I stirred in the bed and realized what a terrible mess the sheets and comforter were. I’d evidently made my way to the bed last night, though I didn’t remember it, and fallen asleep despite the scratchiness and stiffness of the covers. Now that I had awoken, I knew how uncomfortable it really was – and that I had slept rather unsoundly, according to the state the room was in.
The log cabin feel of the room disturbed me as my head throbbed from the sunlight coming in through the windows. I was unsettled by the presence of a deer head on the wall and a stuffed bird sitting on the bookshelf between volumes of books that, I assumed, no guest ever read. I knew I certainly wouldn’t be the first to pore through those unending volumes. I chose, instead, to get myself clothed and go see if anyone else in the house was stirring. Stepping through the mess on the floor, I soon found a clean enough pair of pants and a t-shirt I hadn’t yet worn on this trip.
I went to the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of cereal while I looked out the window at the dirty pond – or lake, as the owner of this little vacation home called it – and noticed that someone, perhaps me, had driven my rental car straight into a deep ditch. I moaned, knowing that I shouldn’t have partied so hard the night before with Kyle, the friend my mother allowed me to bring on this stupid trip, and the crazy, old, rich lady that had given us all the liquor. Her other guests at the party had probably been wasted, too, but most of their cars were gone. Mine was probably the only one that had been moved into the ditch.
After downing my cereal, I left the little house by the pond and started walking up the drive to the larger cabin where the crazy old lady that owned this place lived. The rich lady, my aunt Glinda, had inherited her money from some business empire in Florida. She was already awake and working on feeding her show dogs, something I should have expected from her, and waved to me when she saw me coming up the hill.
“Good morning, Zach,” she said as I approached. “You slept well, I hope?”
I shuffled nervously, looking to the floor as I put my hands in my pockets. “Yes, ma’am. But I couldn’t help noticing that someone had driven my car into the ditch. Do you know who did it? Can I use your phone to call a tow company? I don’t have any signal out here.”
The old lady put the bag of dog food down and picked up some bottled water that she poured in the dogs’ bowls. She had remained skinny and fit despite her advanced age, but the lack of fat showed off her wrinkles, the darkness of the lines evidence of smoking. Her hair was white as snow and her skin relatively tan, probably from a tanning booth, but that’s the way these crazy old ladies were. They didn’t want to grow old so they invited young relatives up to their ‘rustic mountain getaways’ for a weekend.
“You don’t need a tow company. Here, let’s go inside the house for a minute and we’ll call Richard just down the road. You remember him from the party last night, don’t you Zach?”
“Was he that redneck that no one except the other rednecks could understand?” I asked.
“Well… yes, but don’t talk about them that way. They can’t help the way they are. Their lives are so organic, so real, even if they are a bunch of poor inbreds,” the old lady responded. She picked up the receiver on her telephone and dialed the number without looking it up – evidently, Richard and his wife were called on quite often. I thought it was probably because Richard was, after all, the guy that the old lady had hired to look after her properties. Richard’s wife was said to have been the one to clean the guest houses during the day. Both were probably too stupid to have ever done anything but menial work.
“Richard? Yes, my nephew Zach – you remember him from last night…? Yes, yes of course you do. Anyway, his car is in that ditch right next to the barn. Do you think you could get it out…? Yes, of course. I suppose so. Well, I’ll send him down there so he can approve whatever you need to do to his car… Thanks a bunch! Ta-ta!”
I didn’t want to go try to communicate with Richard. The old lady would make me, though, as she would spend her time pretending to tend to her land but mostly feeding her dogs organic food and bottled water. “Now, Richard will be up with the cart in a few minutes. You just walk on down to the barn and meet him there. I’m sure he’ll have a way to get your car out,” the old lady said.
“Can you come with me?” I asked.
“Now, sweetie, you can do this yourself – you were the one who wrecked it. I’ve got to go take care of the livestock,” the old lady said. She patted me on the back, a sure sign that the lady wasn’t going to lose the argument. I sighed, showing my disdain for the request, but went along with it. The old lady led me out of the house and pointed me to the barn, about 500 feet down the driveway, where my car had been wrecked. I walked to the car and waited a few minutes for Richard to drive up in some sort of ATV.
