He shoved the corpse from the truck bed, and the hatchet fell loose when the body thumped to ground. Boshell set the blade back into the wound, then tamped it in snug with a boot stomp. The hatchet fell free twice more before he got Jepperson up to where his grandma's garden had been laid and she'd grown the tangiest okra he'd ever had and oddly shaped but sweet tomatoes you just couldn't find anymore. The corpse nodded when dragged and the head bent a bit to the side, as if he was taking an interest in this trip, noting the details, setting the picture in his mind.
Boshell said, "This all was ours, ours up until foreigners like you'n yours got here from up north with fancy notions'n bank money and improved everything for us." He looked on Jepperson, with his face yet smug in death, and remembered when the dead man said in that voice that came from way high in the nose, "If I come across one more eaten guinea, I'll shoot your dog." And Boshell had said, "That ain't the neighborly way, mister. If'n Bitsy was to rip a guinea or two, just tell us." And the dead man, so much younger and bigger and flush with money and newcomer attitudes, said, "I don't give two shits about being neighborly with you people. Have you not noticed that?"
Now Boshell nudged the corpse with a boot, put his toe to the chin, and shoved the head until the face was up again. He started to crouch, but the scent was too high, and he stood back a step to say, "They go for about a dollar fifty a bird, neighbor - still seem worth it?"
The old, original well was sided by short, stacked walls of stones. The well had gone dry long ago, in Grandpa's time, before the coughing killed him, and a slab rock the color of dirt had been slid over the gap so no playing child or adult drinking shine in the dark would wander over and fall into the hole, bust a leg or a neck. The hole was but eight feet deep, and there were a few shards of glass and earthenware scattered about the bottom where the spout had sealed shut after the water table dropped.
"Your new home, neighbor. Maybe I'll be back to tell you about this place. Family history."
Evelyn made his favorite dish that night. She'd thawed a couple of quail, split them and fried them in the black skillet, served them with sides of chowchow and bean salad. Boshell had whiskey, she had her daily glass of beer, and they watched the evening news on an East Coast channel the satellite dish pulled into their front room. The traffic reports made them laugh, shake their heads, and the weather was interesting to watch, what with the cold northern temperatures and early snowflakes swirling down between sun-thwarting buildings into gray canyons, but of no use. When a segment about lost dogs in Brooklyn came on he tried to turn the TV off, but Evelyn was bawling before he could find the button.
She ran outside and Boshell followed. She rushed past the ranks of firewood, the chopping block, a wheelless Nova that would never be fixed, and sagged against an oak tree lightning had split. Bitsy had crawled home hurt and collapsed beneath the split tree, gutshot, vomiting, looking up at Ev with baffled, resigned eyes, and it took two hours for her to bleed out and die with a last windy sound and a little flutter. Strands of silver hair waved across Evelyn's face, and her hands clenched onto her dress and squeezed the wad of cloth. The horses across the creek neighed in their pen, and the big house beyond was dark.
"Oh, Ev," he said. "We'll soon get you another."
"There wasn't never but the one Bitsy. Just the one."
Later, when the moon had settled, Boshell slid from bed and dressed. He fetched a big flashlight and went out back to the toolshed. He shoved cobwebs in the corner aside and searched among hoes, rakes, a busted scythe, until he came across his old three-tined frog gig. He tapped the ground with the gig as he walked, and started down the dry creek bed, splashing light over all those rocks, whistling like a child.
Excerpted from The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell. Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Woodrell. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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