That Ol’ Devil’s Work

Originally appeared in the anthology Static Dreams vol 2, still available in paperback and ebook formats.

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I never asked Pa why we fed the fields. It was just what we’d always done, as far back as I could remember. “Cotton won’t grow without it,” was all he’d tell us, my sister and I, and our father wasn’t the sort of father who was open to questions and discussion. In other words, we did as we were told.

As the oldest, I was the first to be taken aside and given a full explanation when Pa felt I was ready to receive it.

He brought me out back behind the barn, over the collapsing, weed-entangled chicken wire fence surrounding it, and through the labyrinth of rusty old tractor parts that’d littered the yard long since before I was born.

I’d seen the sweatbox from the outside, but until that day, Pa hadn’t felt I was ready to go in and see the uglier side of what we were charged with doing once a month. Before he opened the door, he told me the whole story, from start to finish, and I don’t think I so much as blinked the entire time he spoke.

“I got this farm cheap because folks ’round here all thought it was cursed. Warned me not to buy it. Even the bank. Well, I thought that was hogwash, and I signed those papers. Signed my soul away, too, but I didn’t find that out until later on, of course.

“Y’see, son, the land’s got a taste for blood. Started with the Indians, but that’s a story for another time.

“Way back before the war of Northern aggression, this ol’ boy by the name of Arthur Baggarley, who owned this land, well, he had a whole slew of slaves workin’ for him on it. Used to whip ’em ’til they was half dead anytime they got outta line, or even just ’cause he felt like it. Talk was that he consorted with some of the females, but most reckoned that was all Yankee gossip. Wicked, wicked man, though. Heck, I wouldn’t put it pass ‘im.

“They bled a lot, them people. They bled, they sweat, and they shed tears, and the soil soaked it all up, took a liking to it. In return, the land gave ol’ Baggarley the biggest cotton crop in North Carolina.

“Well, one night they decided amongst theirselves that they wasn’t gonna take that kinda treatment no more. And, ‘course, you can hardly blame ’em. you wouldn’t do a dog the way he done them folk. Yessir, dang shame how they got treated back in them days. But that was the 1860s and this is the 1960s. Folks know better now.

“Anyhow, they busted down the front door and run wild throughout the whole house, smashed everything to bits ‘fore ol’ Baggarley come down the stairs in his sleepin’ gown with a lantern in his hand.

“They tore that man limb from limb, and killed his wife, too. Some say they had their way with her, but I don’t b’lieve that. They was just some fed up folks that wanted to be free. Burnt the place to the ground when that lamp hit the floor and the burnin’ oil took off upside them fancy type curtains rich folks have.

“After that, they all run off, scattered all over creation. Most of ’em got snatched up and hanged, but a whole lot’ve ’em got away and was never heard from ’til after the war. One of ’em even wrote a book. Talked about how he wasn’t ‘posed to learn how to read but he went ahead and did anyhow.

“Now you think of that, boy, next time your schoolteacher tells me you ain’t payin’ attention in school. Some people wanna learn so bad they’ll risk dyin’ for it.

“Anyhow, by the time the new owners of the land came around, there wasn’t no more slaves, the law’d done away with it, y’see. Couldn’t nobody get nothin’ to grow on this land. Not even weeds. He was gonna sell it, but one day he up and disappeared. Same thing happened to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

“Finally, this one ol’ feller sheers his toes clean off with a combine, right over there, just twenty feet away from where we’re standin’ right now.

“Ol’ boy was smart enough to put the wound up against the hot engine and seal it up ‘fore he bled to death, but he still spilt plenty of blood, sweat and tears onta that there dry, cracked ground in the meantime.

“Well, the very next day, the biggest, thickest cotton stem you ever did see had sprouted up right there on that very spot.

“Now, like I said, this was a smart ol’ boy, smarter’n the rest of ’em come before him, anyhow. He figured it out right quick. Spilt his blood all over the place tryin’ to make it happen again. Couldn’t do it.

“Even the biggest, toughest, meanest man on God’s green Earth cries once in awhile, though. So long as nobody sees him. And that’s just what he did, out there in the hot North Carolina sun, sweat stingin’ the cuts all up and down his arm. He’d been plannin’ on gettin’ married to this real pretty young gal, y’see, and now he was gonna be a penniless, no account young fool with a field fulla dirt that wouldn’t grow nothin’. He went to bed that night thinkin’ ’bout putting his mouth on the business end of a shotgun.

“Next mornin’, though, more cotton sprung up, and on that very spot where he done broke down.

