By Teel James Glenn
Prologue: Drawing Lines
“Tain’t never cottoned to outsiders, no less Yankees tellin’ me what to do, sonny,” the wizened woman called Granny Liz said. “And I sure as hell ain’t gonna let none traipse about up them hills.” She waved a thin hand at a wooded section of the countryside. “Specially not where Cloud family bones is buried.”
The Arkansas State Trooper who stood before her sighed. “I know, Liz,” he said.
“Miss Cloud,” the silver-haired woman corrected. She was dressed in layers of blue and red gingham with a gray shawl tossed over her narrow shoulders, but at barely five feet tall she looked painfully small next to the burly officer.
“Miss Cloud,” he said. “They are not going to hurt the land and they have a perfect legal right with documents from the state government to harvest turpentine.”
“Ain’t no government that can give no permission to desecrate graves —”
“They are not going to desecrate any graves, Miss Cloud,” he said. “Turpentiners tap into the sap layers of the tree under the pine bark. The trees got something called oleoresin they put on the wound to protect it and seal the opening. Turpentiners channel the oleoresin into containers to make spirits of turpentine. They don’t disturb the ground at all.”
“They’s walkin’ on it ain’t they?” The old woman spat. “Yankee boots like yours walking on ground my pappy fought the blue coats for.”
“Now Miss Cloud you know I ain’t no Yankee. I come from less than fifty miles north of here,” the officer said. “And the state can give turping rights to that Collin’s Company, so don’t be yelling at them no more.”
The old woman squeezed her face into an unpleasant expression and tilted her head like a cat regarding a mouse. “The name of these mountains is made of two Choctaw words: ouac, their name for a buffalo, and chito, which is large.” She looked up at the trooper and then waved a gnarled hand at the plains and hills around them. “When my pappy’s pappy came out here there were still herds of those animals that covered the prairies of Ouachita and gave life to the Choctaw. They used every part of any animal they killed and gave thanks to its spirit for the life it gave them.”
She walked past the officer to a wooden statue of a distinguished, middle-aged man in full confederate officer’s uniform looking out over the flat land of the hollow. It was aged by weather but even a casual glance could see that the features of the wooden man bore a striking resemblance to the old woman.
“White men saw only something to conquer and kill. Greedy hunters killed them for their hides, left their bones to bleach in the sun and the meat to rot.” The woman continued, “Eastern and northern folks pushed their way past here heading to the rich lands to the west, taking what they wanted. But the folks that settled here were different, learned to scratch a living out of this land and not waste; to listen to the earth and live with it.”
“Now, Granny Liz,” the trooper slipped into the familiar address, “no one is talking about enslaving you or conquering the land, they just want to slash a few trees for the sap; people need the money — things are bad outside these hills since the crash.”
“Ain’t no crash for those what work with their hands,” the woman countered.
“Then you don’t need that shotgun you was pointing at them boys down in the hollow,” the trooper said. When she turned back to squint at him he smiled. “I will talk to them about staying on the other side of the stream even though they have the right from the governor to come over here.”
She made a noise like a cat hissing, but his smile stayed fixed and she accepted it as a peace offering. She pulled out a corncob pipe and a match from a dress pocket and lit up.
“Governor’s paper ain’t no real right, but if they stay over the stream I won’t pepper’em with shot.”
“Miss Cloud I will have to ask you not to pepper them at all,” he said. “Even if they do stray on your side of the stream. Call me.”
She glared at him in an attempt to make his smile crack but finally nodded. “But mark my words, Vernon Stuckie,” she said. “I knowed you when you was barely in long pants — don’t you lie to me.”
“I promise Miss Cloud, as long as you promise to not shoot anyone or I’ll have to take your shotgun.” He tried a stern look at her, but his expression strayed from sour to a smile when she just turned her back to head toward her ramshackle log cabin.
“Pick up some of my peach preserves ‘fore you leave, boy,” she said. “But leave my squirrel gun alone.”
“The trooper is leaving the old hag’s place now, Mister Collins,” Henry Duck said as he lowered the field glasses from his eyes. “He took something with him into his patrol car.”
