The Road

The Road

Buzz Fisher

“I continued onward - upward, following the road to wherever it would lead. Road is probably the wrong word. Path is more like it, and from the looks of it, it hadn’t been used in years.”

“I had found it completely by accident. Just out wandering around and had gotten myself lost. I was just lucky that it happened early - this didn’t look like the kind of place I’d want to be after dark. Least wise, not without a gun.”

Georgie had stopped to look around, real suspicious. Making sure that nobody was listening, I guess. Even if somebody had been, they wouldn’t be very interested in his story anyway.

“I kept walkin’, hopin’ to stumble on to the main road. ‘Course I had no idea where it was, but I figured that I was headed in the right direction. All of a sudden, this huge partridge takes off from under a pine tree. Well, it makes a Hell of a lot of noise. Scared the bejesus outta me.”

Georgie looked around again. I was hopin’ that he’d get to the point of his story real soon. I had some customers that I had to take care of. People who came into my pool hall weren’t really of the patient type, if you know what I mean.

“Billy,” Georgie continued, “I’ve never heard it so quiet as right after that bird took off. Real eerie. Like something had scared everything into silence. Well, I looked around but I didn’t see nothin’. With it bein’ fall, the leaves’ colors didn’t help at all. You coulda put a New York Highway two hundred yards away and I wouldn’t have been able to see it.”

Georgie sure seemed upset but so far I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t think that a partridge, no matter how big, could scare a woodsman like Georgie. Must have been somethin’, though.

“Hate to interrupt you, Georgie, but I gotta take care of the people at the counter.” I took my time gettin’ over to the register - to Hell with ‘em if they couldn’t wait a couple of minutes. After settin’ up the two couples with a table and cues, I went back to sit with my paranoid friend.

“Sorry about that, you know how it is.” I wasn’t sure why I apologized, just manners I guess.

“That’s alright, Billy, gave me a chance to figure out what I was trying to say anyways. Well, I kept on walkin’, ya know. Really steep path, can’t believe I’d never run across it before. I’ve spent more time in the woods around here than I’ve spent at home. Ask Lisa, she’ll tell you.” Georgie kinda chuckled at his joke.

I’d heard about their problems at home. I didn’t mean to hear it but people were always coming in after leaving the Shotgun. The Shotgun was the bar next door, we helped to keep each other in business. Not only that, but Pam, the owner, kept me pretty well taken care of at home. It was a pretty good relationship, both business-wise and otherwise.

“I’d been on the path for about an hour, almost all uphill. It was starting to get a little dark. Not to bad, just not very bright anymore. And real quiet, since that bird took off. All of a sudden,” Georgie looked around again.

When he was satisfied that no one else could hear he continued, “I came upon this clearing, the hill levelin’ off at the edge of the treeline. Right there in the middle of the field is this old building. Brick and mortar...with bars on the windows. Didn’t take me long to figure out that it must have been an old jailhouse. That seemed pretty strange, me not knowin’ that there was one around here. I’d heard that there used to be, but everybody said that it burned to the ground years ago.”

My curiosity was starting to get aroused. If Georgie had seen something new in the woods, I sure wanted to hear about it. I had lived in Jordan all my life. A real homegrown Vermonter. Even so, there was a lot about this place that I didn’t know. I had never spent much time in the woods, now I wished that I had.

“Now the strangest part about this jailhouse was smoke was comin’ out of the chimney. Out in the middle of nowhere. And smoke comin’ outta the chimney, for God’s sake. Well, I started wonderin’ what to Hell was goin’ on. You just never know what kind of person could be in there. I start thinkin’ to myself, ‘What if somebody in there is a killer? What in Hell can I do about it?’ I figured that I oughtta just head back in the other direction...but I was still lost. I didn’t figure that I’d be able to find my out if I changed directions then.”

What in Hell was he talkin’ about? Smoke comin’ out of the chimney on an old jailhouse? If Georgie hadn’t seemed so scared, I would’ve just laughed and congratulated him on sucking me into his joke. But Georgie wasn’t jokin’, he was serious. Serious as a heart attack.