“Tears. That’s what did it. Tears. He cried when he lost that toe.

“Well, after awhile of savin’ up tears and blood and sweat in some waterin’ cans, he sprinkled that stuff all over the dirt, and danged if that dead soil didn’t come right back to life. He couldn’t make enough of it on his own, though, so he started bringin’ home people from town, drifters and whores and whatnot, puttin’ ’em in a box in the sun and lettin’ ‘ em get so hot they liked to die. Then he’d give ’em some water and keep on collectin’ the sweat and the tears in a oil pain underneath of it. Drilled holes to let it out. If they didn’t cry, he’d open up that box and beat the tar out of ’em; just wail on ’em with a switch until the tears came.

“When they finally departed this world, he’d cut ’em open at the wrists and let the blood drain out. Then he’d spread that mixture all up and down his fields.

“All that cotton made him a rich man ‘fore too long, but it all came crashin’ down on him when he took ill and couldn’t feed the fields no more. Then he disappeared, like all the rest.”

Pa opened the door.

I stood there in silence for a long time and looked at the naked, portly, sweat-drenched man strapped to the workbench inside of the sweatbox. His eyes were closed, and he was mumbling something. I didn’t know what he’d done for my father to have chosen him, but Pa only snatched up bad people, so I didn’t feel too sorry for him.

“He’s about done,” said Pa, poking at the man’s hairy, glistening belly with a thick, calloused working man’s finger. “I think we got about all we’re gonna squeeze outta this one ‘fore he kicks the bucket.”

I nodded. I knew what that meant. I’d never seen anyone die before, but I knew that was about to change.

Time to become a man, son.

Less than a year after that night, both Ma and Pa were killed in a car accident, and for a period of several months, I was charged with looking after my younger sister Rachel.

We carried out the ritual as we’d been taught, with me taking over father’s harvesting role. I didn’t care for that part too much at all, but it had to be done. I’d crack a tire iron over their hands and drag ’em to the truck. Wasn’t no big deal for a boy my size.

We did just fine on our own; had no need for supervision. The law felt otherwise, though, and that’s where Uncle Martin came in.

Martin was my dad’s ne’er-do-well brother, his only living kin, and we’d never had much to do with him.

He’d been in and out of jail all his life, and he was a drunk. A judge saw fit to appoint him our legal guardian, though, and within weeks he’d moved into the house and begun going about the business of destroying our lives.

I tried to tell him about the fields, about the ritual, but he didn’t understand what I was talking about and wouldn’t let me go out at night to harvest. I told him the fields would dry up and die if they didn’t get fed, but he thought I was pulling his leg and he let me know, with his hand across my face, that he wasn’t going to put up with any of that nonsense.

“That’s that ol’ devil’s work you’re talkin’ about, shit-for-brains. Witchcraft. You know they used to burn people alive for doin’ things like that? Wasn’t even real. Why don’t you run into town and get me some whiskey?”

I bought a lot of whiskey for Uncle Martin from Henson’s market. Old man Henson wouldn’t sell it to me at first, but he figured out pretty quick after seeing me come in with black eyes and bruises that if I went home empty-handed, I got beat. So he stopped asking questions.

Can you imagine that? Folks back then didn’t get involved in other folks’ domestic affairs. He never called the police or asked if I was alright, just put the bottles in my bag week after week and took my crumpled dollar bills, never looking me in the eye.

Uncle Martin drank from sunup to sundown, and didn’t do much of anything else. The more he drank, the meaner he got, and he was especially upset about the land drying up and refusing to yield any cotton. He’d planned on having us pick it, doing all the work while he sat on the couch watching television and drowning in cheap liquor. He thought he’d inherited a cash cow, but all he’d gotten was a dusty ol’ piece of beef jerky.

“Alright, you lil’ sons a bitches!” He roared one day when he stormed into my bedroom where Rachel and I were playing checkers on the floor.

“Explain to me how y’all had the finest cotton crop for miles around b’fore I come in the picture, and now there ain’t shit but this?”

He hurled a handful of dirt at us. I winced and pinched my eyes shut, then shrugged as if to show him I wasn’t scared of him, even though I was. “You won’t let let us do the ritual.”

Martin went wild. He picked up a lamp, jerking the cord out of the wall, and threw it at me. I dodged it, and the bulb shattered against the wall.

“I’m tired of hearing about that junk!Now what’d y’all do? Put salt down to kill the soil? You stupid pieces a shit!”

