The little cabin was nestled so far back into the trees that Grover Petersworth could barely make out the light from the two windows built into the log framework on either side of the cabin’s front door. Grover’s shiny new 1962 business sedan crunched over the gravel as he rolled the car to a gentle stop directly in front of the packed-earth path that led up to the porch. There was a single, use-worn rocking chair resting on the wood slats that formed the porch’s floor, but no moving shadows in the windows which might indicate that anyone was home.
It had been a long day of searching, and Grover wondered if he shouldn’t turn around and head back into town. But now that he was finally here, an almost irresistible curiosity tugged him forward. Robert Jackson Lee Hill was a rather infamous figure in these parts, for the country folklore that swirled around Hill’s youthful adventures. If anyone had ever shaken hands with the devil, it was said, that person was Bobby Jay Hill.
Grover turned off the engine to his sedan and waited, staring at the yellow glow that filtered through the trees. Who knew how long it might take to ask all the questions he’d written down? And there was no telling whether or not Bobby Jay would be in any mood to talk about his past. The country-bred teenagers who’d finally put Grover on the right path, had said that Bobby Jay was notoriously private. He might not like the sight of a stranger from the city walking up to his home. If Grover spotted anything that looked even a little bit like a rifle or a shotgun, he was running for the car.
There. A tiny bit of movement through one of the windows—the barest rustling of what looked like curtains?
Grover pulled a little liquor flask from his jacket—draped across the passenger seat, where it had been resting for the past three hours—and took a swallow. For courage. Then he opened the driver’s door, slipped his hat and his jacket on, made sure his notepad was tucked securely in one hand, and began to walk slowly and deliberately toward the house of the man who’d supposedly gone to the land of the living dead and returned to tell the tale.
The porch slats creaked as Grover’s black leather loafers touched the wood. He stopped for a moment, waiting to see if there was any additional movement from inside. The glass was filthy, to the point that the windows were translucent instead of transparent. The front door was partially shadowed in the lowering evening light, with only a simple wooden handle where a knob might have been.
Grover stared at the handle and felt his hands grow sweaty. Wiping them quickly on his slacks, he straightened his tie, breathed deeply three times, then rapped politely on the wood.
Nothing. No sound, nor any movement beyond the windows. Grover frowned, and politely rapped a second time. Then a third.
Grover sighed, and determined that he’d just have to retreat and make some additional inquiries. He turned on his heel to step off the porch.
The muzzle of the double-barreled twelve-gauge was a horrible shock. The man holding the weapon was stooped by age, with a face so wrinkled he could have passed for a dried-up apple. Bright, small eyes stared unblinking at Grover, while Grover instinctively put his hands up, palms facing forward.
Two hammers clicked back, and Grover felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.
“Damned bank,” the old man with the weapon said, using a mouth that was missing too many teeth. “If I told you fellers once, I told you fellers a thousand times: my daughter’s got the payment on the loan, and if anyone has a problem with it, they can go talk to her.”
“No sir,” Grover said, hating the tiny crack in his voice. “I’m not from any bank.”
“You came from town, didn’t’cha?” the old man barked.
“In a roundabout fashion,” Grover said, marveling at the inky blackness he could see down the mouths of the two barrels.
“On’y men from town got the nerve to come out here,” the old man drawled, “are the kind wantin’ money. And in case you ain’t noticed, money’s somethin’ I don’t have a lot of these days, you hear?”
“I hear,” Grover said, suddenly sensing an opportunity. “Which is germane to my reason for visiting you tonight, Mister… Hill?”
“You callin’ me a kraut, son?”
“No, no,” Grover said, taking a reflexive step backward, and bumping into the closed door. “I’m sorry. What I mean is, I’ve got a business proposition for a certain Robert Hill, who’s rumored to reside at this location. Would that be you? Or should I head down to the main road and try a little further north? I’m so sorry to intrude at this time of the day. I’ve driven a long way to talk to Mister Hill, and it’s important that I make sure I’ve got the right home.”
The old man still hadn’t blinked, nor had the hammers been lowered back into place. For all Grover knew, he was mere seconds from receiving two shells of buckshot between his front teeth.
“What kinda business you got with Bobby Jay?”
“I’d like to interview him.”
“Interview? For what?”
“My name is Grover Petersworth, but you might know me better as G.P. Grayson, from the All-American Weekly.”
The old man’s eyes didn’t register any recognition.
“I don’t suppose the papers circulate this far from town?” Grover asked, again hating the tiny crack in his voice.
“Nope. And if you don’t want things gettin’ unfortunate, son, you’d best get off my porch and go back to your automobile, and get gone, you understand?”
“Absolutely,” Grover said, “and I do apologize again for the intrusion. I imagine a man such as yourself values his solitude. So, if you don’t mind lowering that shotgun, I’ll be on my way.”
The twin barrels slowly but surely dropped, until they were pointed at the porch.
“Git with ye,” said the old man, who turned and spat off the porch and into the weeds and grass that grew along the edge.
Grover stepped carefully—but quickly—around the old man, noting the threadbare nature of the old man’s bib denim dungarees. Very possibly they were the only ones the old man owned? Grover decided to try one more time to get a bite, and set the hook.
“If you don’t mind,” Grover said over his shoulder, “please pass the word that I’m very interested in meeting with Mister Hill, and that I’m paying generously for the opportunity—as well as for solid leads on Mister Hill’s whereabouts.”
“How much is ‘generous’ to you, son?”
“The All-American Weekly is world-class, sir. To get an exclusive interview with Mister Hill, I’m putting five hundred dollars on the barrelhead. More than that, if the interview is truly in-depth.”
For the first time, the old man’s eyelids fluttered closed, and then opened quickly again.
“That’s a lot of money in these parts,” the old man said…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, available now!