“Well, I’m standin’ there lookin’ around, feelin’ pretty foolish. So, I go up toward the building, real slow like. I notice that off to each side there’s a path like the one I was on. Like I was sayin’, I was walkin’ toward the buildin’ but it was still about a hundred yards off. All of a sudden, this thing passes in front of the window. It looked like a man, but I’m not sure.” Georgie started shakin’ and his eyes were dodging all around the room. Apparently convinced that he could not be overheard, he continued.

“Billy, it wasn’t like a real man. You know, not like a regular guy. It was huge - must have eight feet tall and close to five hundred pounds. I didn’t really get a good look at it ‘cause I was so far off, but I swear I saw its’ teeth. A hundred yards Billy, A HUNDRED YARDS! The thing looked real dark...damn near as black as midnight.”

I just sat there, stunned. What was Georgie trying to fill me with? I looked around and saw that there were only five people left in the pool hall, making me feel better about talking to Georgie.

“Are you sure that’s what you saw?” I wasn’t trying to call him a liar, but it wasn’t easy to believe, either.

“Honest, Billy, I’m telling the truth. At least I think I am. I mean, I’m telling you what I saw. I just can’t figure out what in Hell it was. Got any ideas?”

“I don’t know Georgie, coulda just been a bum livin’ up there. Since the plant closed down, lots of people have gettin’ by tough. Maybe somebody figured he could get along alright up there by himself. Probably lucky you didn’t get shot.” I was as honest as I could be without insulting him. If I told him that he was nuts, it wouldn’t have done any good, anyway. Something about Georgie’s eyes sure scared me, though. Funny, they had never seemed black before.

“But the teeth, Billy. You didn’t see those teeth.” Georgie was still mumbling to himself as he shut the door behind him.

After closing, I went next door to pick up Pam at the Shotgun. It was about 10:30. Since it was a Wednesday, I had a half hour to wait. With so many people out of work, it didn’t make sense to stay open any later.

Pam was there, tending bar as usual. She sure looked good, but my conversation with Georgie was still on my mind. With anybody else I I might think he was imagining it...or maybe on drugs. But I’d known Georgie for years, he just wasn’t the type.

When Pam came over and gave me a hug and kiss, I decided that I’d rather not think about Georgie and his monster for awhile. I’d rather think about taking Pam home and enjoying a nice, quiet evening together. What was left of the evening, anyway.

“Hi Billy, how was business tonight? Hope it was better over there than here.”

“Nope, can’t say that it was, sweetheart. If it keeps up like this, I’m not gonna be able to stay open. Maybe we could combine our places. Be cheaper for both of us that way.” I always figured that if we went into business together, we’d enjoy being around each other even more.

“We can talk about it later. Now, how about helping me close up? Been a long night and I wanna get out of here.” Pam tossed her hair as she talked, like always. I loved the way it brought out the highlights in her brunette mane.

As she bent over to pick up a napkin from the floor, I took the opportunity to swat her bottom with the towel I’d been dusting with. “Billy, cut it out,” she sounded serious but still had a smile on her face, “until we get home, at least.”

Needless to say, I hurried cleaning up.

It had been a week since Georgie had come in, talking about his monster. I realized that I hadn’t seen him since. Odd, I thought, Georgie was a pretty regular customer.

I decided to take a trip out to make sure he was alright. Georgie’s farm was on the outskirts of Jordan, about three miles from town. I’d just have to remember to be careful, the road would be pretty muddy this time of year.

I told Pam I was going out to get some pictures of the leaves...maybe the newspaper would buy them. I’d sold a photo to The Jordanian a few months before. I’d worked my tail off getting that picture. I’d spent all day climbin’ Camel’s Hump just to get a lousy shot of a moose. Eight hours of hiking - but I’d gotten a hundred bucks for it.

“Maybe if I can find an eagle posed all nice and pretty, I can get enough to stay open for a couple more months.” Pam and I both smiled at the thought.

