Linus woke up and nearly fell out of his chair. Confused, he looked around for a minute before ripping the headset from his head. Standing up he stretched his back and tried to work the kinks out. Shutting the radios down he wandered out to the kitchen to get some coffee going to try and wake up. He felt like shit. Back in the old days, as a younger man, he could fall asleep in nearly any position and had on numerous occasions. But he was older now and that shit just wasn’t the same anymore.
After getting the coffee on, the previous night’s events returned to him and walked into the living room and looked out the window. The two men were still lying there. The younger of the two, the one he’d spoke to, was crawling with fire ants and something about that offended Linus. He went outside and got the dock cart and brought it around to the front of the house. He may have killed the man but, no one deserved that.
After using the hose to wash most of the ants off he loaded the two bodies into the cart and pulled it around to the back of the house. Away from the ants for now he returned to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee. Stepping out onto the back deck he sat in a chair and watched as the river slowly made its way by. Fine wisps of steam rose lazily from the black water and he watched as they disappeared.
The river was his favorite place. If he wasn’t on it, just sitting and looking at it was the next best thing. Today he would be on it. He’d take the bodies down river and dump them in, that would end that ordeal. He’d also take his fishing rods and spend the rest of the day on the water. With his mind made up and cup empty he returned to the kitchen for a refill.
Linus filled his thermos with the rest of the coffee. He tossed a few beers into a small cooler and added a half-gallon milk jug of frozen water to keep them cool. He also made a couple of sandwiches and added those to the cooler. The last thing he put in was a small plastic container of his homemade stink bait. Once the cooler was ready, he collected his rifle and a small pack and headed out the backdoor.
First thing he had to do was get the bodies into the boat. Using the cart that wasn’t too hard. He simply pushed it up to the edge of the boat and dumped them in. Then he climbed in and straightened them out before covering them with the old canvas tarp he used to hide the gators he poached from the river. Once that was sorted out, he returned to the house for the rest of his supplies.
The boat was always tied with the bow facing upriver. Untying and giving the bow a little shove, the boat would swing out into the river and turn downstream. The old outboard fired right up and soon he was racing down the wide strip of black water. He wasn’t going to take the two bodies far. He just wanted them away from his place and downriver. Having them washup near his place was less than ideal.
Rounding one of the wide slow turns in the river he pulled to the far side and put the motor in neutral. There were no houses on this stretch of the river and no other boats in sight. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen a boat all morning. The river was usually busy with vessels of all size and shape. Fisherman and water sports enthusiasts alike used it daily. It struck him ass odd, but then gas would surely be getting scarce by now.
While still mulling over the lack of river traffic, Linus pulled the tarp back and heaved the bodies out of the boat. They slid into the water with barely a splash. With that job done he put the boat back in gear and headed down river. He’d just decided to go check on the cabin.
As he made his way down the winding river it became clear his thoughts on gas was certainly correct. He didn’t see any motorboats on the river whatsoever. But he did see several canoes when he came close to inhabited areas. There was also the occasional rowboat in the mix but, they were less common.
Linus however, had gas, and plenty of it. Looking down at the tank laying in the bottom of the boat he saw it was at about half a tank, when the angle of the vessel was taken into consideration. He hadn’t had fuel it yet. With the big tank at home and the only use for the gas the boat and four-wheeler, he’d have gas for a long time. Of course, there was the truck too, but he had no intentions of taking it out. The truck would surely draw unwanted attention.
So, he relaxed and sipped his coffee as he admired the spray of water shooting out the sides of the boat as it raced downriver. It was peaceful, just like he liked. Passing a short section with several houses on the right bank he could see people down at the water’s edge, on docks and some in canoes or Jon boats. A man a young boy in a Jon boat were working what looked like a homemade net. The net came up on one side of the boat, passed over its center and went back into the water on the other side. Anything caught in the net was extracted and dropped into the bottom.
The boy shaded his eyes from the early morning light and tugged at the man’s sleeve, pointing. The man said something to the boy before going back to his task. The boy waved enthusiastically, and Linus waved back. The boy looked over his shoulder and called out to people on the bank. A woman sat on a bucket at the river’s edge washing clothes. She said something back to the boy and nodded. Things were certainly returning to simpler time.
It wasn’t long before the cut to the cabin came into view. Linus could, and had many a night, find it in the dark he knew it so well. Slowing as he entered the narrow channel he idled in and cut the motor. The boat glided slowly up to the cabin and bumped into the dock. Linus tossed a line around a cleat and stepped out.
Everything looked to be in place, and he checked his security measures to ensure no one had been about. All was as he left it and he opened the cabin and went inside. Opening the shutters, he left the door open and went back out on the dock. The place could use some air. He pulled a chair over and retrieved the thermos and mug from the boat. Coffee in hand he spent about an hour sitting in the shade of the old cypress trees and listening to the sounds of the swamp. It felt good to be out there and Linus was at peace.
His solitude was interrupted when he caught motion in the water behind a large tree. Cocking his head to the side he waited to see what would come out the other side. When the snout of a large gator appeared, Linus jumped to his feet, instinctively drawing his pistol. The safety was off, and he was raising it to take aim when he stopped and lowered the old Colt.