Richard was a priceless joke. He was wearing overalls and tall, black boots along with a straw hat and a red, cotton shirt. He wore a relatively nice looking jacket, but then I realized that it was just some cheap Wal-Mart knockoff. So much for the old lady’s idea that the natives were ‘organic.’
After Richard said something and walked slowly over to the car, kicking the tires and looking underneath, he looked to me as if he expected a response. Whatever had come out of Richard’s mouth had been lost on me, though, amongst all the unfamiliar sounds and the drawl of his words. I understood “tractor” and “go” but, beyond those two words, there was nothing.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. The old lady had told me to be nice, right? All I needed to do was to play along until Richard either got the car out of the ditch or the old lady called a towing company. These people couldn’t be inherently unsafe, could they?
Richard pointed to the ATV and said something that I took to mean “Get in.” I didn’t know if I trusted Richard’s driving but got in the passenger seat anyway as Richard cranked the ATV back up and turned to go back down the hill, away from the old lady’s house and towards some strange part of this rural place. Eventually, Richard turned off the long set of driveways (built, of course, by the old lady’s dead husband) and went down the road, taking me off the lady’s property. I got nervous, not knowing where, exactly, in this wooded hell-hole that Richard was taking me.
“Hey – hey, where are you taking me?” I asked.
“I tole ye,” Richard painfully forced out of his mouth, “We’re goin’ tuh Paw’s house.” His voice didn’t sound angry, just reassuring, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I could trust anything that came from Richard.
I didn’t know how I should be expected to know who Paw was or where the house would be. I looked and saw that there was still no signal on my cell phone, but I wanted so badly for the old lady to come pick me up. Whenever we got to Paw’s house, I would ask to use their phone and call mom or the old lady. Their cars weren’t in the ditch and they could come get me while these crazy rednecks rode around on their ATVs and searched for tractors. Perhaps I could play paintball in the old lady’s back yard.
Richard turned off the ATV as we pulled up to a small, dingy looking house with a bunch of old cars sitting in the front lawn and in the outbuildings nearby. The place smelled weird, something like dust and animals, throwing me off. I didn’t like farms or anything that felt like a farm. A dog barked menacingly from it’s doghouse, scaring me and causing me to back up to the ATV and try to get back in. When I realized the dog was tied, though, I became wary of the length of the rope but followed Richard carefully to the front porch of the little house.
An excessively old couple, both worn, wrinkled, and almost scary, sat on the porch in a couple of old chairs. They appeared to be doing nothing but sitting, waiting for something to happen. The way these people lived, I wondered if they thought of Miss Glinda and her party-goers as gods or something. I had never known these people to act in any way other than servile.
“How ya doin,’ Paw?” Richard asked.
“Alright. Back’s a hurtin’ this mornin’,” the old man, evidently Paw, answered.
The old woman, probably Maw if I was correct, simply mumbled under her breath. She seemed upset, though whatever she was upset about I couldn’t tell.
“You put sumpthin awn it?” Richard asked in response to Paw’s complaint.
“Ain’t gonna help me. Probably not gonna make it too much longer anyway. Who ya got with ya, Richard?” Paw asked.
I stepped forth and offered my hand for a shake, as business-like as I could, but was surprised at the callouses covering the old man’s hands. I had meant to be more resolved and powerful sounding, but only managed, “I’m Zach – Miss Glinda’s nephew. Nice to meet you, sir.”
“Hmm…” the old man said. I expected him to say something else, but the old man left it at that.
“Paw, yer tractor runnin’?” Richard asked.
“I dunno. Youns fixin’ to need it?” Paw asked.
“Zach here’s car’s in yon ditch. Yain’t gon git it out with a truck,” Richard responded. I thought I was getting the hang of how these crazy redneckes talked, but I wasn’t certain.
Paw exaggeratedly got himself up and out of his seat, proclaiming every effort to have caused him immense pain, before he began to bumble on down to the steps. I wondered how much Paw really hurt, considering he didn’t use a cane and seemed to be perfectly fine walking.
“Now, Asa, ya cain’t be serious. Stop that – put that down!” the old woman on the porch shouted. I couldn’t move, frightened by the old lady’s odd yammering. I felt a hand on my shoulder, though, and didn’t like that lowly old Richard was trying to comfort me. Couldn’t Richard see that he was a useless little buffoon?