“Did you see what it was?” Joe Collins, unlike his foreman, was a thin man, almost delicate of features and with long thin fingers that he drummed against his thighs constantly. He was not dressed for the woods like Duck.
“No, sir,” Duck said. “Maybe a box or something.”
“Back country bribe. Pigs feet or some other delicacy.” Collins said with disgust. “I can’t count on the law backing me up.”
“You got the governor’s paper, boss; the law’s gotta back you up.”
“Not down here,” Collins said. “These Rubes stick together.” He scowled from his fedora to his thin-soled patent leather shoes, now covered with mud from the Arkansas hills.
“So how do we handle it?” Duck said. The deformed ear and scar tissue under his eyes were souvenirs of his failed ring career, and his accent and his attitude were from the streets of Chicago’s South Side.
“Same way you handled it in Florida,” Collins said as he picked burrs from his pants before getting into his crème-colored coupe. “That old bag has the best pine trees in this whole area along those flats on either side of that stream. I want them all cut and bleeding for us by the end of the month or we’ll lose the season.”
“Won’t that state cop get suspicious if we say we shot her in self defense after he talked to her?”
The delicate Collins paused at his picking and pursed his lips, giving the burly man a cross look. “No reason to go that far — yet. And besides, the state cop seemed pretty friendly with the old bat.”
Duck put the binoculars up to his eyes and studied the clearing where Elizabeth Cloud’s cabin and outbuildings were located.
Duck gave a gap-toothed smile. “That dump looks pretty rickety to me, boss. “Seems like an old lady like that could knock over a candle or maybe fall asleep smoking in bed, ya know?”
“I was thinking that a good Samaritan who was maybe working across the stream close by might see the fire and manage to save her, but, not the house, ya know? The old bag of bones would have to move out, but would be, ya know, grateful and all.”
“Have I mentioned that you are a gem, Mister Duck?” Collins slid into his coupe and closed the door softly. “A regular diamond in the rough.”
Chapter One: Old Potions and Odd Notions
Elizabeth Cloud had lived in the valley at the foot of the Devil’s Backbone her whole life. She had been born on a farm down the other end of the valley.
Arlan, her oldest brother, had died fighting the European war that was supposed to end all wars. Josephus, next oldest, had been killed in a bar fight with one of the Gillie brothers; that had started a feud that took Micah, the youngest, before her pa and cousins had killed the four Gillies and ended it.
Micah’s death had taken the heart out of her mother, who withered away and died shortly after. Elizabeth’s father followed her a few months later.
That was when Old Granny Jenny had taken in Elizabeth as her full-time apprentice; though, in fact, she had spent much of her free time growing up helping old Jenny gather herbs and always knew she was destined to be a grannywoman.
She had moved to the north side of the little stream and into Jenny’s cabin toward the older woman’s end and had stayed almost eighteen years.
In that time the surrounding valleys had come to rely on Granny Liz when sicknesses came on them, children were to be born, or when there was suspicion (or need) of a curse. She grew her own vegetables and herbs and gathered many rare plants for her poultices and potions. Things like skunk salve for clearing congestion, and tea made from tubers of the Barnyard Blue Flower for soothing colic.
It was inherited knowledge from the frontier immigrants who brought European herbal knowledge and learned from the native tribes along the way. The Grannywomen who had passed the knowledge down to Old Jenny and then to Liz had also revealed secrets beyond medicinals. Dark secrets that lurked in the shadows, though no pastor would ever speak about it at the pulpit.
Everyone in the Ozarks knew the power of the grannywomen and so they were respected and feared and tacitly ignored by the men of the cloth who kept their preaching confined mostly to the daylight hours and on Sundays, leaving the nights to the wisewomen.
State Trooper Vernon Stuckie knocked on the door of the offices of Collins Enterprises. He had driven from Granny Liz’s place to the town of Greenwood where the turpentine company had its local headquarters, but the storefront office was closed for the day. He regarded the ‘out to dinner’ sign with a jaundiced eye.
