TKnC welcomes Andy...
I climb up on the deck railing and stand, spreading my arms for balance like a man on a tightrope. It’s thirty feet to the rocks below, a few thousand more to the base of the mountain. The sun is rising above the Ozark canyon, orange streaked with purple, and the crisp morning air sends chills down my bare torso and legs. I enjoy these hushed moments of vacation immensely as my wife and daughters sleep in the rented cabin behind me. Then I jump.
Ankles explode upon impact. I cartwheel down in my underpants, grunts and screams lost to the scraggly forest. Limestone tears an earlobe; a forearm is snapped in two. The pain is legendary until it is no more. The remainder of the trip down is graceless and redundant and I think about my bulldog Brick back home in Michigan and who will treat his ear mites and buy him pigskin treats.
I come to a stop on a dirt road partway down the mountain. There are several gashes and exposed bone but no running blood. My underpants are filthy and torn along the thigh but still serving their purpose. A rusted pickup truck pulls up next to me and a woman pokes her golden curls out the window.
“Lookin’ rough, cowboy.” Her syllables are long and sweet. I finger the hole in my shorts and shake my head, stunned.
“Long trip down, I know. Hop in.”
The door squeals as I pull it open. There are baby pacifiers on the floor, a Razorbacks sticker on the dash. I look over at the woman: short and healthy with cutoff jean shorts and an easy smile.
“Shouldn’t you be worried?” My voice, when it comes, has an echo quality.
She makes a dismissive face. “You won’t get hungry for a while yet. And besides”—she brakes for a waddling possum—“it ain’t like you see on TV, cowboy.”
I sit back and think of my actions. I put my face in my good hand and ask what have I done.
“Jumped off a mountain, Einstein.” The woman’s countenance has turned sour. As she proceeds down the mountain, resort lodges give way to mobile homes and plywood shacks. Engine parts and diapers litter mud-clogged yards.
“Nasty shit,” I say.
The woman pulls into a rutted driveway and brings the truck to an abrupt stop. She turns to face me. A sharpened cylinder of wood has materialized in her left hand, fat as a jumbo pickle.
“You’re pathetic,” she snarls. “Another East Coast yuppie coming down here with a silver spoon up his ass.” I hold up a finger and prepare to correct the fine points of her epithet when a man bangs out of the trailer, stops to peers at the truck and then heads our way.
“And you leave, what, a wife and three kids behind? I can’t imagine a more selfish—”
“Two kids, actually,” I say, as the man approaches my window shaking his head and smiling. He’s naked from the waist up and covered in ink.
“She’s lettin’ you have it, hey pardner? Carla, give this old boy a break.”
The golden-haired woman makes a disgusted sound and exits the truck. The man opens the door and waves me out with a bow. I shield my eyes from the sun and look across the road. There, amid the rocks, are a handful of wooden crosses and a metal pole with a chain attached to the top. The pole is a good six feet tall: too high for a dog tie. The ground below it is worn smooth in a semi-circle and stained several shades darker than the surrounding earth.
“You like to have fun?” says the man. I bite at my lips. Two teenage boys pile out of the trailer at this point, each of them shirtless and carrying a fat stake like that of the woman. They offer me barely a glance as they pass and join her at the pole. Unlike the woman—their sister? mother?—they seem bored at the prospect of what is to come.
The man places a gentle hand on my back and leads me along. He’s tall and solid and I want to devour the soft meat under his eyes, a sudden, dizzying urge that buckles my knees.
“Whoa, there,” he says, catching my fall. “I’ve got you now.” He’s cat-quick and almost unnaturally strong. I, on the other hand, am weak and trembling in his tattooed arms. I snap my head around trying to get at him, teeth gnashing, desperate to feed, but end up tasting nothing but air. The man begins to laugh as he hauls me by the back of the collar toward his waiting clan.
Andy Henion was born the day before man landed on the moon and has felt a bit flighty since. He lives somewhere cold and flat with some people and an animal. His fiction has appeared in Plots with Guns, Twist of Noir, Word Riot, Thieves Jargon, Diddledog and elsewhere.