“Kids use that to swing out an’ drop in the water,” Junior said.
“But how do they get here? I don’t see any trail or road.”
“Must be a road come close by. Either that or they come down here by boat.”
Cooter and slider turtles the size of a man’s two hands sunned themselves on logs and low-hanging tree branches. They all slid into the murky water of the river when the boat got within fifty feet or so.
“They ain’t any good for eatin’,” Junior said. “Anyway, you’d never catch one if you tried.”
The boys passed a water snake swimming toward shore. A great blue heron stood rigidly in shallow water at the edge of a sandbar, waiting for a passing fish. Two ducks passed overhead, going down the river arrow-straight in tight formation, driven by pounding wings. A turkey vulture and broad-winged hawk spiraled upward on a draft of warmer air, at such a distance and height they were little more than silhouettes.
Two smaller hawklike birds with long forked tails sailed over the canopy on the opposite shore.
“Those have got to be swallowtail kites,” Raff said. “I never saw one of those before.” He added helpfully, “They eat snakes up in the trees.”
Their eyes lifted often to scan the sky and trees, but they stayed on the unspoken lookout for the Chicobee Serpent. Neither saw anything that could qualify as even a hint of it, but neither really expected the serpent to reveal itself in broad daylight on calm water. They kept hoping, just the same.
And then, like a door flung back, the forest opened. They came to a sandy landing on which rested a small boat similar to their own. A dirt path, cleared of grass and leaves, led about a hundred feet to a small box-shaped house with a slanted galvanized metal roof. The dwelling was well kept. Although unpainted, it appeared solid, with no sign of decay. Several planks on one side were much lighter in color and probably newly installed. Three steps led to a narrow porch at the front entrance. There was a window to the side of the door that faced the river, partly covered by a shade with a drawstring, but no curtain.
When their boat scraped bottom, the boys piled out and together pulled it partway onto the landing.
When they turned around, there stood Frogman, scarcely ten feet away. He must have spotted them and started out the door while they were pulling the boat up.
Frogman was an inch or two over six feet, narrow in face and body, about forty years old, weathered enough to look ten years older. His face was deeply tanned and creased at the eyes and corners of his mouth. He wore old-fashioned blue overalls with a front tool pocket and suspenders, a beige shirt buttoned at the cuffs, and a bill cap labeled flomaton lumber. He wore a short, neatly trimmed beard, and he had long hair tied behind in a ponytail. He was barefoot.
And in his right hand was a pump-action shotgun, which he held steady and pointed at the two boys.
He was not smiling.
“What in hell do you want?” he shouted. He pronounced it hey-yell.
Junior Cody, used to confrontations with his elders, lied smoothly. “Sir, we’re Boy Scouts on a special trip we were told to take, and we thought we’d stop by just to pay our respects.”
Frogman stood still, expressionless, and adjusted his shotgun slightly. Then he jerked the barrel in the direction of the river. The interview was over.
Raff had an inspiration. “Sir,” he said, “you sure have a beautiful place here. They’re such big trees, and there are all kinds of birds and butterflies. We saw them while we were passing by.”
Frogman stood unmoving for half a minute, then answered loudly, “Damn straight, and any sons of bitches come around here and mess up my property, I’ll kill ’em.”
Reprinted from Anthill: A Novel by E. O. Wilson Copyright © 2010 by Edward O. Wilson. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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The Perfect Summer Escape!
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