Greenwood was the county seat of Sebastian County and was named for Judge Alfred Burton Greenwood. The business district spread over four blocks and had a number of restaurants that Stuckie knew of. He considered which one of them the city-bred Collins might choose.
His guess was the Arkansas House, a steakhouse two blocks from the office.
He was right.
“Ah, Trooper Stuckie,” Collins said with a wide smile. “What a coincidence, you chowing down here.” The table before the slight man was laden with enough food for three men the trooper’s size.
“I’m afraid I’m here to talk to you about the turpentine collection down on the bottoms over at the Backbone.”
“What about it, officer?” The businessman held a glass of beer in one hand and poked at a steak with his fork.
“Your man had trouble today with old Miss Cloud.”
“Oh, yeah,” Collins said. “I heard about some trouble with the owner. An old woman, right?” He motioned for the officer to sit at an empty chair at the table. “She pulled a gun on my guys.”
“More a force of nature,” the trooper said as he sat. “And she did brandish a gun at them, but I have her assurances that will not happen again.”
“Well good,” Collins said. “It’s nice to see my tax dollars are doing their work —”
“But there is a slight complication.”
“Complication?” The businessman paused in the process of pushing a piece of steak into his mouth. “What complication? I got permits from the state to have my boys cut all those trees on the state land down there in the hollow.”
“Yes, technically, you do, sir,” Stuckie said. “But the survey lines of the state land extend to the west side of the little stream that runs through that hollow. Quite a ways, in fact.”
“So? I got rights to tap the trees there.”
“Yes,” the trooper said. “Technically, but the folks here abouts do things a little less formally — the state park line was never really marked so they got kinfolk buried on that land.”
“So? We ain’t strip mining the place, just cuttin’ some trees.”
“Well, she still sees it as, well, kinda sacrilegious.”
The businessman set down his drink and fork and leaned forward. “It ain’t no such thing; it is legal and I expect you to enforce the law or I can talk to my lawyer and your governor. That bottom land is prime for turp-sap, and I want it all.”
“And I will,” Stuckie said with bite in his tone. “I’ve gotten Miss Cloud to agree to not bother any of your men as long as they stay on the East side of the stream —”
“But we —”
“I know you have the right,” the lawman continued. “But it will keep peace if you stay east. Leave that land for last and let me work on her some more. I’m sure we can resolve this peacefully.”
Collins sat back in his chair and picked up his beer. “Yeah,” he smiled before he took a deep draught of his beer. “No bloodshed. Sure, I’m a reasonable guy. We can start in the other sections, and that’ll give you plenty of time to convince the old hag. Sure.”
His grin bothered the trooper but there was nothing for Stuckie to do but leave the man to his gluttony.
“I see you,” Granny Liz called. “Come out of there, you varmint.” The woman took out her pipe and waved it at the smokehouse. “Don’t make me come over there to get you.”
There was a low, rumbling sound, and then a dark shadow detached itself from the shed and slunk toward her on four legs.
“You dumb hound dog,” she hissed. “I’ll bet you didn’t even catch that coon, did you, Jefferson Davis?” The dog came up to stand on the woman’s left, ignoring the cat, which still stood on her right.
“I have to head over to little Ginny Anker’s tomorrow and make up a love spell for her on that boy Joe Chambers; gotta get me some fixins from him.” She patted the dog again.
“Well, I suppose you want some supper, eh, boy?” She reached down and patted the dog on his massive shoulders, which elicited a ‘woof’ of affirmation. “You just wait out here; I got some soup bones I figured you’d want.”
She went in the cabin to get the food and did not notice that the dog’s ears pricked up and he took to sniffing the air as the wind shifted.
Out of the circle of the clearing, hidden in the trees, Henry Duck crouched in the underbrush and thought, “Okay, tomorrow sometime there’ll be my chance. Sleep tight, lady.” Then he snuck away into the night.
Chapter Two: Hollow Victory
Granny Liz was able to get the hair she needed from Joe and even some from Nancy (young Ginny’s rival) to use in her charms without either knowing it. She rode her mule back to her own cabin with her mind spinning just what she needed to do and what, indeed, she should do.