“Don’t mind Maw. But ye jest stay cheer, siddown this chur, an’ we’ll be back quicker’n two shakes,” Richard said. Whatever was the meaning behind his second sentence, it was lost on me. He pushed me gently towards a chair and beckoned me to sit down before following Paw off to get to the tractor without another sensible word.
I didn’t know what to do. I supposed I could try speaking with Maw, try being nice, try not getting murdered by these lunatic inbreds. On the other hand, this old lady seemed to be crazier than even Miss Glinda – legally insane crazy, not just obsessive and in denial about aging. Talking to this old lady could put me in a whirlwind of craziness. Still – she might let me use her phone.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but do you have a phone I can use?” I asked her. She didn’t seem to be paying any attention to me until I said those words aloud but, as soon as I said them, she turned her head and sat stock still.
“Who ye?” Maw asked harshly, staring straight at me. It almost felt like she was staring through me, to something else. Her eyes burned into my skull, scaring me. Her awkward, old, inbred face was terrible.
“Uh… Zach. I’m Miss Glinda’s nephew,” I answered, trying to get out of whatever trouble I’d gotten in.
“Ye wreck yer car?” she asked.
“I woke up and it was in the ditch.”
She turned her head and said to an empty chair, “Pay him no never mind, Asa. He’s jest like t’ rest ovem. No, I ain’t gonna do that!”
It scared me that she was talking to empty chairs. She must be schizophrenic. I didn’t know how to handle myself around someone who was verified mental, so I thought I’d just try and help her realize what she was doing.
“There’s no one there, lady,”
“Asa’s right. That thar’s Charley’s chur and I see ol’ Charley commin’ down the mountain. Y’ort ta git over thar,” she instructed, pointing out the chair that Paw had been sitting in.
“Who’s Asa? You’re seeing things,” I told her.
“Asa’s right here. And we cain’t stand fer ye ta be sittin’ in Charley’s chur while he commin’ to sit with us,” the old lady said.
At this point, I was tired of the lady’s crazy antics, so I flat told her, “You’re insane, lady, and I am not moving over there for someone who doesn’t even exist.”
The old lady muttered under her breath, speaking quietly with the imaginary person in the chair next to her. For a few minutes I thought I was going insane listening to her. I got up and looked around the side of the house where I’d seen Richard and Paw leave, but I couldn’t tell where they went. I stepped over the sparse and weedy grass and I hopped the empty flower bed to get back onto the low, cement porch, sitting back down in the chair so that Richard could find me and take me back later.
“Git offin a Charley!” Maw hollered as soon as I sat down.
“What?” I asked.
“Yer sittin’ on Charley! Git, git!” she said.
“I don’t understand. Charley? There’s no one there, you crazy bitch!” I yelled at her. She didn’t seem to understand what was going on anyway.
The old lady stood up quicker than I thought possible for someone so fragile looking, but I soon realized it was her loose and ragged clothing that made her look thinner than she really was. She was still an old lady, though, and had a difficult time as she yanked on my arms and tried to pull me from the rusty old chair.
“What are you doing?! Let me go!” I yelled as I fought against the old lady.
“Ye jest cain’t sit on people like that!” she shouted as she shoved me into a different chair. I was frightened by her – I had been whisked away from the safety of a vacation house owned by my rich aunt and thrown into this pit full of insane inbreds and their mothers!
“Get away from me!” I said before I pushed her back, fighting against the old lady’s unexpected strength. She stumbled back a couple of steps and then fell. She laid there on the ground for a few moments before I began to worry. I was scared once again – this time that I’d killed her or broken some of the old lady’s bones. I crawled out of my chair and touched the old lady’s neck, checking to make sure that she was, at least, still alive.
She moaned aloud, letting me know that I hadn’t killed her. I didn’t want to touch the old lady – she was covered in some sort of unrecognizable grime – but I’d been the one to push her. I helped her sit up, but she pushed me away while she coughed.
“Oh, Asa, should we do it?” she asked the invisible chair. She nodded in response to whatever the invisible, schizophrenia-induced image said, and I just backed away. She got herself up from the ground, with much beleaguered effort, and stared at me evilly. She eventually muttered, “No. I see yer right; now, boy, come with me.”
