Good evening everyone, and happy Labor Day eEvening.
Here, for your end of summer reading pleasure is the first half of Miss Mazie a Summer’s Tale.
Since summer is ending and fall will soon be in full swing, I suppose we’ll have to think of something to call the second half besides a Summer’s Tale. If you’ve suggestions for a subtitle for Miss Mazie, do drop me a line in the comment section and share.
In the meantime, here’s a slightly edited version of chapters 1-5. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing.
BY: PATTY L. FLETCHER
ABOUT THE BOOK…
Blending Adventure, mystery, supernatural, Romance, and Suspense, author Patty L. Fletcher weaves a tale of fiction, all readers are sure to enjoy.
James Landing Tennessee was a peaceful little town just trying to keep up with its neighbors, which seemed to always be growing by leaps and bounds around it. Then one day Roy Dingus took over Friedman chemicals, a lady of unknown origin known only as Miss Mazie bought the old house on the outskirts of town and as the heat of August blazed with no end in sight, what was once a city with no promise came to life.
Follow the adventures of three small-town boys, Joe, Ronnie, and Jake, and their newfound friend Billy Ray as they try to unravel the mystery that surrounds the newcomers and all the strange goings on before James Landing is no more.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to Kingsport Tennessee and its people, places, and things are simply that Similarities.
CHAPTER ONE: JOE’S WARNING
The Mid-August sun sank slowly toward the horizon like a hot molten ball of liquid fire. Sweat continuously ran into his eyes, and the wind scorched his face as if it came from the pits of hell itself.
“Why in blue blazes did I ever think this door to door salesmen job was such a great idea anyhow?” Billy Ray grumbled to himself as he trudged slowly up the graveled road toward the old dilapidated looking house at the end of the lane. “Anyone living in a house like that probably don’t have the money to buy a set.” He thought out loud, but he had to try, now more than ever to sell a case of bibles before end of the day. His worn-out station wagon had broken down a mile or two back and he had to have the money to have that old redneck mechanic he’d talked to at the gas station come out and see if he could fix the blasted thing. If he couldn’t do anything for it, he’d have to have it towed.
“WAHOO! WEE!” The three blond haired dirt streaked boys shouted as they came barreling out of the woods to his left. Billy Ray jumped back with a nay of surprise, dropping his satchel full of bibles as he did, and the boys stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of him.
“S…S…Sorry sir.” the biggest of the three stammered. “Didn’t know you was there. We didn’t mean no harm. Just havin’ a little fun is all.”
Billy Ray took a breath to steady himself and wiping the sweat from his face he said, “Ah, it’s alright. You just startled me. It’s not been so long ago since I was a young pup runnin’ through the woods with my friends like a bunch of wild Indians.”
The boy who had spoken stood looking at the salesman with mischievous curious green eyes for a moment then asked, “Where ya headed anyhow, if ya don’t mind my askin’.”
“Out to that old house there at the end of the lane.” Billy ray answered, pointing a finger in the direction of the old house, that looked like a good puff of wind would blow it down. “Last house marked on my route for the day.”
“Ah, I wouldn’t if I’s you sir. Miss Mazie aint likely to buy one of them bibles from ya, let alone a whole case.”
The other boys who had gathered around the spokesman for the group giggled shyly behind their hands.
“Don’t think so?” Billy Ray asked dejectedly. “Why not? Don’t she go to church like most other folks in town?”
“Nah. She’s a strange lady to be sure mister.” The middle-sized boy observed. “Keeps to herself, and don’t hardly talk to nobody when she comes to town to buy supplies. Says she’s gonna fix up that old house this year, but it’s middle of summer already and she aint done a thing about it yet. She keeps a big black brute of a dog out there with her too, and while I aint never heard of old Bubba biting no one, it’s a safe bet he might if she told him too.”
Billy Ray sighed. “Well, I’ve got to try. Damned old car broke down a mile or so back and I got to get it looked at.