“Sparkin’ is natural,” she said aloud to the mule, “But sometimes, Ulysses, I swear humans do it the most unnatural way!”
Ahead she could see some of the turpentiners moving through the woods, and she squinted hard to see just where they had set their soaks for gathering the sap.
“Still on their side of the stream, Ulysses,” she said aloud and patted the mule on the neck. “So I guess that Stuckie boy got through to them.”
She urged the animal down the path to her clearing with thoughts of how she could help Ginny with her problem, so she didn’t see Henry Duck slip from her cabin into the bushes on the other side of the clearing.
She didn’t see him as he watched from the cover of the foliage, nor did she see the empty container of coal oil he carried that he had used to soak the firewood by her hearth.
Granny Liz opened the door to her cabin and was puzzled when Jefferson Davis did not come barking to greet her.
“Where are you Mister President?” she called, becoming concerned.
The dog came slinking out of a corner, his head bowed and walking stiffly.
“Boy!” She moved quickly to the animal. He whimpered as she held his head and looked into his eyes, studying them.
“You look like you’ve been at my corn squeezin’s,” she said. “Or elst you’re powerful sick.”
Granny Liz helped the dog over to her bed where she pulled him up on to it, lighting an oil lamp to be able to look more closely at the eyes of the ailing dog. She leaned in and sniffed at the animal’s mouth and made a face.
“What you been into, Mister President?” She sniffed again and her featured darkened as she looked around her cabin with a concerned eye.
“Or maybe I oughta say, what’s been into you?”
Henry Duck stood with one of his turpentining crew trying not to look like he was watching the old woman’s house.
“We’re almost done with this whole section, boss,” the worker said to Duck. “We’re gonna be ready to cross that stream again tomorrow.” The rough fellow, who was even broader shouldered than Duck, glanced toward the clearing where Granny Liz’s cabin was. “And some of the boys ain’t very anxious to face that old bitty with a gun again.”
Duck took a long drag on a cigarette before he answered. “I don’t think that will be problem, Matt,” he said.
“You mean that Mister Collins got it all worked out with her?” the worker asked. “She seemed pretty worked up yesterday.”
“Not to worry, Matt,” Duck said. “The boss has ways of making problems disappear. Legally all those trees over there — those sweet, sap filed trees — are on government land and ours to tap.”
“If she don’t shoot us.”
“Grow a pair, Matt. She won’t be a problem for much longer. Just have’ta wait till she gets hungry.”
“Or when it gets dark enough.” Duck chuckled. “Any time now. Any time.”
Just as he spoke there was a brilliant flare of light from the other side of the wisewoman’s cabin.
“There ya go,” Duck said as he spat out his cigarette and started running toward the cabin. “Time for me to be a hero!”
The burly Duck ran just fast enough for his men to see that he was ‘trying’ to help. He made sure that the men were following him for them to be able to tell the State Troopers and his boss Collins that he had tried to save the old woman.
It would make things much simpler if the old woman was out of the picture, and Henry Duck didn’t care if she was hurt or dead. Either way she would be off the grounds for more time then they needed to strip the turp sap from all the trees.
“And that is bonus money for me,” Duck thought as he rounded the corner of the cabin. There, Duck stopped, stunned by what he saw.
Six feet in front of the cabin the old woman was standing in front of a pile of cord wood that was blazing! She was not burned or injured in any way. When she heard Duck run up behind her Granny Liz turned and smiled.
“Why, hi, y’all,” she said. “What’s the fuss all about?”
The other turpintiners ran up while Duck was still trying to find words.
“Cat got ya tongues, boys?” the old woman asked.
“Uh, we thought something was wrong, ma’am.” Matt said. “Least wise, Henry here did and we figured he was right. We saw the flash fire —”
“Oh that,” Liz said with a chuckle. “Seems some of my heating wood somehow got coal oil all over it, and I just couldn’t dare burn it in the house.” She tottered over toward Henry Duck and then seemed to stumble so that she bumped into him. “Sure seems a terribly careless thing to put coal oil on firewood, don’t it, fella?” She fixed Henry in her glare and her smile took on a dark aspect. “Good thing my nose is still a sniffin’ marvel, elst I would’a been cooked like a quail!”