“No – Richard sat me down here when he went off with Paw. I’m not going with you – you’re crazy. You’ll probably get us both lost or killed,” I told her. I didn’t want to be harsh anymore; hopefully everyone else thought she was crazy enough that they’d not believe her when she said I’d injured her.
“Get up, boy. Grab that shovel an’ come with me,” she said.
The old lady didn’t skip a beat, but she went inside the house and grabbed something from right beside the door. It didn’t take me too long to realize that it was a gun – and that she was loading it and pointing it at me soon after.
“Do what Asa says, boy. Grab that shovel.” Her voice was severe and certain, her hold of the gun stable. Despite her being a crazy old lady, I wasn’t willing to risk getting shot. I did what she said, grabbing up this rusty old shovel leaning up against a porch post and looking to her for further direction.
“See that hill thar? The ‘un Charley come down from?” she asked as she pointed. I nodded and gulped. “Head on up thar. Go through the gate on yon fence; tain’t locked.”
I followed her directions, crossing the road and opening the gate. It appeared that cows had once lived in this field but, either due to disuse or lack of cattle, this field had become an overgrown weed patch. I hoped I didn’t get ticks from this.
She pointed me on through the field and toward a fenced off area of land filled with rocks. Once I got closer, I realized what this patch of land was – and I began to wonder who Charley and Asa were. Or, better yet, who they had been: she was pointing me towards a graveyard.
“What are you doing? Charley and Asa are dead,” I told her.
“Don’ think I’m fooled by yer smooth talkin’ and lies. Now keep goin’ or I swan I shoot ye,” she responded. I didn’t want to get shot, so I did as she said and kept going to the graveyard. She pointed me to go in, forcing me to open the already unlocked gate and pointing me to the grave with the biggest marker. The worn words on the grave assuredly read Asa, but I couldn’t make out the last name. I didn’t have to be able to read it to know what she wanted.
“Dig,” she said. I felt a bead of nervous sweat running down my face and decided to follow her instruction. I stood upon the head of the shovel and pushed it into the ground, turning up a piece of the sod on top of it. The piece was small, pathetic, much unlike what I had expected to accomplish. She didn’t let up on me, but just kept the gun pointed at me while I dug. My hands soon began to sting; I had never dug a hole before.
“How far do you want me to dig?” I asked.
“Ye dig till ye hit the casket,” she answered. I should have expected as much.
“That’ll take hours – they’ll come looking for me before then! Just let me go home,” I said.
“Ye’ll dig er I shoot ye,” the old lady responded, “You ain’t deservin’ a what ye got.”
I had no clue what she was talking about, but I certainly didn’t want to get shot. I returned to digging, trying to pull up the dirt as I could. This crazy lady might be something less than human, as far as I could tell. Her people had bred until the rationality had left them, until any sense at all was gone. She was nothing more than a speaking animal, but an animal that had taken advantage of me and forced me into this strange slavery. I decided there was no such thing as the harmless, stupid redneck.
I continued to shovel, the hours passing by, until my hands began to bleed. She wouldn’t let me go, though, so I kept going despite the pain. Eventually, I hit wood, so I dug quickly to uncover the casket and prove that I had dug deep enough. Hopefully, now, she’d let me go, but I knew this insanity wasn’t over. Maybe I should just let her shoot me.
“Open it,” she said.
“I can’t do that. Oh God, that’d be gross.”
“Asa says he’s fine with it – now open it,” the old lady said. She was dead serious. I took the shovel and, with what little strength I had left, cracked open the lid of the coffin and saw the pile of bones, decaying cloth, and a few bits of jewelry that had been left upon the corpse. Though the person had been dead for quite some time, the stink and the rot was unbelievably strong.
I stood upon what was left of the coffin lid, waiting for her instruction, unable to look away from the corpse. I thought I saw the corpse’s head move, but I had to be wrong.
“Now, say ye’r sorry.”
“Sorry for what? You’re the one who’s forced me to dig up a freaking grave.”
“Sorry fer thinkin’ suh high a yerself. Sorry fer thinkin’ a Paw as less than human.”
I screamed as a hand reached out of the coffin and grabbed my ankle.
“Tell it to let me go!” I screamed. I couldn’t pull out of its grasp, the body within the coffin stronger than any human.