“Well, good luck.” The spokesman for the group who looked to be about 13 or so said. “if it was me, I’d charge the bill to Uncle Harvey and move on. Some say Miss Mazie’s a witch. Say if she don’t like ya and don’t want ya on her place, she’s just liable to turn the demons loose on ya.”
“Ah now. TSK…TSK… a smart boy such as yourself surely don’t believe such nonsense?” Billy Ray chuckled as he picked up his satchel of bibles and made to head out again.
“Sir.” The oldest boy said urgently, grabbing Billy Ray’s sleeve. “I don’t know what I believe and what I don’t. All I know is that strange things been happening since Miss Mazie came here in the middle of spring and I wouldn’t go out there if I was you.”
“I’ll use the upmost caution.” Billy Ray said with a smile as he began walking again. “I’ll see you round boys. Maybe at the Friedman Chemicals Company ice cream supper tomorrow. Saw a sign for it at the gas station when I was talking to the mechanic while I was filling up. Did you say he was your uncle?”
“Nah, he aint’ nobody’s uncle that I know of, just a nice old man the town took in long time ago. See ya round, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. Momma says we’re supposed to show kindness to strangers.”
Billy Ray stopped and turned around, leveling his gaze on the boy. “Don’t that include your Miss Mazie?”
The big boy lowered his head and dug a hole in the gravel with his dirty bare toe, “Well, yeah, I suppose so, but I ain’t got to get the hounds of hell set on me in the process.”
“Well, thanks for the tip. I’ll keep it in mind. By the way? What’s your names?”
“Oh! Excuse our manners sir.” The boy said looking up his strawberry blond hair falling into his eyes, and a flush of embarrassment reddening his cheeks. “I’m Joe, the middle-man here’s Ronnie, and the runt of the pack is Jake.”
“I aint no runt!” The smallest of the three shouted squaring his shoulders rounding on his brother with his grimy hands balled into fists.
“Ah, heck Jake, I’m just messin’ with ya. Don’t get your fur up.” Joe said ruffling Jake’s dark blond hair and brushing a leaf off his chubby freckled face.
Billy Ray laughed. “Yawl sound like brothers. It’s nice to meet you, and you can call me Billy Ray. My daddy was sir.”
Gathering the younger boys around him the oldest boy said, “We are brothers. I’m 12, fixin’ to turn 13, Ronnie’s 10, and Jake, who aint’ a runt is 8, and It’s nice to meet you too Billy Ray. See ya round.”
“Turned on your southern talk just a bit thick didn’t you Joe?” Ronnie laughed as they walked away. “Shush. He’ll hear you.” “Yeah, and momma’ll switch you if she hears you going on with that junk.” Jake warned. “Whatever. He ought not go out there.” Joe hissed.”
Billy Ray stood watching the three boys as they walked off together, grouped into a tight little knot whispering to one another as they went. Laughing to himself he turned and started again toward the house. “That Joe’s a jokester if I ever saw one. A lot more educated too, I’m sure.” Billy Ray observed. “Well, if nothing else, maybe Miss Mazie will offer me a glass of iced tea or lemonade. Hotter than all hell out here.”
Just as he stepped from the heat baked road into the dooryard a huge black dog slowly raised itself up out from underneath an overgrown bush and lumbering purposefully toward Billy Ray began to growl and show his teeth. “Well, you must be Bubba.”
“That’s right.” A gruff woman’s voice called from somewhere ahead in the shadows, and just who might you be?”
CHAPTER TWO: OVERTIME AND FAMILY LOVE
Eddy Joe pulled off his work boots and sat them onto the cracked kitchen Linoleum floor beside his chair, then sat about pealing his sweat soaked socks from his bone-tired aching feet. “Lord, it’s hot enough to bake Sissie’s pies right on the front porch.” He sighed as Cindy handed him a frosty beer from the rumbling frig with its dented door in the corner of the small kitchen.
“Rough day honey?” She asked, rubbing his tired shoulders and leaning over to give him a kiss. “You’ve been working so much overtime lately me and the boys hardly see you. Not complaining mind you, just worried about you.”
