“There she is, Cletus. Ain’t she a beauty?” Skipper waved his hand over the top of the battered steering wheel. In the distance, a ramshackle cabin crouched on the side of a hill as if it expected to slide into the gully below at any moment. The accompanying outhouse looked much sturdier and more securely positioned, straight and tall on a flat spot of ground surrounded by shaggy pines. Skipper gunned the engine, ground the gears, and let the pickup roll down the rutted dirt road.
“You sure the still is up there?” Cletus sucked the gap where his left bottom bicuspid used to sit.
Skipper bounced the truck through a series of potholes before answering. “Sure as shootin’. Got me a batch of ’shine just last month from it. We got us enough corn to cook up a double batch this time. My granpappy knew what he was doing when he built it. It’ll last ’til Judgment Day and then some.”
The truck slalomed through the gully at the bottom, spewing sand from beneath its tires before lurching up the bank on the far side. A plastic grocery bag slid under Cletus’s foot.
“What’s this, Skip?” Cletus hefted the bag and its load. “A book? This don’t look like your usual reading material.” The book was thick, bound in strangely delicate pale leather. Arcane lettering flowed across the front, penned by hand in dark brown ink. Discoloration from an old water splotch spread like leprosy from the bottom corner.
“It’s for the outhouse. Feel that paper. Ain’t that the softest you ever felt? I grabbed that from a dumpster behind that university what done closed last winter. They had a whole pile of old books just tossed back there. I got more in the back, but that book’s got enough pages to last us the whole season.”
Cletus flipped the cover back. A faint odor of decay and rot clung to the pages. He ran his fingers over the title page. The letters were strangely shaped, square and full of odd angles, as if the person who had penned them suffered from some strange affliction of the musculature system that caused bizarre twitches. Almost as if terror were infused in every pen stroke.
Cletus whistled. “That is the softest I ever felt. Better than that Charmin paper Lucie Mae is always after me to buy.”
“We’re living like kings this weekend. No women, no rules, and plenty of ’shine to keep us warm.” Skipper pulled the truck to a stop in front of the cabin.
Rosebud, the hound who had patiently waited out the bumpy ride in the back of the truck with the bags of feed corn, bounded out before the dust had time to settle. She woofed once before relieving herself on the nearest patch of meadow grass.
Skipper and Cletus banged their way out of the truck, doors slamming and shedding more dust from the rusted body of the vehicle. They grabbed the bags of corn, hefting them over their shoulders as they headed behind the cabin to the hidden shed half-buried in the hill.
“Let’s get her fired up,” Skipper said as he pulled the door open on the shed. “We’ll get the ’shine cooking then do us some hunting. Steak for dinner?”
“Long as it ain’t possum or squirrel again.” Cletus dropped his bag on the floor of the shed. “I got to go test out that new paper, if you catch my drift.”
Cletus headed back for the truck where he pulled the book from the front seat. He crunched his way across the loose grit to the door of the stately outhouse. Rosebud bounded up to him, wagging her tail until she caught a whiff of the book. She backed away, a whine building in her throat.
“Just an old book, girl. Don’t you worry none.” Cletus waved the book at the dog.
Rosebud broke into a long howl before disappearing into the underbrush next to the porch of the cabin.
Cletus studied the hole where the hound had fled. “Huh. Just old paper full of dusty old words. Nothing to be scared of.” He stared a moment longer before answering the increasingly urgent call of nature. The outhouse door banged shut on his heels.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Just an old book, girl. Don’t you worry none.”[/pullquote]
He checked for spiders before sitting on the wooden seat, polished by several generations of bottoms. Sunlight drifted through the obligatory crescent moon cutout in the door. Dust motes danced in the beam. The light shone on the ancient text. The lettering on the cover beckoned, tempting Cletus to explore the pages within. He hefted it into his lap. His fingers strayed over the odd words. His lips moved as he attempted to sound out the name scrawled beneath the title.
“‘Mis-ka-tonic.’ Huh. Sounds like an imported beer.”
He flipped to a random page. His fingers picked out words as he stumbled his way through the unfamiliar lettering. The syllables fell from his mouth, awkward and angular and unfamiliar. The afternoon air stilled in the outhouse, as if a giant beast held its breath. Though the autumn sunshine was bright and warm, a chill slithered up through the hole beneath.
Cletus finished the final syllable. The invisible presence loosed a sigh, a breath of frigid air that stirred the dusty motes and set them dancing. Cletus gave a final grunt before ripping the page from the book. He slammed the book shut, then shoved it onto the ledge beside the seat before he put the soft page to good use, dropping that into the hole when he finished.
The door banged shut behind him leaving nothing but a lingering odor to indicate his recent visit. The dust motes settled to a slow drift. An icy chill rose from the dank hole beneath the seat. The words had been spoken. A portion of the man had been given to the Elder Gods. Not the most desirable portion, but it had been many long years since their slumber had been disturbed by anything mortal. Any sacrifice was better than no sacrifice…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, available now!
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