“I hate you!” Screamed Rachel, tears pouring down her cheeks. “Why don’t you just leave us alone? It was so much better before you came! I hate you!”

She took off up the stairs, and he started after her, but I rose to my feet and stood in his way.

“You leave her alone, y’hear?” I looked him dead in the eye.

“Alright,” he said. “Okay. Have it your way, hoss. But if I find out y’all done messed up my property, I will skin your ass alive, understand?”

His breath smelled of liquor. I said nothing, just continued to stare.

He blinked and rubbed his eyes and staggered off into the kitchen, cussing and mumbling gibberish under his breath.

I knew at that moment that he wasn’t just going to be a nuisance; he was going to be dangerous. He had to go.

Later that night, while lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking about killing my uncle, I heard the fields growling through my open window.

Soon,” I whispered.

It was two weeks later when I heard a scream coming from Uncle Martin’s downstairs bedroom in the middle of the night.

I leapt out of bed and rushed down to investigate, and Martin collided with me in the dark hallway. He grabbed my shoulders. “The devil!” He said. “I seen the devil in the window!”

I stepped back, jerking my shoulders loose of his grip.

“That wasn’t no devil,” I told him. “That was the fields. It wants a sacrifice. It wants you.”

“I don’t give a tinker’s damn what it wants,” said Martin. “How the hell you know, anyhow?”

“I told it you’re the one keeping us from feeding it.”

He beat me up pretty bad, but I managed to get a few good licks in, too. After convincing himself that he must’ve been seeing things on account of the whiskey, he went back to bed and I turned around to return to mine, wishing the fields would just hurry up and take him.

Rachel was standing behind me. She’d watched the whole thing.

“He’s a mean man.”

I nodded. “That he is.”

Uncle Martin saw the devil every night from there on out, and either due to drink, lack of sleep or a combination of both, he eventually got it in his head that we were behind it all.

“Tryin’ to drive me crazy, aren’t ya? Run me off. Well lemme tell you shit stains somethin’. It ain’t gonna work. Ya hear me? Your daddy shoulda pulled out! You’re shit! Shit!”

He’d stomp around and break things, tussle with me a little bit, and then he’d go collapse on the couch with the television on. He’d sleep there all night sometimes, with the test pattern on the screen, oblivious to that loud, droning whine that that accompanied it.

I tried turning the television off once, but he woke up fit to be tied, said to leave it on, that it scared off the devil. I just let him be and stuffed my ears with cotton to drown out the sound. Rachel didn’t care. Sound didn’t bother her none.

It bothered me, though–bothered me a whole lot. Everything about Uncle Martin did.

I couldn’t do away with him, though. Couldn’t kill kin. That was one of Pa’s rules, and obey it I would, no matter what.

Something happened one sunny afternoon, though, that shifted my outlook on the matter. He hit Rachel.

I came home from the grocery store and found Rachel parked on the couch in front of the television. Uncle Martin was beside her, drinking from a bottle of old cooking sherry he’d probably found in the pantry.

The swirling tufts of chest hair poking out of his dirty v-neck undershirt stored tiny remnants of food he’d consumed throughout the week.

Rachel was holding a doll that our mother and father had given her for Christmas one year over half of her face.

“Rachel,” I said, “put your dolly down.”

She shook her head and stole a glance at Uncle Martin, who didn’t even seem to know I was there.

I walked over and gently pulled the doll to the side to uncover a shiny, swollen black eye.

I turned to Uncle Martin and snatched the bottle out of his hand, shattered it on the coffee table.

Rachel was screaming.

Martin slowly turned his head in my direction, eyelids drooping halfway down those raw, dead, bloodshot eyes of his.

He saw the jagged glass in my trembling hand. “Whatcha gon’ do wittat, boy?” He drawled.

“I’m gonna make you sweat. Then I’m gonna make you cry, I don’t care what it takes. I’ll figure out how to do it. And then I’m gonna make you bleed.”

He slapped the bottle out of my hand, slicing his fingertips open as he did so.

Fists flew, blood splattered on peeling, nicotine-caked wallpaper, and furniture was knocked over. The TV was bumped off its stand, but Password played on, only with Allen Ludden’s head turned comically sideways.

The fight ended with Uncle Martin face down on the floor, unconscious and spreadeagled. He vomited as I carried Rachel up the stairs, and I hoped that he’d choke to death.

No such luck.

The very next evening, he was out on the porch with one of Pa’s shotguns under one arm, and the bottle of Wild Turkey he’d had me get him at the store under the other.