She steadied herself and regarded all the roughnecks who had run to her aid.”
“I ‘preciate you gents all caring enough to come runnin’; if’n you’ll sit yourself a moment I have some nice cool suntea for y’all.”
The men all looked around to each other, embarrassed, then a few smiles cracked as rough demeanors surrendered to the offer of a cool, sweet drink.
Granny Liz kept a smile on her face as she served them and was particularly attentive to the burly Duck, refilling his cup.
Her change in attitude puzzled the foreman and by the time she had collected all the cups and wished the men well he became more than puzzled. He began to feel a little fear.
“You bumbling fool!” Collins yelled when Duck arrived at the office in Greenwood. “I told you to find a way to make her grateful to you so we could get tapping rights from her —”
“Or make sure she wasn’t able to object,” Duck said. He pulled himself to his full height and did his best not to be cowed by the smaller man. “I figured it would work out one way or the other.”
“Well did it?”
“I — I don’t know. She was weird.”
“I mean … I think she knew I was the one that poured the oil on the wood, but —”
“You don’t think,” Collins said. “That’s the problem with you. Of course she figured out you did it. From what you tell me she smelled the coal oil on you. I still can.” He rose from behind his desk and paced the room.
“Okay, knucklehead,” Collins finally said. “Here’s what you’re gonna do. I didn’t want to go this far, not yet anyway, but you’ve made sure we have to.” He turned to stab the glowing end of a cigar at the burly foreman like a sword. “You’re gonna knock that old bitty out and burn the place to the ground.”
“But you just told me that I was wrong —”
“Shut up!” Collins screamed. “You were wrong because you failed. But we can make this work for us. The guys saw you try to help and heard her say she was careless with coal oil. So tonight she gets careless again.”
The little gangster boss laughed. “You’re even gonna bring the lady a nice gift in the morning, maybe a nice pie from that bakery down the block for her being so nice with her tea.”
Duck looked at his employer for a long moment, and then his coarse features split in a malicious grin. “Yeah, I’m a regular saint, ain’t I? A regular saint.”
Chapter Three: The Dark of Night
Granny Liz was busy after all the turpentiners went on their way. She hummed to herself as she took the few hairs she had secured from Henry Ducks’s head and worked them into the head of a wax poppet.
The poppet had been fashioned from a carved root, paper, wax, and clay that had been stuffed with herbs.
She kept the ingredients for the tiny figures in her hut, and made one fresh for each spell she cast. She set aside the hairs she had gathered earlier from Joe Chambers and pressed Duck’s hair into the crown of the new figure she fashioned to resemble the turpentiner.
She sang old songs that Granny Jenny had taught her as she worked, using sage to give the air of the tiny cabin the aspect of a temple.
She sang to herself as she worked, an old tune about the Angel of Death.
I will sing of the twelve
What of the twelve?
Twelve of the twelve apostles,
‘Leven of the saints that has gone to Heaven,
Ten of the ten commandments
She placed the poppet in the center of the circle and sprinkled it with powdered animal bone and herbs in an ancient pattern she had learned at Jenny’s knee. All the while she sang:
Nine of the sunshines bright an’ fair,
Eight of the eight archangels”
Granny Liz pulled the last of the powders from her pocket, the rarest of powdered green stone made from bloodstone and alexandrite, drawing the shape of a bat around the effigy before her.
Two of the little white babes,
Dressed in the mournin’ green
When she finished she was exhausted, her face lined, a mask of concentration.
“That’s a good night’s work, eh, Mister President?” she said to the dog. The animal had rested quietly while she worked, but now his head shot up, his ears perked up, and his head turned to stare at the door.
“I guess I done my fixin’ just in time, boy,” she said. “Seems we got visitors.”
Henry Duck parked his car over the hill and walked down the road silently toward Granny Liz’s cabin. He had a bar of soap in a sock in his right jacket pocket, a favorite prison version of a sap which would allow him to render the old woman unconscious without leaving a mark. He gave a savage grin as he thought about showering with the soap afterward and getting rid of the evidence over the next week, shower by shower.
