written by Connor de Bruler
For whatever number of reasons, internal or external, Margery decided that she was going to be angry. She was going to wake up and say nothing to her family and refuse to thank her husband for the chocolate chip pancake breakfast. She was going to sit in the living room half-heartedly watching the Sunday morning news and listlessly knit the same stitch over and over again, eventually ruining the sweater she was planning on making for her adult niece’s newborn. Her daughter, who perhaps understood her mother’s sudden resignation towards social interaction better than her son and husband, was intelligent enough to leave the house with a girlfriend and head towards the mall. Of course, the fact that her daughter was going to go spend more money the family obviously didn’t have or had very little of infuriated Margery even more. In the late morning, after Mila had slammed the door shut en route to the mall, she sat back down in the living room like a smoking roll of estrogen infused dynamite.
The two men, her son Derek and her husband Carter, would stand in the open doorway watching her, the sudden inexplicable rage more hermetic to them than the secrets of the universe and far less pertinent to their concerns.
“You got plans for today?” he asked Derek.
“I was going to go up to the state park and take a hike.”
“You mind if I catch up with you?” his father asked him, symbolically bringing his eighteen year old son up to the same standard as himself with such a question.
“No, not at all.” he said.
They checked the oil in the rickety Volvo station wagon, and packed a large jug of water with two fresh apples for the hike.
“I’m going to the state park with Derek.” he told his wife in the kitchen. She didn’t look at them. Instead she kept on playing the game of internet hearts. Carter simply left. She had been abandoned. The family didn’t want to be around her while in such a mood. The flood came in and the crew had jumped off the ship. If she wasn’t going to respond to his politeness then she deserved to be alone. Once she had endured a day of isolation perhaps she would tell him what the matter was when they returned.
Carter walked into the garage where Derek waited for him.
“I think we need some cash.” he said.
“I got a five in my wallet.” said Derek.
“I need it in ones. It’s two dollars a person down at the state park.” said Carter.
“We can get change at that supermarket out on the way.” he said.
“Sure, we’ll do that.” he said to his son.
They got inside the car and drove off onto a secluded back road that, driven all day, lead to North Carolina.
“So how are you doing?” Carter asked his college-bound son.
“I’m doing alright.” he said.
“Do you feel happy?”
“What kind of a question is that?”
“Do you feel happy? You know, about life?” he asked earnestly.
“Things are going fine I guess. I’m more excited about college than I’ve been letting on. I’m not too happy about taking the SATs again, but I guess it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.”
“Are there any girls you’re interested in?”
“No, I’m thinking about waiting until college for another girlfriend.” he said.
“What happened with Lillian?”
His son took a deep breath.
“Do you want the honest to God truth or what I told her?”
Carter punched the radio off and said, “Tell me what you told her. Then give me the honest to God truth.”
“Alright, I told her that she wasn’t fun to be around anymore and that she was being too manipulative of me and the other people around her. I also knew about the guy she had been seeing at the same time as me.”
There was a pause.
“Well, that sounds very truthful.” said Carter.
“It is the truth, but it’s not the actual reason I didn’t want to date her anymore.”
“Well, what was the reason?”
Derek looked at his father and said, "Because she reminded me of Mom."
They parked in the nearly empty lot outside the Ingles grocery store. They had driven far enough outside the county that the suburban feel to their surroundings had corroded away yielding the rural flat lands before them.
Derek handed his dad the five and said, “Here, you go in and break it. I’ll chill out in the car.”
Carter took his son’s money, another symbolic passing of the torch, and walked through the automatic sliding doors. On the inside the supermarket seemed vacant and dead, like a dormant warehouse filled with a forgotten wealth of food. He walked up to the nearest cashier, a sullen looking blonde girl drinking from a bottle of orange soda.
“Can I have change for a five?” he asked.
She didn’t say anything to him and mechanically took his money exchanging it for the approximate value in ones. He tried to say thanks but she trailed off sarcastically into one of the aisles. A young man next to Carter with a tag on his shirt that read, “Assistant Manager” had watched the whole thing.
“Sometimes they just get a stick up their ass.” he said.
“Well, I guess we can be grumpy too sometimes.”