“Asa’s right. Ye’ve got tuh learn,” the old lady said.
The corpse climbed out of the coffin and pushed me down, placing a bony, rotten hand atop my chest. It mumbled in the strange, accented language that all the other crazy inbreds around here did. I felt myself choking, unable to breathe, as it pulled its hand away. As I looked at my chest, I realized that the corpse was pulling something out of it – something airy, unseeable. I screamed and looked to the old lady and, as I looked, I saw a couple of young men beside her.
“I’m sorry. I truly am – you know that,” one of the young men said to the old lady.
“I know ye say truly. Tha’s why I’m a lettin’ ye go,” Maw replied, “Now go get in. Ye cain’t let the body sit there for long.”
I looked down from where I was and saw my face – my body, empty, laid in the empty grave. My hands still felt like they were bleeding, still seemed like they were in pain, but I no longer had them. I was a ghost just like those two young men with Maw – but the corpse had taken hold of my spirit-like ankles and wouldn’t let go! I couldn’t get back to my own body, but one of the other ghosts was taking it!
“Please – no – that wasmy body! You can’t take it from me!” I shouted.
“Tain’t yers. Tain’t mine. But ye’ll jest hafta wait,” she said. The other young man climbed into the chest of my body, so I tried to grab him and pull him out. The corpse, however, held my ankles and wouldn’t let me hold onto the ghost of that man. My own body got up and left the grave and, soon after, I realized that I was the one holding my own ankles.
“I… I can’t believe it. I’m back,” I heard my voice say.
“Ye learn yer lesson?” the old lady asked my old body.
“How could I have not? I had the most excellent teacher. I will not soon forget your teaching,” the body said. It turned to the grave, then, and said, “I can no longer see you, but I know you’re there. I’ll be leaving, though, living out the rest of your life. You just have to be patient.”
“Dude, just help me out of here!” I yelled at my body.
“Asa, ye cain’t just do that. No one can git ye out a thar ‘cept God – and ye don seem ta be ready ta git hepped yet anyway. Come on, Zach – let’s git back to the house.”
“There isn’t a point to your trying to win. You can’t,” another ghostly young man said.
I got the corpse to let go of my ghostly ankles and forced the skeleton back into the coffin, closing the lid. The dirt, however, just fell back down on top of it as if I’d never dug it up. My hands still hurt and I wondered if it would ever stop.
“Maw, answer me – get me my body back! Give me my life!” I screamed.
“Now, Asa, ye ain’t ready. Jest be patient – sommun’ll come fer ye eventually.”
“It’s ok, Asa,” the other ghost said, “You’ll not have to be this way forever.”
I was tired of being called Asa, so I ran up to my body and yelled at it, “Give me back my body, you son of a bitch! You stole it – it isn’t yours! Asa died a long time ago, you don’t deserve that body! It’s mine – I didn’t die! Give it back!” The body didn’t respond, but seemed to be so excited to be out. I followed them back down the hill, across the wicked, weeded field, and back to the porch. Richard and Paw were waiting there, the tractor and my car both parked in the front lawn.
I ran up to Richard and flung myself at his feet, saying, “Help, Richard – Maw killed me! The man she’s with right now is an imposter! Oh, Richard, help!” But, like with my own body, Richard didn’t respond.
Maw and my body came down the hill, making Richard and Paw react immediately. The two older men went up to my body which, despite the fact that these people were horrific creatures, went up to them cordially. Richard and Paw showed it to my car and popped the hood, talking about the specs of it. My body seemed to understand them, even Richard, while I stood there and cried with no one understanding.
Maw simply sat on the porch and returned to her chair, looking at me and the other ghost.
“Maw, what’s happened to me!? What’s wrong?” I asked. I cried at her feet, bowed down in front of her, despite the grime and the filth upon her shoes.
I watched as my body got in my car and drove away. I cried, seeing myself being lost forever. There was no one but this old lady and the other ghost.
“No!” I screamed, “No! This isn’t real! This can’t be happening!”
“Tain’t nothin wrong. Ye jest get to keep me comp’ny fer a while. Siddown and chat, Asa; tain’t like ye’ll leave without me. Right here’s yer chair.”
I looked at the earnest old lady and knew there was nothing for it.
I sat down in the chair and waited, waited for the next young man to come visit.