When he came in sight of the cabin he paused. There was smoke coming from the chimney and he saw no sign of the dog, which he assumed was inside with the woman.
“That could be a problem,” he thought. “He might not take the drugged meat from me again.” He carried a coil of rope that he could use to hold an animal while he clubbed it. The soap would work just as well on the dog and no one would examine the burned body of an animal.
After checking his weapons, Duck moved purposefully to the door of the cabin. He smiled and paused to knock.
“Come in, Mister Duck.” Granny Liz’s voice came muffled through the door and made the burly thug jump.
“How could she know …?” he thought. Then he scowled, lifted the simple latch and entered.
The old hound dog was seated by his mistress across the cabin and barely raised his head to acknowledge Duck’s presence, save to growl.
“Hush, Mister President,” the woman said. Granny Liz was seated in a high-backed chair with a comforter pulled around her shoulders. There was a roaring fire in the hearth, casting dancing shadows over the wisewoman. “Do come in, Mister Duck.”
The man entered and closed the door behind him, his hand in his jacket pocket resting comfortably on the improvised sap. He walked across the cabin slowly, mindful of the squirrel gun the woman had hanging over the fireplace.
“I — uh — I just wanted to see that you were all right, ma’am,” Duck spoke haltingly as he crossed to stand right in front of the old woman.
“I would ask you to sit down, Mister Duck,” she said with a wide smile on her withered features. “But I think you will not be here that long.”
He returned her smile with a dark tint. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m pretty sure I won’t be either.” He slipped the sock out of his pocket and began to whirl it like a miniature lasso. “But then you won’t be here much longer either.”
The woman’s reaction took the would-be murderer completely by surprise; she laughed! A full-throated belly laugh that brought tears to her eyes.
“Oh my, Mister Duck,” she said when she could talk. “You really are a caution. You have a talent for seein’ the future, ya know? You might almost be a grannywoman!”
Her reaction angered the burly thug. He raised the sap to strike at her, but suddenly his arm seemed to freeze in place. His muscles locked as if an invisible hand had grabbed his wrist to hold it.
“What the hell!” he yelled.
“No reason to use profanity, young man,” the woman said. She rose from the chair, and for the first time Duck could see that she was holding a small doll in her hand, one that he noticed, to his horror, was fashioned with jacket, hat, and trousers that looked like the clothes he wore. It was also positioned just as he was at that moment.
“What the hell have you done to me?” he said with fear in his voice. He grabbed his right hand with his left and tried to pull it down, but it was as unmoving as if it had been made of stone.
“Now you stop that talk!” She reached over to the poppet in her hand and pinched the small wax lips of the image. At that moment his jaw seemed to lock. He moaned in terror.
“Oh, youngin’,” she said with a shake of her head. “You is just as thin blooded as you are thick headed.”
She moved to the hearth and procured a long taper, which she used to light her pipe.
Duck found he could not move at all save for his eyes, with which he followed her movements. She puffed on her pipe while she regarded him.
“Did you really think you could pull the wool over Granny Liz’s eyes, Mister Turpentiner?” She shook her head. “You city men think we mountain folk ain’t got the sense God gave a ‘coon, but it’s y’all that don’t got a lick of sense. We know this land, we feel its pain and you, comin’ up here to rip the blood from our trees, scar up our land, you are the ones who will come to justice.”
She puffed on her pipe and stroked her cat that had stretched and walked over to her, disdainfully stepping around the frozen Duck.
“But just what should that justice be, eh, Jonah?” She looked down at the cat, which meowed to her in answer.
“Oh yes,” the wisewoman said. “An excellent idea; just like the good book says, ‘an eye for an eye!’”
Epilogue: The Roots of Evil
Trooper Vernon Stuckie drove his patrol car up to the foot of the road near Granny Liz’s clearing. The early morning mist was still crawling along the hollow with a dream-like quality.
“I expect you to stand up for my legal rights, Officer,” Joe Collins said. The little man was bundled in a trench coat that seemed as if it had been borrowed from his big brother. He tugged on gloves and had pulled his fedora down tightly on his head.