“A lot of people figure the world would be better off if it were run by women.” exclaimed the Assistant Manager. "But I think things would be just the same."
It was a cool day, but a sunny one. Derek and Carter hiked up one of the longer more strenuous trails. The path led them straight to the top of the Little Pinnacle Mountain. Carter watched as Derek flew up the trail past his old man, yet he waited for him to catch up on a nearby log or twisted branch that had fallen down from the canopy of rhododendrons, yellow poplar, and white oak.
This time Carter brought himself to the brief plateau Derek had been waiting on.
“Whatever happened to the old days when you were fat?” he asked his son.
“Well, I’m glad those days are gone.” he told his father. “Here, want some water?”
“Remember we have apples too.”
“We’ll save those for the top.” said Carter after a long swig from the jug.
They stood on the top of the ridge, a sweeping view of the foothills beneath them. Derek cut his apple into individual slices with the pocket knife, while his father simply ate his down to the core in a matter of seconds.
“You should chuck it over the side and watch it fall.” suggested Derek.
They peered their heads out over the side of the cliff and watched the apple core disappear into the tree line miles beneath them. When Derek was finished he did the same and the result was equally less satisfying than the initial concept.
Derek asked his father what he used to call his mother back in college. Her pet name was Margarine. He called her margarine for Margery, and she thought it was cute too for the first few months at least until she linked the fact that her nickname was a substitute for butter to her larger legs eventually feeling that it was Carter’s way of asking her to lose weight.
“Was that really why you called her Margarine?” he asked.
“No, of course not. I called her Margarine because it sounds just like Margery.”
They were headed back down the opposite side of the mountain. In the distance they could smell a campfire burning.
“We must be getting close if there’s a campground here.” said Carter.
“That’s not necessarily true.”
“Remember what Zack told me back in Indiana?”
“You know, cousin Zack?” said Derek.
“Oh, yeah, him. What did he say?”
“He told me if you get lost in the cornfield and you hear a radio going, or smell a campfire, you’re not supposed to just run for that area.”
“There’s a lot of strange, hostile hill folk out there. You’re supposed to discretely check who it is first and assess the situation.”
“Why don’t we talk about something else?” suggested Carter.
After a few minutes, Derek deviated from the main trail in order to take a piss. With the leaves up to his ankles he relieved himself in front of the grand vista of trees that led downward towards a valley. It was in the valley that Derek saw something odd. A dark orange, almost red color erupting from the grass. Derek moved in closer. What at first looked like a bonfire or a smoldering leaf pile revealed itself to be a burning Ford pickup truck.
“Dad!” he yelled. “Dad! You need to come see this!”
“There’s a truck on fire down here.”
Carter raced down the hill and met up with his son, watching the vehicle in the distance burn.
“We should go down there and call the local fire department.”
Having to navigate their way around a creek, they approached the flaming truck up to a few feet. Adjacent to them, only ten yards to their right, was a small country cottage. There were no roads around them, and they didn’t see how the fire department would be able to access the area.
Derek looked at his father and said, “It’s a pretty dry day. What I’m afraid of is that the fire’s going to ignite the tall grass here.”
“Something doesn’t seem right. If somebody was home they’d probably be dealing with this.”
“Okay then. So nobody’s home. What does that mean?”
“Car’s don’t just burst into flames. This was intentional.”
“Well, call the police.” said Derek.
Carter looked at his cell phone.
“We’re in a valley. I’ll have to walk to the top of the ridge to get reception.”
At that moment a single hand rose up out of the tall grass. They rushed towards the hand and saw a man face up on the ground, blood pouring out of his neck and a butcher’s knife still lodged in his chest.
“Derek, go inside and call 911!”
Derek rushed towards the cottage as the bleeding man seemed to try and grab him. He gargled something incoherently as blood frothed out of his mouth.
“Don’t worry pal, we’re going to get you help.” said Carter.
Derek walked into the crowded kitchen and began frantically searching for a phone. He saw the telephone hanging in the next room and stormed towards it. When he saw what had been done to it, he could barely believe his eyes. The old telephone’s cord had been cut with an Exacto knife which was lodged in the wall beside it. His father was right. Something dreadfully wrong was taking place. Derek turned and was startled to see an old woman in an Easter dress standing in the modest hallway next to the phone.
