Chapter Four, by Dan O'Sullivan
Robert Felton had it with the rain, every afternoon at 4, it poured, interrupting good, after-school fishing time. It did bring the fish up, biting. Everybody’s hungry after a rain.
Robert always loved Wednesdays, except the rain. He could fish all evening and his Mama would think he was at church. The Reverend came to visit one Thursday, told Mama Robert skipped mid-week service.
“The Lord makes note of such behaviors, Robert,” he said with a fierce, old-guy face.
“He must read a lot.”
“Only to you, my son.”
“I don’t hear Him.”
“On Judgement Day,” he leaned forward. “You’ll not be so flippant, boy.”
Robert turned away from ancient breath, breaking contact with the Preacher’s irreverent eyes.
“Call me, then.” Robert turned on his heel strutting out the front door. His mother never brought up church services again, that pleased Robert too.
He wandered red clay roads around the county. The plow horse wasn’t much of a ride.
Built for the plow, the middle-aged animal was getting soft, standing idle in pasture, once a cornfield. Robert had no interest in dying while tilling. Their few acres will sell, then he and Mama would go to the city.
With nothing to do but fish, he explored his limits.
And those of others.
Robert didn’t like the name Bobby, Bobby-Joe or any other cutesy, Southern version of his name. Jimmy Butner introduced himself in first grade, then called him Bobby. Robert’s hatred for the name and that geek, Jimmy began then.
The Butner farm was the largest in the county. Named for some Grandpa Butner in the previous century, the county was Butner’s backyard. Robert’s place bordered it to the south.
It gave Robert the tingles when he passed. The place was haunted, possessed or something. The other kids talked about it with a brash fervor in small groups and hushed tones around Jimmy Butner, never around parents.
“The older brother killed his parents.” Said with wicked smiles over a lunch table or in fields after chores. “He tore out their throats and was licking up blood when they found him.” Sincerity cloaked each breathy word .
“They keep him in the basement, chained to the wall.” They nodded up and down in his minds eye. “They feed him human blood.”
Robert saw the scars on Old man Butner’s forearms each time he raised them in rapture at Sunday service. A fresh black suture appeared several Sundays in a row after the Grandmother died. Jimmy’s Grandpa was a farmer. Scars were to be expected on a man who’d worked the fields all his life. One more reason for Robert to get out of the life.
Jimmy and his Grandpa would attend Wednesday services. All of Butner County did, the Butners were no exception. He wouldn’t get another chance after they moved. Robert would seize the day as his father told him, before dropping dead himself, seizing his chest.
The late Summer rain clung to the trees, bringing longer branches down. He ducked under these as heavier drops thumped his hat. Dressed for the heat in button down, cotton shirt and denims, Robert still liked going barefoot. But the rain brought out his dad’s old combat boots. They were heavy on his feet, dangling on each side of the plow-horse.
Butner House sat on a rise surrounded by bottom land. The horse would leave an obvious trail through muddy, plowed fields. Robert followed a line of trees after tying his ride to one at the field’s rim.
The walk was easier than he thought and his eyes were drawn to the three story, Victorian rising before him, ever closer. He imagined he stood in place as the house stalked him. Clouds moving to the Northeast left a parting shot of sheet lightening, enveloping the huge wooden structure in a brief halo. This made the return of dusky skies a shroud on the gabled roof. Thunder clapped away Robert’s calm, as well as that of the horse. Snorting disapproval, it whinnied for him to give up this foolishness and head for the barn.
“Shut up, you old stud,” he told the horse. “Ain’t nothing but a storm.” Turning back to the house, it’s closeness stopped him. “Happens every day.” Stepping forward, he thought of steel.
The foundation was granite block, it once may have been clean. Moss and mud caked in places, it was chipped to powdery white in others. The wood house grew from this four-foot wall as flowers might from a window box. Colorful in it’s greens and yellows around dozens of windows on the south side, one window in the foundation called to Robert. Crusted with dirt, he cleaned a space in segmented glass.
Darkness greeted his eyes.
A small movement, a shadow in hazy light from another window.
A moth flew under the brim of his hat, startling Robert off his knees, away from the window. Hopelessly late waving it away, Robert swatted the air. Again the moth buzzed his face. Again he waved it away with his hat.
Something moved behind the glass. Robert would see what the little twerp and his Grandpa had in their basement. He’d tell everybody the truth, get some kind of proof, something that showed he was there.
Closer, the glass smelled of mildew. Grass whipped his pants with wet stripes. The stone sill gave him a good place to lean as he pried open the outward swinging wood frame with his fingertips. Hinged at the top, he got under the heavy panes and waited brief seconds while his eyes adjusted enough to identify shapes.
A huge shape appeared. A smile showed obscene teeth.
“Hello Bobby,” Rady boomed. “Come on in.”
The mess was impossible, but eventually all trace of Robert Felton disappeared from the basement, the county, the memory. Disappearances were common enough to need progressively fewer questions in Butner County.
Grandpa Butner went for a brief visit to Mama Felton’s house just before she moved away, disappearing from Butner County, forever.