“I will do my job, Mister Collins,” the trooper said sharply. His breath puffed into cold mist that joined the fog. “I don’t need you to tell me what it is.”
“I know this old woman had something to do with my crew leaving yesterday, and that voids any absurd agreement you made with her.”
The trooper stopped short and turned to look down at the turpentiner. “I made a bargain in good faith, Mister Collins, and there is no proof that Miss Cloud did anything to cause your men to leave.”
“There is no way that my foreman just up and left me, Henry has been my right hand for years.”
The two men continued down the path only to halt when the dog Jefferson Davis began to bark. The trooper stopped.
“Miss Cloud!” the officer called out. “I’d like to speak to you.”
The dog stayed by the cabin but continued to bark until the grannywoman came out the door and said, “Hush, Mister President. Who is it?”
“It’s me, Miss Cloud,” the officer said. “Trooper Stuckie.”
“Who’s that with you?”
“I am Joseph Collins, Miss Cloud. I came here to find out what happened to my foreman Henry Duck. And what you did to my men!”
The old woman walked slowly across the clearing while lighting her corncob pipe. “Mister Collins,” she said with a wide smile on her withered face. “I have been wanting to meet you. I was up early makin’ up a little potion for a problem for little Ginny Ankers. ”
“Morning, Miss Cloud,” Trooper Stuckie said.
“Morning, Vernon,” she said. She came to stand by the two men, dwarfed by the trooper but almost eye-to-eye with the shorter Collins.
“Madam —” Collins began.
“I ain’t no madam,” she said, “I’m Miss Cloud.”
“Miss Cloud, what do you know about Mister Duck’s disappearance?”
“Disappearance? Did he go somewhere?”
“You know damn well he’s gone somewhere,” Collins said. “My whole crew took off yesterday with a cock and bull story about hives or something.”
“Watch your language young man,” the old woman said. “Don’t you blaspheme to me.”
“I say any damn thing I want; I got paperwork here that allows me and my company to tap any of the trees right up to the property line right over there, and this officer is here to see that you abide by the law.”
“I’ll thank you not to put any words in my mouth and to keep a civil tongue in your head,“ Stuckie said. “I’m sorry, Miss Cloud, but there is some concern about Mister Collins’ workers. Seems they all called in sick yesterday with some sort of rash and were sick to their stomachs.”
“Oh, how very unfortunate; they all seemed just fine when they came to visit me day before yesterday. They had a cool drink with me,” the old woman said. She puffed out a cloud of smoke and then studied it as it blew away. “Maybe I got me some ointment that can help them.”
“I don’t need no hick quack messin’ with my guys,” Collins yelled, “I want to know where Duck is, and I want what’s comin’ to me.”
The old woman laughed softly. “Oh I’m sure that will happen, Mister Collins. Things have a way of working themselves around to the just solution here in the mountains.”
At that moment a breeze came up from the hollow, blowing off the last of the fog and rustling the leaves of the foliage. The wind made a sound like the low moan of a tormented soul.
That was when the trooper made an observation.
“Excuse me, Miss Cloud,” the officer said. “But when did you get a second statue?”
Standing next to the carved wooden statue of Granny Liz’s ancestor was a second figure, a crude almost natural wooden form that had the rough appearance of a modern working man dressed in a jacket and fedora with his hand raised above his head.
Collins shivered when he noticed the features on the new statue; they were in the exact image of Henry Duck. The most remarkable thing about the figure was the life-like features; the statue looked so life-like, in fact, that you could almost see the fear in the eyes.
“I’m always acquirin’ things,” the old woman said. She fixed the turpentiner’s eyes with hers. “You never know, I might just want to add to my collection again.”
As a writer, Teel James Glenn, has over two score novels currently on the market. He was named best author for 2012 by the Pulp Ark Awards. His short stories have appeared in Weird Tales, Mad, Black Belt, Fantasy Tales, Pulp Empire, Sixgun Western, Fantasy World Geographic, Silver Blade Quarterly, Another Realm, AfterburnSF, Blazing Adventures and scores of other publications. His website is theurbanswashbuckler.com.