If I had told her the real reason I was going, she would have thought that I was as crazy as Georgie.

Lisa met me at the door when I arrived.

“Hello, Billy, how are you doing? I haven’t seen ya in a while, huh?” I realized how long it’d been when I saw how big she had gotten. I guessed that she’d put on about fifty pounds. No wonder Georgie spent so much time in the woods.

“Lisa, how are you? Is Georgie around? I owe him some money from a bet last week. He said I could drop it off anytime. You know how trusting he is. Well, I figured I’d go double or nothing with him. Give me a chance to win something back.”

“He’s out cuttin’ wood behind the barn. Listen, Georgie’s been acting real strange lately. Any idea what’s been botherin’ him? I can’t get anything outta him.”

Apparently Georgie hadn’t told his wife about what he’d seen. I wasn’t gonna say anything, that much I knew.

“I don’t know but I’ll talk to him, okay? See ya later, Lisa.”

I wasn’t ready for what I found when I rounded the corner of the barn. Georgie was there alright, but he wasn’t cuttin’ wood. His feet were three and a half feet off the ground, swingin’ in the breeze. He had a loggin’ chain around his neck hooked to an “I” beam sticking out from the barn. I didn’t have to be a doctor to know that I was to late. He was dead and had been for awhile.

“Why Georgie...why did you pick me to tell? What in Hell am I supposed to do now?” I headed back to the house to call an ambulance.

“Lisa,” I had no idea what to say. “It’s Georgie. He’s dead, Lisa. I’ve gotta call an ambulance. He was sick Lisa. I’m not sure what was wrong...but it was something. Sit down, Lisa. I’m so sorry.” I was. I just didn’t know what to say.

I called Lisa’s sister to come over. Beth took Lisa to stay with her for a few days, which I hoped would help. After the police and ambulance left, I headed to the pool hall. It wasn’t time to open yet, but I had a lot of things to think about.

I drove slowly back into town. I didn’t feel good. I was dizzy and nauseas. Why did Georgie kill himself? Or, did he? It looked it, but what if whatever he saw had seen him too and was afraid that he would tell somebody about it? Maybe it knew that Georgie had told me. What did Georgie get me into?

When I got to the pool hall, I didn’t even turn on the lights. I had too much on my mind to deal with somebody asking me to open early. Maybe nobody would know I was there, I secretly hoped.

Maybe Georgie had lost his mind and now it was my turn. That seemed to make sense.

The funeral had come and gone. Trying to explain why it bothered me so much to Pam was the hardest part. I couldn’t tell anybody about my secret. Georgie’s secret. Our secret.

I told her that Georgie had been one of my favorite customers and that he and I had gotten close during the past few months. That seemed to satisfy her, so I didn’t add anything else. The less she knew, the better.

Things had really slowed down at the pool hall. Carson’s Cues & Pool just wasn’t a big draw anymore. We still had the regulars but nobody new had been in for weeks. No money to spend on playing a game. I sure knew how they felt. If I had thought that I could have gotten my money back, I would have sold the place.

I had given up on the idea of joining businesses with Pam. I finally realized that it would put too much strain on our relationship. What was left of our relationship, that is.

I guess everything with Georgie’s monster had screwed my head up pretty good. I’d figure out something though. I always did.

I decided to get the pictures developed that I had taken that day on the way to Georgie’s. I had taken a few photos of birds and squirrels on the way...but mostly just pictures of the Autumn leaves. With the new fallen snow, it would be nice to see some friendly colors.

When I got my pictures back, I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was a photo of Georgie hanging! I must have pushed the button by mistake as I had rounded the corner of the barn. The picture wasn’t centered, just from the knees down. I suddenly realized something that I hadn’t seen that day. There was no way that Georgie could have killed himself - there was nothing around that he could have jumped off! Being that high off the ground, he would have had to stand on something then kick it away. But there was nothing there. All the wood had already been split and stacked. I could see it in the background.