“I’m gonna get that devil,” he said when I walked past him into the house after feeding the hens.

I paused, thought of a thousand replies all at once and kept them all to myself.

I went inside, and I held my sister as we listened to our father’s crazy, drunk brother shoot wildly out into the night.

I wished that social worker who came by to check on us once a month woulda drove by right about then and got an eyeful of that.

I knew that it wouldn’t be long until the land came and claimed him, though. I wanted to make its job easier, but a murder charge would only get me locked up, and I had to take care of my sister. I had to be patient. They couldn’t put a cotton field on trial, but they could me.

Another week passed, and it was as bad as any of the others had been. The dogs woke me up at 3:00 AM on Tuesday, howling and barking and carrying on outside in their pens.

It was unusually warm out, and my sheets were soaked with sweat on account of there being no breeze coming in through my window. I’d been keeping it closed.

I rolled over, glanced out the window and became fully alert in half an instant.

I jumped to my feet. A hulking mass of writhing, severed human body parts and what appeared to be mud and rotting vegetation, all of it pressed together in the rough shape of a man, was lurching and stumbling across the yard, awash in the pale blue glow of the moon.

A droning chorus of stifled screams, the cries of thousands of suffering souls, rumbled deep within its bowels and escaped on its breath into the dewy night air, accompanied by the fetid stench of death. It smelled like rancid meat, and even with my window shut, the odor was overpowering enough to make my stomach churn.

It made its way over to Uncle Martin’s window, and I mumbled a quick prayer, asking that he fall victim to the monster.

I wiped the fog from my breath off the glass and watched. The creature stared into the window for some time, then ran its tarry, glistening fingers over it, leaving behind streaks like snail slime.

I crept downstairs, wincing with each squeak of each step. I slipped out the front door and left it open as I wandered into the yard, towards it.

I stopped just five feet or so short of it.

“Get him,” I said.

It turned fully around and looked at me, and I could see all of the grey, oozing, spasming components of its body very clearly. There were feet kicking, there were hands grasping at nothing, and there were eyeballs, full of confused terror, darting to and fro in an attempt to figure out where they were and what was happening.

Millipedes crawled out of gurgling mouths, trailed by black vomit. Pus bubbled beneath rotted flesh, periodically bursting out of open sores like miniature volcanoes erupting and filling the humid night air with the noxious odor of disease.

“Get him.” I muttered. C’mon, get him! We fed you all these years and we’ll get back to doing it after he’s gone! He’s the reason you’re starving!”

I don’t know if it understood my words or not, but it comprehended the gist of what I was trying to convey to it.

Martin bad. Kill.

It turned back around towards the window just in time to steal a glance down the barrel of Martin’s rifle.

Boom.

Shattered glass; a scream like a thousand whistling teapots.

Boom.

The creature staggered backwards, swatting at itself.

Boom.

It staggered off into the brush and disappeared into the fields.

Uncle Martin, his bare chest heaving and covered in sweat, stood holding the very same gun my father had taught me how to hunt deer with back in much happier times. Pa had taken a lot of pride in that rifle, and I hated seeing Martin’s grubby, clammy hands defiling it.

“Watch and learn, boy,” said Martin between labored breaths. “That’s how a man defends his family.”

“You’re not defending anyone but yourself,” I said. “It wants you, don’t you see? Or are you too drunk to figure that out? Now I’ve told you time and time again that this land has a curse on it, and whoever tends to it must appease it with sacrifices, or else it gets tired of waiting and snatches ’em up outta their beds at night and eats ’em. Only reason it ain’t got you yet is ’cause you wake up so easy. Maybe you should take some pills to remedy that.”

He trained the barrel on me. “You watch your mouth.”

“Go ahead,” I said. “Shoot me. Then you’ll go to prison and Rachel will get adopted by some nice family somewhere and have a normal life and forget about all this. Forget about you.”

Martin lowered the gun and laughed. “I’m gonna wash your mouth out with turpentine,” he said. “That’ll teach you not to backtalk your poor old uncle.”

“I’m gonna kill you.”

Martin caught sight of dad’s old coonhound, Betsy, wandering out of hiding, making her way towards me. He shot her, and she fell dead to the ground.

“You just try it,” he said, his wicked eyes blazing with madness.

I knew, looking at him, that trying wasn’t going to be good enough. Trying would get us killed.

I couldn’t figure out how I was going to do him in without it looking like murder until an impulse purchase at the grocery store led to the most explosive tantrum I’d seen Uncle Martin throw yet.

