Serial Saturday: The Figurine, Part 4

The village looked a little more lively than it had the first time Jefferson had been through, but that wasn’t saying much. A few of the houses on the main street looked like they were being refurbished, and someone was making a go at re-opening the grocer’s, although the filling station was still abandoned. There were still a lot of empty houses, windows boarded over or just broken, paint peeling and lawns gone to weeds. In his memory, the village had always been gloomy and dank. It was a comparatively bright summer’s day now, but still oppressively humid and overcast, with high gray clouds in the distance that threatened rain.

He had the feeling he was being watched as he drove through the quiet streets, and told himself it was just that folks were curious about the Cord–there weren’t a lot of cars in the village, and most were old and battered. On impulse, he turned just before the road would have taken him out of the village, and swung down a side street.

There were two men painting the weathered Presbyterian church. He nodded as he drove slowly past, but they did nothing but stare at him until he rounded the corner. Was it possible someone in the village would recognize him from his last visit? That would be uncomfortable. Hopefully most of the people he was passing were new to the settlement.

It only took a few minutes to reach the old mill on the outskirts of town, still as deserted as it had been since early in the century. He pulled over and stepped out of the car, pulling out a handkerchief to mop his forehead but leaving his jacket on. He replaced his hat and ambled toward the stream that ran alongside the mill. The hair was standing up on the back of his neck, and as he walked he tried to figure out if it was because the place was dangerous, or because he knew it once had been.

The stream gradually widened and slowed, and soon it had merged with a swampy area–open water with dead, black trees poking out of it here and there. He lit a cigarette and stood for a time, smoking it and staring out across the water. It was too hot, too early in the day for any frogs to be singing, but there were some cicadas nearby kicking up a fuss with their high-pitched rasping noise.

There was something under the water somewhere, a very nasty customer, unless it had died in the past year or so. The damn thing was old, though, hundreds, maybe thousands of years old, and it beggared belief to think that it would have chosen the past year to up and die. If it was gone, it was because someone had killed it. He didn’t think that was so, though. It was still out there, dormant maybe, but alive, dreaming the dreams it dreamed and biding its time.

There had been a negotiation, one that maybe hadn’t gone all that well for the Sciribath, but what was that for something like it? It could make a lot deals with a lot of people while they got old and died.

The hairs on the back of Jefferson’s neck stood up. He flicked at his suit jacket to clear the way to his holsters, and turned slowly. And old man was approaching along the path he’d taken himself.

“Howdy,” he said as the man neared.

For a long moment, the old man made no reply, simply giving Jefferson a narrow look. “Hello,” he said finally.

After a moment, Jefferson took the cigarette from his mouth. “Nice swamp ya got here,” He cursed himself silently. The place had him rattled if he was babbling like that.

The old man looked at him with about as much suspicion as that comment deserved. “I ain’t seen you around before,” he said. “You just come here to look at our swamp, did you?”

“Well, no, just needed to stretch my legs. Long drive, don’t you know. Seeing the sights.”

“Just passing through, are you?”

Jefferson smiled. “Visiting friends.”

“Friends up on the hill?”

“Why, how’d you guess that?”

“Your car. Looks like the kind of car folks up on the hill might drive,” the old man said. He looked Jefferson up and down. “You don’t look like the type to go up there, though.”

Jefferson laughed. “I’ll go ahead and take that as a compliment, I guess. I’m thinking you might not be a good chum with anyone up there.”

The man shrugged. “They don’t seem so bad. Now.”

For a few seconds, neither of them spoke, then Jefferson stuck out his hand. “Look at me, chattering away without introducing myself. Name’s Jefferson.”

After a moment, the man shook his hand. “Ben.”

Jefferson waited a moment for Ben to say something more, then turned back to the swamp. “Anyway,” he said, “I still say it’s a nice swamp, as swamps go. A lot of life to it, that’s what I like about swamps.”

“No there ain’t.”

Jefferson’s brow furrowed. Now that Ben said it, the swamp was weirdly quiet. There was nothing odd about the lack of noise, what with it being a stupefyingly hot midday and all, but there was no movement at all out on the open water and in the tufts of grass. He’d expect to see insects flitting around anyway, something breaking the water here and there. He tried to remember if the swamp had been so dead during his last visit, but there’d been a lot of distractions back then. It had given off a nasty, sick feeling then, he remembered that.

“Well, anyway, it don’t seem too unpleasant at least,” he said to Ben. “No bad…smells or anything.”

“Ayuh,” Ben replied. “Kinda like it’s waiting for something.”

Copyright © 2012 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on April 28, 2012.