If Georgie hadn’t killed himself, what had done that to him? He had weighed almost 300 hundred pounds - no ordinary man could have lifted him that high. At least, not if Georgie was fighting. And why hadn’t the police noticed it? That’s what they got paid for.

I could n’t tell them about it now, they had already ruled it a suicide. It would just cause a lot of problems for Lisa - problems that she sure didn’t need.

I had to find the old jailhouse and figure out what Georgie had seen. Was it just his imagination? I had no idea where it was. Georgie hadn’t said where he had gotten lost. With over 500 square acres in Jordan - most of them woods - I’d never be able to find it.

I tried to put it in the back of my mind as I went and opened the pool hall for the nights’ business. Business was the wrong word for it. More like “trying to survive.” I hadn’t turned a profit in months and was behind in the rent. About time to close up shop, I thought to myself.

I wasn’t the only one in town who had been losin’ money. ‘Bout every business was closing down. Pam had been forced to lay off two waitresses, leaving just her and Susan. She liked Susan and I know that she sure hoped that she’d be able to keep her on. A bar like the Shotgun needed a good waitress. Susan was one of the best - people said that she could carry three trays loaded down with drinks and not spill a drop. Yeah, Pam liked Susan a lot.

About 9:30 Larry Johnson and Jim Oswald came in, stumbling over to get some cues. We usually got along all right, but I hated being around them when they were drinking. Reminded me of the old days. Back when I used to drink myself to sleep. Back before my heart attack. It had been mild, but it was enough to scare me into sobriety. That had been four years before and I’d been dry ever since.

Larry and Jim hadn’t been in since Georgie’s death - not in here at least. They’d been in the Shotgun pretty regular - got tossed out more than once since than. I guess they figured that they could get more bang for their buck over there. Ole boys like them liked fightin’ and they could always find one at the Shotgun. Me? I tried to keep Carson’s non-violent. Most of the time, I didn’t have too many problems with it.

“Hey Billy, what’s happenin’?” It was Jim who had spoken. He was always the more verbal of the two. Kinda small and wiry but dangerous as Hell.

“Not much, Jim. You two just out carousin’ tonight? Nice night for it, at least.” It was meant to be sarcastic, what with the eight inches of snow that had fallen since suppertime.

“Yep - beautiful all right. Listen, buddy...have you got a few bucks that I can borrow ‘til next week? I’ve gotta get me a fifth of Jack before the liquor store closes.” It was Larry who had asked. Almost as big as Georgie had been but dumb as a two-by-four.

“Sorry fellas. I just ain’t got it. Damn near out of business here myself.” It was the truth, but I wouldn’t have given ‘em any money even if I had just won Megabucks. I had promised myself not to buy alcohol for anybody again. Just wouldn’t feel right if the booze I bought someone ended up killin’ ‘em. Make me a murderer, wouldn’t it? I sure as hell didn’t need that.

“Thanks anyway, Billy. We’ll go see if we can find some at the Shotgun. See ya around.” And they were gone.

Pam and I didn’t talk much that night.

If I was gonna find the jailhouse that Georgie had seen, I’d need to find someone who knew the woods around Jordan. Maybe he had mentioned the area he would be walkin’ to somebody. But who? How could I find out without letting out my secret?

Johnny Williams seemed like the obvious choice to get information from about the woods. Even though he was only in his twenties, he was known as the best tracker...probably in the whole state. Folks in Vermont take their deer hunting real serious and tracking is the hardest part to learn. Anyone can shoot a deer - finding it after is usually the hard part. Nobody was better than Johnny.

It wouldn’t be hard to talk to Johnny - he came in the pool hall quite a bit and we knew each other pretty well. He loved to brag about what he knew so I figured it’d be easy to get information out of him.

Now, I’d just have to figure out what to say. I couldn’t come right out and ask - I’d have to come up with something good.

Johnny came in the next night, after drinking a little too much next door by the looks. His bloodshot eyes were broken up by eerie black pupils. I always thought his eyes were brown.