“Is there another telephone?” he asked her. “We need to call 911.” It took Derek a few seconds to realize that the woman was covered in blood as well, and that she was holding a large meat cleaver in her right hand. She thrust it at him without saying anything. There was nothing he could do now but run. He burst out the doorway of the cottage.
“Dad! We have to go.”
Carter wasn’t looking at his son, he was simply staring at the bloody man in the grass. It was apparent that he had died only seconds ago.
“He’s dead Derek.” his father said. “He just died right now.”
At that moment the old woman stormed out of the cottage hysterically waving the meat cleaver.
“What the hell?” yelled Carter standing up.
“We have to go!”
She ran up to Carter and Derek and began to swing and hack at the air around them.
“You go one way and I’ll go the other.” said Carter. “She’s an old woman. She can’t keep up with us.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Before they could even start she lunged onto Derek forcing him to the ground and tried to press the cleaver into his face. He held onto her hands keeping the blade as far away as possible. She started to bite his fingers with her scummy, yellowing teeth. His father plucked the knife from the dead man’s chest and with one thrust drove the implement through the back of her skull and out her eye socket. The vitreous humor mixed with blood oozed down the blade and onto Derek’s face. He wiped the gore away with the back of his hand and violently pushed the old woman’s corpse to the side. They looked at each other for a period of time, and then at the depraved scene before them.
“What’s going on?” asked Derek.
His father didn’t answer. Instead they walked back onto the trail and headed for the ranger station. Neither of their cell phones were working. Both of them hid behind a rock and scanned the area once they had finally reached the entrance to the park. The entire greeting area was vacant. The only sound was from the birds above and the wind rustling through the trees. There was a lone payphone next to the water fountain in the distance.
“You stay here.” said Carter. “I’m going to go use the phone.”
He ran out into the open and made sure he was alone. When he finally grabbed the receiver he began to carefully place the quarters through the coin slot. He waited for a dial tone, yet heard nothing.
Derek saw only a few feet from where his father stood, inside the ranger station, something moving repetitively. He focused in a little more and saw that a female park ranger was stabbing a man on the ground repeatedly with a pencil or compass or perhaps even a pocket knife. His dad needed to get away from there.
Carter turned to his son and shook his head to indicate that he wasn’t getting any reception. His son leered out from behind the rock and pointed towards the atrocity taking place inside the ranger station. Carter looked out past the telephone and saw and as if he had just seen a water moccasin in a pool ran as far away as possible.
As Derek waited for his father to run back he heard a rustling in the leaves behind him. There was a young teenage girl, perhaps three years younger than Derek, standing there. She had a back-pack on and a Pittsburgh Steelers cap. Her T-Shirts had the words, “Ponies are awesome!” scrawled across it in big pink letters. She was also holding a slim walking stick which she used to strike Derek directly on the forehead. Before she could repeat the action he grabbed her by the back of the neck and slammed her head into the side of the rock. She fell down, unconscious and Derek made sure he himself wasn’t bleeding. His father grabbed his arm.
“Come on, we have to get out of here.”
As they crossed the bridge they noticed a group of young female hikers up the creek drowning a group of young men in the water. They screamed and tried to gasp for air, but the girls would stomp on their heads with their boots as if they were frolicking like innocent children, giggling playfully.
They raced inside their car and locked the doors, charging off onto the lonely back roads as fast as the diesel engine could go. They swerved around turns burning rubber.
They past the supermarket they had briefly stopped at and saw a police officer shooting at a small legion of women hurtling grocery carts onto the dark blue cruiser.
“Where should we go?” asked Derek.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think Mila’s okay at the mall?”
“She’s probably one of them now.”
“She seemed to act normal this morning though.” said Derek.
“Do you think she didn’t change?” asked Carter.
“I think we should go to the mall and find her. It’s worth a shot, Dad.”
“I don’t think we’re going anywhere.” he said.
Carter silently pointed up ahead and Derek saw what he meant. There was a large road blockade of women, all ages and sizes. They were stretching a length of tire spikes across the road.