“You’re lucky today. I still have some of your brother in the freezer and I ain’t in the mood to mess with your smelly ass today.”
He holstered the pistol and dropped back into the chair to admire the beast as it made its way by the cabin. He didn’t dislike the creatures. He actually admired them a lot. They were prehistoric in design and had managed to survive through many a cataclysm that wiped countless lesser beasts from the face of the Earth. That didn’t change the fact he liked to hunt them and eat them though.
After closing up the cabin, Linus got back in the boat and returned to the river. He was going to a favorite catfish hole he knew of. The hole was back upriver past his house and he would get to enjoy another scenic ride up the river. The boy from earlier was now on the bank and waved again as he passed. Linus smiled and waved back. When he got to the area where he’d dumped the bodies, he didn’t see them. He didn’t slow down to look for them, just gave a cursory glance to see if they were there.
The catfish hole was a little bit of a pain in the ass to fish. An ancient log ran out into the river and Linus had to tie the boat to it on the upstream side. This always took a little maneuvering to get right. But once the boat was in place, tied to the log, he could relax and fish. And that’s just what he did for most of the day.
The stink bait was paying off today and he had several nice channel cats flopping around in the bottom of the boat by early afternoon. Catfish can live a long time out of the water. So, to speed them on their way to the hereafter Linus kept a small club in the boat. A couple solid knocks to the head would usually do the trick. Even with being bashed in the skull the stubborn fish would last a long time.
With all the fish he felt like dealing with for the day, he untied the boat and headed for home. He got everything up to the house in one trip with the cart. Something he always tried to do. It was more a personal challenge than anything else. Like returning from the grocery store. He’d hang bags from his arms until there simply was no more room just so he didn’t have to make a second trip.
He cleaned the fish and walked back down the dock and tossed the carcasses back into the river. A lot of people say catfish isn’t fit to eat. Linus always laughed at this. The poor ignorant fools simply didn’t know how to properly clean the fish. Catfish are predator fish and live off other fish. The fillets will have a strip of dark meat running down the center of them. A wise fisherman cuts this dark meat out. What’s left behind is pure white fish that fries up deliciously.
Linus bagged up most of the fish, saving enough for a proper fish fry later that evening. He went to the fridge and poured himself a glass of ice-water and went to the living room and fell into his recliner. When he woke up a couple hours later, half of the glass was still there. He drained it before returning it to the sink in the kitchen.
It was five o’clock and he was considering starting his supper when he had another thought and decided to go make the rounds and check on some of his neighbors. Slinging his carbine, he went outside and pulled the four-wheeler from the shop. This time he left the gate open, he didn’t plan on being gone long. This was just going to be a short trip.
He’d check on some of his older neighbors first, then the young couple with the kids. Pulling up in front of the house, Linus didn’t even have to go in to know all was not right. An all too familiar odor filled the air. One he’d smelled in several countries around the globe. But he had to be sure, as much as he hated what he was about to do.
Linus climbed the steps to the porch and paused at the front door, hesitating. The odor was stronger now and flies buzzed at the door seeking entry. The door wasn’t locked, he took a deep breath and pushed it open. The interior of the house had a physical presence. Even with his breath held he could still sense the foulness inside. From where he stood, he could see a pair of bare feet down the hall sticking out of a doorway.
There was no way there could be anyone alive in there. Besides, the old woman lived there alone. Linus pushed the door closed and thought for a minute. He wasn’t in the mood to start burying all the neighbors. But he also knew he couldn’t just leave the bodies in the houses. Then it struck him he was already thinking in the plural, like this was not an isolated case.
Leaving the house Linus rode through the neighborhood and checked every house. He didn’t find a single living soul. Several of them had the same putrid smell coming from them. He’d only get close enough to make this discovery before moving on. When he got to the house of the young couple, he knew right away no one was there. The grass in the yard was an unkept tangle and it was obvious no one had walked through it any time recently. Two little boys would go a long way to keeping it stomped down.
The air was clean here though and he decided to go and knock on the door. The door cracked open on his first knock. Not from someone inside opening it, just from the force of the knocking. Linus pushed the door open a little and leaned in, calling out, “Hello!”
There was no answer, so he stepped in. The house felt musty, as if it had been closed up for some time. He wandered around until he came to the kitchen where he found a note lying on the counter.
We went to the camp. Couldn’t stay here any longer. Come find us there.
He dropped the note back on the table, wondering what camp they were talking about. But there was nothing he could do here, and his mind returned to those other houses. Something had to be done about them. Linus thought about the options on the short walk back to the ATV. Several scenarios ran through his head, but there was really only one option.
Climbing back onto the machine he ran back home and stopped in front of the shop. Going in he dug around and found the box he was looking for and returned to the machine. He returned to the first house. This time he didn’t hesitate and walked straight up to the door, pausing only long enough to light the flare he held in his hand. Opening the door, he tossed it onto a sofa littered with old magazines and books before closing it and getting back on the ATV. He’d burn five more houses that night.