I didn’t figure that it’s be too hard with him being drunk. He probably wouldn’t even be able to remember what I asked him in the morning. But he’d be able to answer me without any problem. Guys like Johnny could tell you how to assemble a rifle in their sleep. He would be able to talk about the woods drunks, no problem.

“Hey Johnny - long time, no see. How ya been doin’? Snow sucks, huh?”

“Billy my friend, this isn’t snow. Back in ‘83 we had snow. Damn near five feet a day, seemed like. I followed this big old deer in snow up to my belt for ten miles. That snow sucked. ‘Specially when I had to drag his big ass out of the woods. Tasted damn good, though.”

This was gonna be easier than I thought. “Johnny - I been trying to figure out the perfect picture for this photo contest comin’ up. The judges just don’t seem to care too much for animals or trees or anything like that. You think you could give me some advice?”

“Well, I ain’t too much for pictures, ya know. What have you got in mind?”

“Nobody knows these woods any better than you,” ego boost, “where can I find some old, abandoned building? Something in the middle of nowhere? That’d sure give me a good chance at the Grand Prize in this contest.”

“What’s in it for me? Assuming of course that I know where there is something like that?”

“Half - five hundred bucks. The winner gets a grand and his name goes out to advertisers everywhere. I could sure use some more jobs.”

“Five hundred bucks?” A smile crossed his face. “Yeah, I think I can help you. How about an old jailhouse?” Johnny had whispered this last part.

Johnny gave me sketchy directions that I hoped would lead me to the jailhouse that Georgie had seen. He also gave me some advice.

“Stay away from it. Should be okay to take pictures from a distance, but don’t get too close. I’ve only seen it once - a couple of weeks ago. And I ain’t goin’ back up there. I don’t have to take you up there for the money, do I? I won’t do it - no way, no how.” Johnny’s voice was crackin’ as he spoke. More from fear than from alcohol, it seemed like.

“Why Johnny? Why won’t you go back up there? Did you see something?” I had to know the answer. Somebody like Johnny Williams didn’t scare easy. ‘Specially not in the woods.

“I just can’t do it, Billy. Sorry man, but it gave me the creeps like you wouldn’t believe. I ain’t too proud to tell you that I almost wet my pants. I don’t even know why. Just a feelin’ - I didn’t see nothin’. Just felt real strange.” Johnny was almost crying. He suddenly looked very he hadn’t slept in weeks.

“All right, Johnny. You don’t have to go with me. If I win you’ll still get your money. Thanks man. Listen, pool’s on me tonight.” It was the least I could do considering that it was my fault that he was blubbering like a baby.

I was going to have to wait until the snow melted a little before I could go looking for it. No way would I be able to follow Johnny’s directions in the snow. It would have been hard enough to follow them in the middle of summer with a guide dog - which was not an option. I had to go soon. I had to figure out what was ruining my life. What had taken Georgie’s life.

In the meantime, I figured that I’d better come up with a plan for my trip. According to Johnny, it’d take me about four hours, if I didn’t get lost. It would have to be on a Saturday so I could get away from Pam without a lot of explaining. God knew that I wouldn’t have been able to explain this to her. Lucky if I could’ve explained anything to her.

I knew that I’d be taking my camera and the .357 that I kept under the counter at the pool hall. I sure hoped that I wouldn’t need it, but I wanted to make sure that I was prepared. Better safe than sorry - isn’t that how the old saying goes?

Business went as usual for the next week - slower than death. And death had come to Jordan again. This time it was Johnny Williams who had been killed. The Jordanian reported it on Wednesday, October twenty-first.

Local Man Mauled

Jordan: A twenty six year

old Jordan resident was

killed today while bird

hunting. Police report

that Jonathan D. Williams

was apparently attacked and

killed by a Vermont Catamount.

An autopsy showed that Mr.

Williams’ throat had been

chewed through. It is the

first reported case of

death caused by a Catamount

attack ever in Jordan.

Residents are urged to use

extreme caution when in the

woods surrounding Jordan,

particularly in the area of

Powers’ Farm, where this

attack occurred.