Turning to her he snapped, “How the hell else am I supposed to feed us?” She stepped away from him, and he immediately regretted his temper. “Honey, I’m sorry.” He said, reaching out his arms. “You’re right. I’m worn out and being gone away from you and the boys all the time has me hatefuller than a bear waking up in spring. Come here, sit with me a minute.”
Settling her onto his lap and letting the cool air from the window air conditioner over the kitchen sink wash over them he asked, “Speaking of the boys, where are they?”
She laughed. “They blew in here a couple hours ago, gobbled down some peanut butter sandwiches and milk, and flew back out the door yammering to each other about some bible salesman they’d met up with as they’d run out of the woods near the edge of town. They were all excited cause he was on his way out to try and sell Miss Mazie a case of bibles.”
“Ha!” Eddy roared. “Ha Ha! Miss Mazie, buy a case of bibles? I’ll be surprised if she lets him on the place. He’s liable to come back with a good-sized hole in the seat of his britches for his trouble.”
“Oh honey.” Cindy giggled. “Old Bubba aint’ gonna bite no one. He’s a sweet old dog, and Miss Mazie’s just a different sort of lady. I’ve had her preserves, and I have to say, anyone who can put up blackberry preserves like her can’t be all bad.”
“Well,” He said, ruffling her hair, “You got me there.” Kissing her he asked, “How long you think till the boys come back?”
Wriggling closer into him she said with a smile, “Not till dark. You know how they are. Outside at sunrise, and not back till sundown. Just like we were, and to be honest, I’m glad of it. So many big city kids today are all stuck to those TV Music videos and junk. Other than missing a few conveniences, I’m glad we moved back home.”
Snuggling her close and breathing in her sweet honeysuckle perfume he asked, “Really? I’ve been so worried what with me gone all the time, and the money not as good as Friedman Chemicals promised that you’d be on the next bus back to New York.” Shocked, she looked up into his face her long golden braids falling over her shoulders, “Honey, there’s not enough money in the world to drag me back to that awful city. It’s a concrete jungle filled with crime, unhappy people, and way too much violence for our sweet boys to grow up in.”
Standing with her in his arms, heading toward the bedroom he sighed, “That thing with Joe last year really rattled you didn’t it?” Throwing her arms around his neck in mock fear of falling she said, “Honey, that mugger could’ve killed our boy. We never belonged in that place, and I was never so happy when Roy called and offered you that job. I just didn’t know how much work it was going to be for you.”
Lying her gently onto the bed, and stripping off his work clothes he said, “Well, there’s a promotion in it for me if I can help bring their equipment up to code, and we’re getting there. It’s just going to take time. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the quiet before our boys come trooping back wanting their supper.”
Later as lightning flashed over the outskirts of town, and Cindy and Edy Joe played a game of tag in the small yard of dirt and dead grass in front of their trailer with Joe, Ronnie, and Jake Eddy felt better about things than he had since they’d moved back. The time alone with Cindy earlier had helped lots, but this fun time with the boys was best of all. Not that he hadn’t enjoyed the feel of Cindy in his arms as they’d made love, but it was good to kick back and relax with the family for a change. Usually by the time he got home at night even Joe their oldest was in bed, and Cindy was ready to drop. How soon he hoped she could leave that job in Sissie’s Bakery and go back to her artwork. He wanted so much to be able to afford to build her that house with a studio attached like he promised, and…
Just then he was rattled from his thoughts by a bone rattling boom of thunder. “Holy Cow!” Jake yelled, streaking across the yard to his dad. “It’s alright son, but we’d best get inside before we’re all soaked. Eddy said gathering Jake into his arms. “Looks like a good one’s coming.”
Running for the door, Joe looked back over his shoulder and saw a large black curtain of rain falling just at the edge of town, and it was headed their way. He watched mesmerized by the unusually bright red zig zag patterns of flashing lightning arcing through the rain and then he thought, “Wonder what happened to Billy Ray?”