He’d broken nearly all the dishes by the time he decided to clue me in on what he was so sore about.

“Peanut butter? Why’d you buy this?” He was screaming with so much force his voice cracked.

I shrugged. “Rachel likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What of it?”

What of it?” He chucked the jar in the trash. “I’m allergic to peanuts, that’s what of it.”

I had to laugh at that. Who’d ever heard of such a thing? “What happens if you eat peanuts?”

“Well, let’s see,” he said, scratching his chin. “I could die, for one thing.”

“From peanuts.”

“It’s a real medical affliction certain folks have!” He roared. “Now you keep anything says peanut on it out of this house, you understand me? No peanut butter, no peanut oil, no peanut ice cream, no peanut nothin’!

I nodded. He was serious. And he pronounced “oil” like my dad used to. Awl. I didn’t like that.

The next day I went back to the store, bought a bag of peanuts and ground them up, shells and all, into a fine powder. I then poured every bit of that powder into a bottle of whiskey with a funnel and shook it. I placed the bottle next to its half-empty twin on the kitchen counter.

Wouldn’t take him long to polish the other one off. Depending on his mood, it was possible he’d be breaking into the new bottle by dawn, I knew. All I had to do was be patient; wait. Play it cool.

When Uncle Martin meandered into the kitchen several minutes later to raid the refrigerator, he noticed the new bottle immediately.

“Taking a break from couch duty? Who’s manning your post?” I said, which was exactly the type of thing I’d say under normal, non-murderous circumstances.

“Shaddup. Where’d that come from?”

“From the store.”

“I know that, you retard. What’d you need at the store? I thought you just went.”

“I forgot milk.”

“I had milk on my corn flakes this morning.”

He was getting suspicious. I had to steer the conversation in another direction, and fast.

“Well,” I said, pretending to look sheepish, “it’s just that… well there’s this girl works there. Works at the checkouts. I kinda like talkin’ to her, is all.”

A grin slowly spread across Uncle Martin’s face. The grin was ugly, just like the person behind it.

“A girl, huh? And here I was beginning to think you was a little fruity.”

“I don’t see you beatin’ ’em off with a stick,” I countered.

Hey,” he said, pointing at me, his thinning hair matted to his sweaty forehead, “I been with plenty of girls.”

“Not smelling like that,” I said.

For a moment it looked as if he were considering taking offense, but he just laughed and grabbed the half-empty bottle on the counter.

“I’ve always been a ladies’ man. Me and your Pa, runs in the family. That’s how he landed that sweet piecea tail that ended up bein’ your mama.”

He unscrewed the cap, tilted his head back and chugged, whiskey dripping out of the sides of his mouth.

“Real funny, Uncle Martin. You know, they say too much drinkin’ll kill ya.”

He ignored me and went back out into the living room, where the comforting, flickering glow of Bonanza, already in progress, was waiting for him with open arms.

Rachel came into the kitchen and told me she was thirsty. I poured her a glass of water with one ice cube in it, like she liked, and knelt down in front of her.

“Rachel,” I said, “Uncle Martin is going to get very sick sometime either tonight or tomorrow. When that happens, I need to get him to the sweatbox, and I need you to help me fill the cans so we can feed the fields again. Whatever happens, just remember there’s no reason to be scared, okay?”

She nodded, understanding. I knew she would.

The following morning, I made scrambled eggs, toast and bacon. Uncle Martin always drowned his eggs in Tabasco, and I was hoping that the spiciness of the sauce would help mask the taste of the peanuts in the whiskey, which he was sure to crack open as soon as he got up.

Sure enough, the first thing Martin did when he entered the kitchen was grab the whiskey. He slammed it down on the table and sniffed the air. “Bacon, huh? Plate me up some of that, boy.”

“Yes, Uncle Martin,” I said, and seconds later a heaping, steaming plate of breakfast sat in front of the horrible man who’d made it his life’s work to terrorize us in the months since our Ma and Pa had passed.

It was like the last meal they used to give men about to go to the chair, except Martin didn’t know he was about to die.

I had no appetite, but to keep up appearances, I shoveled forkfuls of food into my mouth as if famished.

He opened the bottle. I held my breath as he raised it to his lips, paused, and sniffed. He studied me for a moment, shrugged, then chugged.

Nothing happened.

I reasoned that it probably took a few minutes for the reaction to kick in, and I didn’t panic. Uncle Martin kept eating his breakfast.

