The Recluse…rewrite #3…

Off the road, nestled behind tall, flushed with green pine and oak trees, was a small cedar cabin. A green steel cattle gate blocked the entrance to the drive. Around the property an ancient brick fence, in various states of disarray, secured the property. People passed by often and slowed down to look. They weren’t looking at the house, they searched for the owner, Davy Ford.


“Maybe he’s out today,” they muttered as they drove by his home. No one dared encroach upon his property, as a warning Davy hung a metal sign from his gate that read: Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.


As is so often the case, stories began to circulate about the mean hermit that lived in the cabin at the end of town. Old men would sit in front of the drugstore, an old checkerboard in between them, resting on old whiskey barrels, and tell the youngsters stories about Davy.


“He once ate the flesh of a kid. When the cops showed up, he had blood pouring from his mouth, and his eyes were stricken with madness. The police asked him why he’d done it, and he said, “Me like tender meat.” Other tales circulated about the loner. Some tales were more fantastic than others, but they all centralized on the fact that Davy Ford was a monster.


Most of the children listened to the tales with a mixture of shock and horror, all of them except for this one girl named Annabelle.


Annabelle Franks, Belle to her friends, stood by the gate with her friend Billy. She scratched her cheek and wiped her forehead. Her straw-colored hair was soaked with sweat, and she muttered, “It’s sure enough a hot one today.” Her best friend Billy Thurston, 13, stood beside her and swallowed hard. Whereas Belle had more courage than sense, Billy had a respect for the stories he heard about the hermit.


“Let’s go down there and have a look, Billy.”


Billy jerked his head back and forth with such force Belle thought his head might come off, and he crossed his arms. His mouth tightened into a straight line, and his frown deepened. It deepened so much his freckles seemed to grow in proportion with the stress he felt within his chest.


“Are you nuts, Belle? You’ve heard the stories about this recluse. He ate children to survive the war. The old folk say he returned from the war with a thirst for blood.”


Belle scrunched up her nose and spat on the ground, and a frown crossed her lips. Her blue eyes darkened, and she nudged Billy with her elbow. He shrugged off her nudge and took a couple steps away from her. His cowardice irritated Belle, and she snapped, “You know there ain’t no truth to that crap! Them old folks are just winding you up. They’re yanking your chain. Don’t nobody check on the poor fellow. What if he was hurt?”


“I don’t care, Belle,” Billy said, as he shrugged. “It ain’t my job to check on him.”

Billy crossed his arms and shook his head again. His red hair swooped down in his eyes, and he shoved it to the side. Belle looked at him but said nothing. I’ll just stare at him until he does what I want.


“I ain’t going. It’s modern times. Pretty sure he’s got a phone. If he’s in trouble, he can call 911 like everyone else.”


Belle watched Billy get puffed up. She liked to get him riled up. She spat on the ground and feigned indifference.


“Fine. Stay here, sissy. I’m going down there to check it out. I don’t need a bodyguard, I’m an emancipated woman, and I can fend for myself.”


Belle’s attempt to stir Billy from his lethargy was ignored. Billy shrugged again and retorted, “Okay, I’ll be here when you get back, cause I ain’t going with you. Don’t get eaten.”

Annabelle jumped the fence and started down the drive. The driveway was brick, like they had back in the olden times, Belle assumed back before potholes grew in such astronomical size as to swallow minivans. Shoots of grass came up through the bricks. Moss covered some of it and it made walking tricky.

The yard was multi-level. Rows of flowers that hadn’t been weeded in a long while ran along the fence. Every now and then, Belle would catch sight of a concrete statue or a garden gnome sticking out from between the weeds. Poison Ivy hung from some of the bricks.


Belle skipped along humming to herself, oblivious to the world about her. From behind her a noise sounded, and she let out a yelp and spun around to face the source of the racket. It was Billy.


“What are you doing, Billy. I thought you were frightened.”


Billy rubbed his arms like he had wandered through Antarctica naked, his fear caused him to shiver, and Belle waited for him to respond. He glanced around at the overgrown garden and statues, all while rubbing his arms as to generate enough heat for the blood to begin to circulate again.


“You called me a sissy, I’m not. I’m a thinker, and I don’t think this is a promising idea.”


Belle giggled, and punched Billy on the shoulder. Sweat drenched Billy’s red hair. She was jealous of his thick mane. Belle’s straw-colored hair was thin. Her hair would never stay in place for long, therefore, she wore it in a ponytail, or as the older boys at school called it, ‘a pull handle.’


“Too late.”


Together, the pair made their way toward the cabin. Curtains hung in the window; and they were pulled closed in true recluse fashion. Spider webs were visible on the porch. Angels stood in the flower beds that ran in front of a porch that had seen better years, and the angels were in no better shape. Some had broken wings; others had cracked faces.


“I hope that ain’t a sign,” Billy whispered.