“Son!” Eddy Joe yelled from the door. “Come on. That’s not a storm to be fooling round outside in.”
“Coming sir.” Joe answered turning away, but somehow, he couldn’t shake the worry he felt for his new friend. “Was he a friend?” What made him think some bible salesman was his friend? But, that’s just what he did think.
Somehow, he just knew their paths would cross again.
CHAPTER THREE: MEETING MISS MAZIE
Rain slammed viciously against the little room’s windows, as Billy Ray lay flat-out on his back, arms spread above his head on the old bed in the corner. It had been one more long day, and in the end he’d not even needed to worry about going out to that old house to try and sell another few bibles because when he’d finally made it back to his car for a wonder the thing had started right back up as if it had never missed a lick. In fact, he could swear it was running better now than ever before.
Running a hand distractedly through his sweat dampened gray flecked hair, he thought again of the strange woman named Miss Mazie he’d met earlier that evening. He hated like hell to call her strange, maybe a better word for her would be unusual, but either way she was as the middle boy had said, “different.”
Making himself more comfortable he let his mind drift back running through the visit yet again.
“You must be Bubba.” Billy Ray had allowed.
“That’s right.” A woman’s gruff voice confirmed from somewhere in the shadows ahead, “And who might you be?”
Billy Ray had tried to see into the shadowed yard, but somehow, he simply couldn’t see a darn thing but the big dog moving slowly but deliberately closer and closer. Part of him had wanted to turn and run, but he’d been afraid that to do so would’ve enraged the dog and he’d have been on him before he could even make it back onto the road from the yard.
“That’s right.” The voice had agreed. “You wanta stand where you are sir, Bubba don’t fancy a game of chase quite as much as he used to but if you rile him, he’s just liable to get the idea back into his old head.”
“How in all hell had she known what he was thinking.” He wondered, replaying the scene in his mind.
“Name’s Billy Ray Ma’am, and I mean you and your dog here no harm. Just out selling Bibles for the Angel Network.”
A peel of deepthroated rich laughter had drifted out of the shadows toward him. “Me and Bubba don’t need any bibles son, but you look like you’re about to fall over with heatstroke and Miss Mazie never let anyone fall out in her yard from the heat, so you’d best come on up onto the porch and sit a spell and cool off.”
“What about Bubba here?” Billy Ray had asked. Hating himself for sounding afraid of what was very obviously an old dog.
“Bubba! Stop that! Leave It! Go on back to your nappin’ and Let the man pass son.”
The big dog had given him another hard look, shown his teeth one last time, then lumbered back to his overgrown bush settling himself back down with a satisfied sigh as if nothing whatsoever had disturbed him.
“OK. Come on. It’s hot as blazes there in the sun. Want iced tea or lemonade?”
Once again, Billy Ray had been totally taken aback. “How on earth does this woman know what’s in my mind.”
Coming up onto the porch, letting the screen door squeak shut behind him chimes overhead jingling he’d seen Miss Mazie for the first time, and he’d had to admit she’d not been at all what he’d expected. She’d stood there in the doorway of the old house dressed in a pair of faded denim jeans and white tank top, flipflops on her feet. Her long salt and pepper hair had been gathered back into one long ponytail that went almost to her waste, and her dark brown eyes had looked him over with an intensity which had seemed to momentarily look straight into his very soul. Her darkly tanned skin was as smooth as a baby’s, and she was just a little shy of six-feet tall, and heavyset in a country woman sort of way. She looked like a woman who could give any man a run for his money out in the field or anywhere else she happened to want to work.
“Well,” she demanded, hands on expansive hips, “Lemonade or tea?”
“L…Lemonade sounds wonderful.” He’d stammered, and neither then nor now could he understand why she’d knocked him so far off his game.
“Have a seat in one of the rockers there. Want a little shine in that?” She’d asked, heading through the door into the kitchen a smile flickering round the corners of her mouth.
“Shine? Oh, No thanks. Plane’s fine.”
