CLAW VALLEY PIKE ENCOUNTER initial paragraphs
I've reworked this short story and am now circulating for publication in a literary magazine ... here are the opening paragraphs ...
Cedric Malcolm drove his rust-colored pickup over the broken asphalt at the bottom of the hill, the camper in the truck bed rocking the vehicle side to side. The asphalt gave way to a mix of gravel and dirt in a rutted series of steep upward bends. Wet days, like this one, it was gravel and mud.
“Damn,” Malcolm swore, steering wheel jerking his hands as the truck pitched and yawed and strained with the camper’s weight.
He had just retrieved the pickup camper from the edge of cleared woodland off another rural road where he worked with a logging operation. He parked it there just after he was released two years ago from the New York maximum security prison in Seneca Springs where he spent 11 years convicted of manslaughter in the accidental death of his brother during a fistfight. It was his home until a year ago when he negotiated a deal with two elderly sisters his age for a vacant single-wide mobile home on this road, Claw Valley Pike. The logging operation ceased since then, the land was sold, and the new owner wanted the camper removed.
First time up this hill he almost passed the aged small frame house on the right where the reputedly ornery sisters lived, obscure behind the beech trees, the evergreens, the thick brush, even in winter when foliage was gone. Across the way, a swamp nested where ducks once dwelled. No more. Muck and mire took over, with still enough seeping water from a spring for tadpoles in the ditch alongside the road, for cattails on its edge. When weather warmed, Malcolm could hear the awakening peepers at dusk and into the night, shrill waves of sound. Winter it would be coyotes and owls, and the occasional shriek of their prey.
On the hilltop, at the entryway to the rutted drive that led to the sisters’ house, a rusted white mailbox leaned backward, likely shoved in that direction by a snowplow. Beyond, Claw Valley Pike narrowed downhill to a tight two lanes, When lumber trucks roared through, Malcolm pulled over to the side away from the ditch into the blackberry brush that lined the road. He’d tap the peak of his ball cap, greeting the drivers. They’d wave back.
“Bastard,” he’d mouth with a grin.
Under the mailbox hung a faded wood sign that said Perkins. Perkins, Malcolm now knew, stood for sisters Ella and Marie, and more recently, for their tall, gangly and somewhat backward and very troubled nephew, Elijah. The sisters, usually ferociously protective and obstinately private, took in Elijah reluctantly when their brother Sam and his wife Margaret left town unexpectedly. The couple, owners of the single-wide Malcolm now occupied, dropped Elijah off as they always did on Sunday on their way to the Crossroads Community Church of the Redeemer, about 5 miles away on old Route 17. Ella told Malcolm the story when he negotiated lodging in the single-wide.
“‘Y’all doin’ OK here?’ Sam asked me then” Ella said. “‘Can I get you anything from the grocery.’”
“I said, ‘I think we’ve got what we need, Sam, Don’t be gone long.’ I had no idea they were taking off.”
“The two never showed up at church. Two days later, I filed a missing persons report, resulting in a search for my brother’s truck. They could identify it by a sign on the doors that said Perkins Contracting.”
"Not that Sam did much independent work contractors do - his business skills weren't all that reliable," Ella told Malcolm. "He generally worked for other contractors or helped in logging operations around here."
“Two weeks later, border police reported they crossed at Niagara Falls into Canada, destination Alberta,” she said.
Ella had then reached for a key to the single-wide, hanging on a nail on the rough-milled kitchen window frame. She put it into Malcolm’s palm and smiled. Malcolm’s hands were as heavily calloused as hers. She liked that.
"Margaret didn’t really want to leave Claw Valley, or Elijah with us - we never really were friendly,” she continued. “And, as me and Marie worried, who knew what Elijah might do when he found out she and Sam abandoned him." She paused.
“Of course we had to take him in."
Marie later told Malcolm "He makes me uneasy, rocking back and forth and talking to himself like he does. He seems to be everywhere."
“For now, he’s in the attic room,” Marie said.. “We had to turn the heat on” ...
(c) 2014 Wes Rehberg