back of the stranger’s head.
He wiggled his fingers. He didn’t feel guts or tongue. He didn’t feel anything but empty air.
The stranger had a twinkle in his eye as he said, “Nu uh guh tuh to scruh!”
Then he bit down, and Bucky’s arm disappeared just above the elbow. He stumbled backward, blood gushing from his severed arteries. He slipped and fell on the leafy forest floor. He clamped his good hand over his stump to stop the bleeding.
The stranger chuckled as he plucked the arrow from his chest. “I said, ‘Now would be a good time to scream!’”
Bucky didn’t scream. He whimpered. “What the hell are you, mister?”
“I wish to God I knew,” said the man. The man leaned down and grabbed Bucky’s left boot. “I could use some new shoes.”
Bucky kicked the man’s hands away with his free leg.
The stranger sighed. “Look, you shot me in the neck, the chest, and knifed me in the guts. All I did was bite you. Hell, you got a good shot of living if you don’t fight me. Fifty fifty, minimum. That ambulance is going to show up and whisk you off to whatever hospital is near here. Is there a hospital near here?”
“Lumberton,” Bucky said through clenched teeth.
“Sure, that’s right,” said the man, scratching his head. “Damn, I wish I could think straight. We’re in North Carolina?”
“Yes,” said Bucky, feeling dizzy.
“Almost there, then.” The stranger looked around. “You got a truck or something nearby?”
“That way,” Bucky pointed with a nod of his head. “About a mile.”
“I’m guessing the keys are in your pants?”
Bucky nodded.
“Hold still. I’m taking your pants. Play nice, and I’ll give you your arm back.”
“What are you…?”
“Just hold still,” the man said, squatting down, untying Bucky’s boot. Bucky felt too lightheaded to resist. At this point, all he wanted was for the man to go away. He said nothing as the stranger stripped him of his boots and socks and pants. Time slowed to a crawl as he listened, desperately hoping for the wail of sirens.
Dark spots danced before his eyes as the stranger finished getting dressed.
Perhaps his eyes played tricks on him, but as the man tightened his stolen belt, he looked down at Bucky with a look approaching pity. He reached his hand into his mouth, his arm vanishing up to the elbow. A second later, he pulled out Bucky’s arm. He dropped it into the dirt next to Bucky.
“Next time,” the man said, “don’t shoot first and asked questions later.”
“I asked as lot of questions first,” Bucky mumbled.
The man rubbed his stubbled chin. “You know, I reckon you did. Well, never mind, then.”
He turned and walked through the woods, his boots crunching loudly. Bucky inched his way toward a tree and managed to sit up. No matter how tightly he squeezed his arm, there was blood seeping out with each heart beat. He looked toward the field. Help would probably come from that direction, coming up the field road instead of coming in from the back along the logging road. He rolled forward, he face landing next to his severed arm. He reached out and grabbed the sleeve of his camo jacket in his teeth. Then, with superhuman will, he managed to rise, and take a dozen stumbling steps toward the field, where he tumbled into the ditch. He rolled to a stop, face up, staring at the sun. There was a loud ringing in his ears, but no sirens.
Along the treeline, vultures began to gather.

3281 words

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