“You sure?” She called, with a snort of laughter. You seem a bit rattled. Surely old Bubba didn’t scare you that much. If so, bathroom’s just inside here down the hall.”
“Oh, no ma’am. I suppose I’m just warn out from walking. My car broke down a couple miles back as I was finishing my sales route for the day, and I made the mistake of misjudging the heat.”
“Thought you’d just pop on in on Miss Mazie and save her soul with one of them bibles, did you?”
“Huh? I don’t reckon I’m in the business of saving anybody’s soul ma’am, I’m just trying to make enough money to get a little better place to live than the little room I live in above Sissie’s Bakery.”
“Oh goodness. You living up there?” She’d asked as she’d handed him a wonderfully frosty cold glass of honey lemonade with fresh sprigs of lavender sticking out of the top. “Hot as hell this time of year in that little room I’d bet.” Miss Mazie allowed.
“Look, Billy Ray is it?” She asked, settling herself into the rocker opposite his, tossing her ponytail over her shoulder as she began to rock. “You got to quit that calling me ma’am. You’re Makin’ me feel older than Mother Gaia and I aint’ quite that old no matter what them three boys told you.”
He’d nearly dropped his glass of lemonade. “How in all hell?” He thought again.
“You don’t happen to have any handyman knowhow, do you?” She’d asked.
“Um? Actually yes, Ma’am… um? Miss Mazie, I do. My dad and I used to have a business together, but he had an accident and passed away.
“Oh, I am real sorry to hear that. Well, anyhow, I bought this house as a fixer upper and now can’t seem to find anyone willing to do the fixing up. There’s a decent apartment overtop that old garage in back, and if you’re not afraid of the town’s folk and their talk, I’d be happy to give you a place to stay and a little pay in return for your work on the place.”
To say that the offer had taken him by surprise would’ve been a huge understatement, but he’d accepted it without even giving it any thought. In fact, it seemed to him as he thought it all over now, he’d said yes before she’d quite finished speaking.
Turning onto his side, and drifting toward sleep he thought, “Strange indeed. But beats the hell out of selling bibles and living in this oven like room.”
CHAPTER FOUR: OLD DOG BUBBA ICE CREAM AND WALRUS SIMS
Dusk settled over the town park and the music of summer drifted through the air with a joyful rhythm of children’s laughter, old women’s gossip, and insects buzzing in the trees. The Friedman Chemicals ice cream supper was in full swing and all of James Landing seemed to be there.
“Miss Mazie,” Sissie called, “Your blackberry ice cream is so good I’m considering having you make it to sell in the bakery alongside the cobbler.”
“Well, I think you Sissie, but I don’t know as I’d have time to make enough to satisfy all your customers. It’s all I can do to keep you stocked with preserves.”
Just then Old Dog Bubba darted across the field with a large blob of ice cream on the end of his nose. “Bubba, what in blue blazes are you doing? Have you been into the ice cream son?” A burst of laughter sounded, and Jake Blaire streaked passed in hot pursuit. “Bubba you come back here with my ice cream.” Jake squealed. A moment later Billy Ray came puffing up calling, “Jake do you really want it back now?” Sissie and Mazie looked at one another and burst into girlish laughter. “Lord, let me go see if I can wrangle that dog of mine.”
“Ah, now Miss Mazie, let the old feller be.” Roy Dingus laughed sauntering up to the table with a cone of ice cream in his hand. “He just wanted a bit for himself. You should’ve seen the look on Jake’s face when he slurped up his cone.”
“Why, Roy, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were enjoying yourself.” Sissie teased.
“And why not? What’s not to love about an ice cream supper?” Roy asked cheerfully. I don’t know how we could end summer without one, do you?”
“Well, you got me there. And, it was mighty nice of you to give Eddie Joe the night off too.”
“Well, he’s done a fine job whipping that crew of his into shape, and he deserved it. I tell you Sissie, I couldn’t have done all I’ve done with Friedman had it not been for that brother-in-law of mine. He’s got more crew boss in him than any man I ever saw, and the boys love working for him.”