I was on the verge of losing hope when his fork suddenly clattered to the floor and he began to gasp and wheeze, clawing at his throat. I leaned forward, watching him intently.

He kicked and flailed and knocked everything off the table except his plate and the bottle, and just as I was certain that he was about to die, he stopped.

“You dumb sumbitch. Whatchu think I’m stupid? I didn’t live this long not knowin’ what peanuts smell like. I switched the bottles while you was asleep.”

I thought I was about to suffer a beating for the ages, but he just snorted, scarfed down the last of his now lukewarm, rubbery eggs and took the whiskey bottle out to the living room, leaving his chair where he’d scooted it to in the middle of the kitchen upon standing up and excusing himself.

If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought I hurt his feelings, tryin’ to kill him like that. But I do know better. Uncle Martin doesn’t have any feelings. Not for anyone but himself, anyway.

After feeding all the animals that morning, I’d worked up a sweat. Sun was out early, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

I walked out into the cracked and barren cotton fields and knelt down once I was sure I was out of sight of anyone at the house.

I rolled up my dirty shirtsleeve and took my knife out of my pocket. I pressed it to my palm, gritted my teeth, and cut my own hand open.

I cried. I cried for Rachel, and I cried for myself. I cried because I knew, finally, that we were never going to be anything. Our lives were worth spit and would only depreciate in value until they turned into something like one of those rusted-out old cars out on old man Wilkerson’s property just down the road.

They weren’t worth anything to anyone except young boys and girls with fertile imaginations who used to sneak through a gap in a barbed-wire fence to play cops and gangsters inside of them. Sometimes Barbara Jane(from down the lane)would come along and we’d pretend we were Bonnie and Clyde.

Yeah, that’s right. I used to have friends. I used to have dreams of going someplace and being somebody. They all went and did that, in the long, hard years that followed; they got out. I got left behind, somehow. I was as much a slave as the poor souls who’d been brought here in chains over one hundred years ago, doomed for all my living days, and perhaps beyond, to a life of suffering and servitude.

That’s what I thought, anyway. I’d allowed myself believe that insidious falsehood, because it was all I knew. I’d never stopped to ask why we fed the fields, and I don’t know what Pa would’ve said if I did, because there is no good answer to that question.

If I had, though, and he’d have answered truthfully, he’d have said, “Because we choose to, son.”

It took me another four years of pouring my own life out upon that field to figure that out.

The land didn’t produce anything to speak of, but I kept it bay just enough so that we could continue to suffer through our miserable lives inside of that dilapidated old depression-era farmhouse.

Martin took to beating Rachel and I eventually learned not to interfere. It was just how things were. I even talked myself into believing she deserved it, the way she went whoring around at night with boys from town, soon as she came of age.

I started drinking, and it didn’t take me long to turn into almost as big of a lush as my dear old uncle. I was turning into him, and I couldn’t even see it, until one day I hauled off and slapped Rachel across the face.

I hit her so hard she fell to the ground and as I stood over her sobbing, trembling little body, and saw the fear in her eyes, fear once reserved only for Uncle Martin, something inside me woke up.

I looked down at my calloused, dirty palm, red from the impact upon her soft, childlike flesh and curled my fingers into a fist.

No.

I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps. And I wouldn’t follow in my father’s by submitting to that bloodthirsty abomination outside.

I extended my hand to help her up. She took it cautiously, but her eyes went calm as she looked into mine.

“Come on,” I said. “We’re leaving. Don’t even pack. The devil’s going to have to do his own work from now on.”

Uncle Martin was passed out on the couch with a fresh piss stain on the cushion beneath him, an empty bottle of cheap bourbon at his feet. He didn’t even stir when we tiptoed past and made our escape.

That was the last I ever saw of him, or the house, or of the accursed land upon which it had been built.

Rachel and I struggled for awhile, but it didn’t take long for me to find work and get us a place to stay. Rachel even got to go to school. She met a nice young man there, and they got married after graduation. I found a wife of my own soon after that, became a member of the Raleigh Police Force.

There were kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. There were minivan trips to the Grand Canyon, backyard cookouts, little league games and graduation ceremonies. Joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. We learned to live.

I expect that mean old drunk got what was coming to him when the monster got hungry enough to come out of hiding again, but I don’t really care one way or the other. I refuse to carry a grudge against that poor, tormented soul and live in bondage to hatred the rest of my days.

I rarely think of what life used to be like for us, back at that old farmhouse, but sometimes, on warm summer nights when I leave my bedroom window open, I can still hear a rumbling in the distance.

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