I had to read it three times before my head stopped spinning. Johnny, killed by a Catamount? If he was hunting, why didn’t he shoot it? I just couldn’t come up with any answers.

Powers’ Farm was near where Johnny had told me that I could find an inlet to the path that Georgie had followed. It was also not too far from Georgie’s home...the place where he had died. It all started to fit together pretty well. Too well, I thought.

Had Johnny decided to go back up to the jailhouse? I couldn’t believe that - not as scared as he had been the night that he gave me the directions. One thing was for sure, I would find out what to Hell was going on. And I would get revenge for my friends. Friends that were interlocked more than they would have ever believed. We would have our revenge.

By the following Saturday, most of the snow around Jordan had melted. Pam had decided that we should spend some time apart, so getting away would not be a problem. I guess the lack of business that each of us was suffering brought a lot of stress. Just as well, I figured. At least I wouldn’t have to try to explain where I was going.

I had my .357 and camera loaded into the car and started out towards Powers’ Farm by 9:00 am. If I was able to follow Johnny’s directions and didn’t get lost, I should get to the jailhouse somewhere around 1:30 in the afternoon. There’d still be plenty of sunlight left, and I could stay out of sight and watch the place for a couple of hours before heading back down.

I felt like I had been walking for days when I finally hit the clearing. The jailhouse was there, just like Georgie had described it. The tightening in my chest was only in-part due to smoking. Mainly, it was fear.

This was a side of Jordan that I would never have believed existed. The fact that there was an old jailhouse didn’t surprise me. Jordan was a very old town and there were lots of abandoned buildings. But, the surroundings up here shocked me.

The jailhouse sat in the center of a huge clearing. It was totally barren for a hundred yards on each side of the building. There wasn’t even any grass growing until you got to the treeline. Just to the right of the building, there was a huge circle burned into the ground. I had no idea what had caused it, but I sure wasn’t going to get too close.

I settled into the bushes a couple yards back from the edge of the trees. I was in awe. Smoke rose from the chimney, as well as from the cigarette in my shaking hand. Glancing around, I noticed that there were no animals in sight. I didn’t even see any mosquitoes, which had been feasting on my throughout my climb.

It was nearing 3:00 when things began to change. The smoke that had been a steady stream from the chimney had begun to puff. I pulled the pistol from my pocket and set it on the rock beside me. I had already taken three rolls of film, stopping between pictures to look around.

The chimney began to puff faster, as if it were a train picking up speed. I could feel a presence, but could see nothing. Suddenly, the entire clearing was covered by a shadow. The sun continued to shine on the trees around the perimeter.

My heart jumped as I watched the ship drop into the field. It did not come in at an angle, but straight down out of nowhere. It landed, causing the scorched circle to grow slightly. I sat in amazement, blindly taking photos of the lights that surrounded the craft. In all, it was about 75 feet in diameter and about 10 feet tall. Lights formed a ring around it about three-quarters of the way up, flashing in unison.

The jailhouse door opened and a shadow emerged. Although it was huge, it didn’t seem to have any real structure. It carried two large glass jars; each looked to be containing blood. The shadow approached the craft as a door opened. The jars were handed to whatever was inside the door, then the shadow turned and walked back into the jailhouse.

The lights on the craft began to blink faster as it lifted off the ground. It rose straight into the air without making a sound. My heart was making plenty of noise for the both of us. The craft kept rising until it disappeared from my view. The smoke from the chimney began to flow in a steady stream again.

I took one last look around then headed down the path. I ran the entire way, without so much as a glance back. I reached my car in about an hour, still not believing what I had seen. But it was real, I knew that. Unbelievable, but real.

I lit a Camel as I pointed the car west. I hit the highway and waved good-bye to Jordan forever. I would not be going back. My eyes were drawn to the rear-view mirror. I prayed that they would remain blue. Baby blue, Pam had called them. They had passed brown and were approaching black fast. I punched the gas, hoping to outrun the transformation. I knew that it was not possible.

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