“Where are he and Cindy anyhow?” Mazie wondered.
“They loaded up their car with a couple ice cream freezers full of homemade ice cream and a big box of hotdogs and fries and took them over to the crew on duty at the plant.”
“How nice, no wonder the boys love working for him. ain’t everyone who would take the time to do that.”
“bribery will get you everywhere.” A grumpy voice chimed in.
“Oh Duff, get over it.” Roy snapped, his dark green eyes flashing as he turned to the heavyset old man who had walked up without a sound. “You’re just pissed off because Eddie’s crew puts out twice as much work as yours.”
“Maybe if he’d wipe that hateful frown off his face every now and then someone would want to do something extra for him.” Sissie allowed.
“My men work cause they like their paychecks, not because I coddle them with ice cream and hotdogs.” Duff Growled.
“Well, if it ain’t old Walrus Sims.” Mazie called in mock joy. “It’s a sure bet they don’t do it cause they like you. I hear tell they’d just as likely dip you in a vat of acid as look at you.” Mazie jabbed back. “You are, I believe the most odious man I ever had the not so great pleasure of knowing.”
“Alright now, you two let’s try, just for tonight to get along.” Roy urged.
“I’d have an easier time of it if that old walrus there would get along somewhere else.” Mazie said. “I tell you Roy I don’t know why you keep him around. He’s got to be bad for business.”
Roy stood quietly eating a double scoop cone of Mrs. Deal’s fudge delight watching as Duff Sims waddled away, and Bubba came loping passed going back the way he’d come wagging his tail looking rather pleased with himself.
“Mazie, I might could’ve replaced him if you’d not stolen away the new man in town. I hear you’ve talked old Billy Ray here into working out at your place.” Roy observed waving his cone in Billy Ray’s direction.
“Nothing like town gossip to spread the word.” Mazie grunted. “Aint been out there a whole day and already all over town. Why do we need a newspaper anyhow?”
“Well, I didn’t know it was a secret.” Roy smiled a drip of ice cream lingering on his chin.
“Don’t reckon it is, just surprised everyone already knows.”
“You can thank the Blaire boys for that.” Billy Ray said. “Lord, those kids. They’ve been telling anyone who would listen that Billy Ray the bible salesman has turned trade and is now Miss Mazie’s handyman.”
“Nothing wrong with that now is there?” Sissie asked, handing him a cone of peanut butter cream.
“I don’t suppose, I guess I just don’t understand what all the fuss is. Mazie needed someone to work on her house before winter sets in, and I’m just not cut out for the Angel Network.”
“What’s wrong with it is that damned old Preacher John Carrol and Duff Sims Miss Mazie grumbled. “They’ve got every old lady in town believing I’m some sort of wicked witch from the north or something.”
“Ah, Mazie honey.” Sissie soothed, “Those old gnarled up Blue haired biddies don’t really mean no harm. They’re just afraid of what they don’t understand.”
“What’s to understand?” Mazie huffed. “People have been using herbal medications since before there were licensed doctors. I mean for crying out loud! One of Jesus’ own disciples was a doctor, wasn’t he?”
“Of course, he was, but those old gossipy women don’t know anything but what Preacher John Carrol tells them. They don’t study nothing on their own.”
Just then Jake came up to the table. “Miss Mazie. I don’t mind sharing my ice cream every now and again, but could you please ask Bubba there to stop runnin’ off with my ball?” Mazie turned to see her big brute of a dog scrambling underneath the fence with a tattered baseball in his mouth. “Bubba! Drop! It! Come!” The big dog lifted his head, turned and looked at his mistress and promptly kept right on going. “Oh dear. I reckon his selective hearing has kicked in.”
“Ah! Nuts! I wanted to play ball!” Jake whined.
“Hey, Jake.” Roy called. See that old yellow truck there in the lot?”
“Yeah.” Jake answered.
“Here’s my keys. You go have a look in the glovebox, and you’ll find a ball and glove. Glove might be just a tad big but I’m betting old Billy Ray there can be convinced to catch for you.”