Belle hushed him and made her way onto the porch. Just as she went to knock on the door, it opened. Belle gasped and backed up; her eyes were the size of a half dollar. Billy yelped and backed up until he almost fell over the side of the porch.


“Can you kids not read,” a deep voice asked.


Belle shook her head yes but had not found the words to answer. A short, muscular bald man walked out on the porch, his hazel eyes pierced the very souls of Belle and Billy, and he crossed his arms and waited for a response. Billy gripped Belle’s hand and prepared to run.


Belle freed her hand from Billy’s grasp and extended her hand. The man looked at her offered hand and then back at her and raised his eyebrows.


“Howdy, neighbor. I’m Annabelle, and you are-“


“Not interested. Beat it kid. Don’t come back.”


Belle stood her ground and locked eyes with the hermit. The hermit did not back down either. Billy decided to intervene. In a squeaky voice he responded, “Sir, we didn’t mean to disturb you. We should be going.”


“Uh-huh. That’s a great idea.”


Billy took Belle by the hand and pulled her toward the gate. She swatted his hand, but he refused to let go. He raced toward the safety of the green metal gate and didn’t let up until he arrived there. Only then did he relinquish his grip around Belle’s hand.


“Why,” she shouted, “did you drag me off the freaking porch, Billy?”


She slapped his hands and arms. Billy didn’t flinch. He ignored her punches and doubled over to catch his breath. Belle continued her assault, and after catching his breath Billy stood upright and yelled, “Because you’re a brainless idiot!”


“I am not!”


Belle crossed her arms and turned from Billy. She had made it to the porch and found the guy, but she did not get to talk to him. Her failure to get his name or have a conversation with the hermit incensed her further.


“Everyone around here knows the man is a psycho, except for you. Belle, what would you have done if he decided you would make a great meal?”


Belle turned her nose up and refused to answer her friend. Billy shook his head in disgust and walked away from Belle. How stupid could one person be? Why was Belle the only one who cared about this psycho?


“I’d imagine Billy, if that had happened, I would no longer be here to give a crap.”


“But…”


“But nothing. No one in this town has ever gone to see this poor man. Ain’t nobody gave a rip. ‘Oh, he’s this or that.’ Don’t nobody know nothin’. Was there blood coming out of his mouth, Billy? Was he munching on a human leg and sucking the marrow out?”


“Don’t be dumb, Belle.”


Annabelle punched Billy dead in the chest. She reared back to hit him again, but Billy sidestepped the second blow, and put his hands up to protect himself from further blows.


“You don’t be dumb, Billy. Out here believin’ everything people tell you.”


Billy kicked dirt and crossed his arms. He went down there with her after he said he wasn’t going to. Heck, he had even saved her life from being cannibalized. Was she grateful? Heck, no. Billy’s dad in moments of sheer frustration, often told him ‘There’s no pleasing a woman.’ Billy was at the point of agreeing with his father’s assessment today.


“I should have left you on the porch,” he snapped. Belle picked up a rock and threw it at Billy. He ducked it, and Belle picked up another to chuck at him.


“Dang right you should have. I’m a grown woman, Billy. I don’t need a man bossing me around.”


“You’re thirteen, Belle. I’m sorry, okay?”


“Age don’t mean nothin’, Billy. Womanhood is different from manhood. You’d know that if you weren’t so dumb.”


Billy went and sat down by the post. He leaned back against it and waited. Belle was furious. There wasn’t anything to do but let her cool off. He pulled the brim of his hat down and closed his eyes.


He could hear her muttering and kicking dirt. Billy dozed in the lazy sunshine. After a while it got silent, and he felt her drop to the ground beside him.


“We were so close, Billy.”


“Yeah, I know. Sorry, I dragged you off the porch.”


“Yeah,” Belle sighed. “Sorry, I called you dumb.”


“It’s all right. I am dumb. I’m friends with you.”


Belle scrunched up her nose and giggled. Billy gave her a crooked grin. He stood and offered his hand to Belle. The sun had set, and twilight caused the streetlamps to kick on with a hum.


“Ready to head home?”


Belle took his hand and got to her feet. She detested parting from her friend and hated the idea of going home. There might have been worse things in the world than going home to a drug addict mother, but if there were, you couldn’t prove it by Belle.


“Yeah, but I wished I didn’t have to.”


“I know, but it won’t always be that way, Belle.”


“I know, Billy. Besides, I get to go to church tomorrow. You wanna come with me?”


Billy shook his head no. “I’ll pass, Belle. You go on and go. I’ll see you after church, okay?”


“Okay, I’ll get off the bus about 130.”


Billy nodded and gave Belle a goodbye wave, and then he started off in the opposite direction. As he walked home, he considered what he had overheard a couple of teachers say, ‘Opposites attract.’


Billy had no idea what it meant, but it sure seemed to apply to him and Belle.


Davy Ford watched the children from afar. He walked through his house and pulled his drapes shut. He shut off the lights and made sure his doors were locked. Satisfied that his home was secure, he went down to the sub-basement and began to work on his latest project.

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