“Would you?” Jake asked, turning to Billy Ray who was just finishing his second peanut butter cream cone.
“Sure. Just let me rest my stomach a minute or two.”
“Game of ball will do you good.” Sissie laughed leaning over and wiping a streak of cream from his face with a damp cloth. “You’ve had more ice cream than those kids.”
“Well, a man’s gotta keep up his strength, don’t he?” Billy Ray wheedled as he headed off after Jake.
“Sissie.” Roy observed, “I believe he’s sweet on you.”
“Sweet on my cakes, cookies, and ice cream.” She allowed. “Besides, I believe Miss Mazie’s done gone and put a spell on him.”
“Oh! Girl! Not you too?” Mazie declared in exasperation.
“I’m just teasing you sweetie. I’m glad he’s working for you. I was starting to worry about how you were going to manage that big old place during the winter if you didn’t get it patched up.”
“Well, I’ve got to say, he’s already done a fair amount of work. Fixed both the front and back doors, and even got a couple screens mended all on his first day. I wanted him to fix up his apartment first, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Said he’d work on it on his days off. He’s a good old boy and this town’s lucky he’s come along. Mark my words, before the year’s end we’ll be glad he’s hear.”
CHAPTER FIVE: SOMETHING IN THE WOODS
It was just passed 11:00 when Billy Ray and Mazie pulled into the gravel turnaround behind the old ramshackle house at the edge of town. “Billy Ray, I do appreciate the ride home, but I wish you’d have let me walk. I really should’ve seen to finding Bubba before I started back. Not like him to go off too far on his own.” Mazie worried as she unfolded her long legs out of the car and stood looking out into the shadows cast by the trees waving in the hot summer breeze.
“Oh, I bet he’s already back home just waiting to come lumbering round the side of the house to show me his teeth.” Billy Ray chuckled as he lifted the ice cream freezer from the trunk. “Shame there’s no more ice cream in this.” He lamented sitting it onto the back porch then coming back down to unload the rest of the picnic supplies from the car.
“Son!” Mazie declared, “You cannot possibly have any more room!”
“Not tonight, but ice cream makes a wonderful breakfast. I love it with coffee.” Despite her worry for her old dog Mazie had to laugh. “What you need is some good home cooking.”
“Well, maybe one of these days you can cook me some of your famous pancakes. I hear you make a good stack. In the meantime, did you enjoy the ice cream supper?”
“Actually, yes. Other than that old fat walrus Duff Sims it was a lovely evening. You and Sissie were right, it’s time for the town to get to know me rather than letting them make it up as they go along.”
“Why do you call Old Man Sims a walrus?”
“Just look at him sometime.” Mazie answered distractedly as she continued scanning the woods at the back of her property.
“Something wrong?” Billy Ray asked walking up beside her trying to see whatever it was she was looking at in the woods.
“Something’s in the woods.” She answered in a hushed voice.
“Of course, something’s in the woods.” He laughed. “Lots of…”
“Hush!” She hissed. “I’m serious. Something’s there, and it don’t belong.”
Billy Ray stopped talking and stood still. He heard and saw nothing but then again, she knew the area better than he. Come to think of it, now he was truly listening, he realized the night had fallen eerily still. The crickets and tree frogs which always seemed to be in concert together were no longer singing and the hoot owl which had been hooting its pleasure for the night had abruptly stopped.
Just then a low growl sounded beyond the edge of the trees. “Bubba?” Mazie called. “Bubba? That you boy? Come here. Come here to your momma.” She called as she Started forward toward the sound.
“Wait!” Billy Ray urged. “Just wait. That don’t sound much like old Bubba. I mean I ought to know. He growled at me at least six or seven times today.”
“He’s just…” Before Mazie could finish her sentence the volume of the growling rose to a roar and then was accompanied by a loud volley of barks. “It is Bubba!” She observed urgently, but as she started toward the noise two animal like shapes rearing up onto their hind legs began to materialize along the edge of the trees which were now fairly bending from the wind which had started as a summer’s breeze and was now raised to almost a howling windstorm.
“What in all hell?” Billy Ray demanded. “Is that a bear?”
“Ain’t no kinda bear I ever saw.” Mazie shouted back over her shoulder breaking into a run. “Come on, that thing, whatever in hell it is has my dog.” Racing toward the trees she stopped only long enough to pick up a couple good sized rocks and then headed once again toward what had turned into what sounded like an all-out war. “Bubba! Come!” Mazie cried in desperation. “Come on son! You’re no match for…!”
Whang! Just as she started into the trees a shot rang out. Whang! Whang! Then as the echoes from the shots faded away a hideous howling could be heard and then it too faded away. the night grew still. For a moment there was no sound, then the brush at the edge of the woods quavered and Bubba shambled through whimpering and limping toward Mazie. “Oh! Bubba!” She cried, in evident relief. “Come here boy. Let me check you over. Come here, let me see you.”
“He alright?” Billy Ray asked as he came up beside her.
“Yes.” Her words died in her throat as she looked up at him from her place by the injured dog on the ground and saw the shot gun in his hand. “Gods son! You could’ve shot Bubba here.”
“But I didn’t. Check him.” Billy Ray demanded. “I don’t believe any of his injuries came from me. In fact, why don’t you take him and go into the house? I’m going to go see if I hit that damn thing that was trying to kill him back there.”
“Just you wait.” Mazie ordered her voice trembling with fear. “We’ve no idea what that was, and if you only wounded it it could be very dangerous.”
“Had to be a bear.” Billy Ray insisted.
“Not a bear.” Mazie disagreed running her hands over the big dog’s fur as he coward there at her feet. “No bears that big in these woods.”
“You’re awfully sure of yourself. I mean, no offense but you’ve only lived here since spring. What makes you an expert on these woods?”
“I’m telling you that was not a bear.” She insisted. “Don’t believe me look at those prints.”
He followed her pointing finger and started in surprise as his eyes took in the fresh prints all alongside the back wall of the house there in the light from the back porch. “What in all hell?”
“Billy Ray. I think your suggestion of taking Bubba into the house is a good one, and furthermore I think another good one is for you to see us safely inside. Here, help me with the dog, and don’t argue with me.” She commanded, stepping away from the dog to allow Billy Ray to pick him up as she spoke.
Laying Bubba gently onto his bed in the corner of the kitchen Billy Ray straightened and turned to Mazie who was coming back into the room from having gone to retrieve her medicine bag of herbs and creams. “Miss Mazie? What in all hell is going on round here? I mean, when I first met the Blaire boys, they told me strange things had been happening round town since spring, but I thought they were just joshing me.”
“You mean since I came here don’t you? That’s what Joe said isn’t it?”
Raising her hands in a shushing gesture she continued, “Don’t worry about how I know. Is that what he said?”
“Yes, but I’m sure he’s just repeating the gossip of the town. Those kids.”
“Billy Ray, I know those kids mean no harm. They’re good boys. That little one, Jake, he’s sweet as he can be. Makes you just want to hug him he’s so cute. But, that sort of gossip’s dangerous. It can if allowed whip the town folk into a nasty frenzy, especially now that we’ve actually seen that animal.”
“Well, we didn’t really get a very good look at it but those prints. What in all mighty hell are they from?” Billy Ray asked watching her clean and medicate the big dog’s nasty looking wounds.
“Looked like some kind of giant wolf prints to me.” She allowed, patting the big dog reassuringly and straightening up from her work.
“Wolf. Those were far too big to be a wolf’s prints.” Billy Ray countered.
“Well, whatever in hell they are, we’ve got to let folks know. Kids play in those woods and sooner or later someone’s going to get hurt or worse.”
“No one’s going to believe us.”
“They might not want to believe but you cannot argue with those prints or the claw and bite marks on Bubba’s body. Much as I hate to do it, you’d best call the sheriff.”