AN INCIDENT IN GRANITE COUNTY
BY SCOTT DEEGAN
Oh, dance in the dark of night,
Sing to the morning light.
The dark Lord rides in force tonight,
And time will tell us all.
Battle Of Evermore – Led Zeppelin
Chester Johnson spent a lot of time under the wooden bridge out on county road 11 just past the Borden Farms turn off. If you asked him, it was because that little fork around Split Tree island in the middle of the Tongue river was a great place to catch channel catfish. If you asked just about anyone else, they’d tell you old widow Johnson dropped her son off there on her way to work collecting eggs at Borden Farms so he can spend time with his daddy.
The story was that Ruth Johnson claims to have seen something come down from the sky out where the Tongue forks and had fainted from fright. When old Ruthie woke up she was more than a little pregnant and gave birth to Chester two months later. Wasn’t much of a medical mystery according to the Granite County Hospital since the Johnsons did their doctoring themselves or with the help of Mother Mabel up on Painted Sky Ridge. A lot of the country folks made their way up to the old woman for home remedies and the occasional spells. What Tawny Lee who’s best friend Wanda said was the doctors at the hospital thought that poor Ruth was too ignorant to know where babies came from, let alone know if she was pregnant. And Wanda should know, her sister works in the hospital laundry.
No one knows if there is any truth to that story or not, but that never stopped anyone from telling it. What they do know is that Orville Johnson’s body was found down there strewn through the tree branches about twenty feet off the ground. Most was found anyway. Seemed someone wasn’t too happy with Orv. No, not one bit happy with Ol’ Orv. So unhappy infact that Orv’s innards were strung through them trees down there like Christmas lights. His head and his balls was fashioned into the funniest damn windchime any one of the Granite County Deputies had seen. It became a barroom legend in town, hell, Dewy has a picture of it hanging above his cash register at the Do Drop Inn.
Ruth of course says it was a sky spider that killed Orv. Says he had been drinking and getting all riled up. Said he was going to the bridge because ain’t no spaceman going to take advantage of his woman. Orv had himself a short barrel 12 gauge and an old coffee can full of shells that he took and head for his old truck. Ruth followed him right on out, child and all, because if he was going to go shooting stuff up when he was drunk, he’d need someone to put bandages on him. She didn’t bring enough bandages.
The way Ruth tells it he was yelling during the whole ride down to the river about her honor and virtue. He was so loud, Ruth couldn’t hear Conway Twitty singing about the midnight moon and his slow hands. When they reached the bridge Orville shut off the truck, grabbed the gun off the seat and got out.
The river bottom had been filled with a thick fog and the usual landscape looked alien. The fog also amplified the river’s current and distorted her sense of direction and distance. Orv was stumbling around mumbling about space rape and how since the law wasn’t gonna do anything, it was up to him to get justice. Ruth knew better than to try to talk sense into him when he’d been drinking. She almost wished he had gotten into the mouthwash again and passed out, but she wasn’t in the mood to listen to him talking about how sick he was or spend the day cleaning up puke. Not when she had a little one to look after.
The wind picked up and a strange smell filled the air. She felt fear climb up her spine and an unmistakable tingling heat down there. Why she was suddenly getting all hot and bothered she didn’t know, but she didn’t mind either. She told everyone she had passed out when she saw it, the truth was she’d been horny and scared the first time she smelled it. And she smelled it from her house. She’d come awake to a strong urge to pee, stepped into her puddle jumpers, and headed to the outhouse. She was following the path around the corner of the house when the smell filled her nose, she was halfway to the river before she realized she had turned and she still needed to pee, now more than ever. She wasn’t about to stop and just let it flow, the warm urine pooling in her rubber over shoes. The woods were eerily silent and the only sound was the wet squelch of pee in her puddle jumpers. That night the river bottom was shrouded in fog the same as it was the night Orville became the world’s worst Christmas decorations. Ruth hadn’t known where she was going but never faltered in her quest for carnal satisfaction. Her destination revealed itself at the waters edge in the form of what appeared to be the legs of a giant spider extending down from a low hanging cloud that was much darker than the fog surrounding it. Ruth’s fear wasn’t enough to silence the urgency she felt in her happy place as Orv called it. Just the thought of Orville brought a surge of disgust that was the opposite of the way Ruth really felt for him. The disgust was in her head but it wasn’t her thought, and as soon as this entered her mind all of Ruth’s own thoughts were blocked out. She moved closer to the dangling appendages and found each to be tipped with another dangling appendage. Ruth shed her clothes and lay in the cold slime covered mud along the river bank and lost herself to ecstasy. When she came to her senses hours later she was cold, naked, covered in mud that smelled of river rot, and she was heavy with new life. That had been three months before Orville’s poor attempt at justice.
The night Orville died Ruth felt lustful as well, but not as urgent and she didn’t feel that the the spider was feeling the same way. In fact, this time she was much more afraid than she was horny. This time she was terrified. She yelled for Orville, whom she had lost track of in the fog while she reminisced about the last time she was here. When he didn’t answer she yelled again. After the third time she wrapped the boy, he had grown too big to be thought of as a baby, in his blanket and set him in the bed of the pickup. They didn’t have a carseat and the truck was empty so he couldn’t hurt himself and she could get Orville before anything happened to him.
She heard the gun shot just as she was giving the bottle to the boy. She looked over her shoulder, then back at Chester and told him to stay put before going off in search of her husband. When then second shot rang out she started yelling for Orv so he wouldn’t shoot her in the fog by mistake. She didn’t find Orv, not then anyway, but she heard him scream for her to get in the truck and get the hell out of there. She only wishes she had been faster.
She had just started back to the truck when Orville began screaming again. The sound froze her in her tracks and for the second time her trip to the river made her bladder let go. Only this time she hadn’t felt the need to pee first. Ruth was shaking with fear at the agony in the sound her husband was making, it no longer qualified as mere screams. Tears were streaming down her face as she turned to look behind her. Nothing was there and that scared her more. She wasn’t very far from where she thought the truck was parked when the night went silent. That was when she heard giggling. And she knew where it came from, there was no way it was possible.
Three months had passed between the conception and tonight. In that time she had both carried the baby and given birth to it. The baby had grown increasingly larger and was now almost thirty pounds not six weeks after having been born. And now it was giggling. Not just giggling but full out laughing. When Ruth got close enough to be able to make out the truck through the fog, she saw Chester standing in the pickup bed arms reaching upward, chubby face turned skyward as small birds fell into the truck around him. She studied the trees above the truck but couldn’t make out either the source of the birds or his amusement. Perhaps the falling birds caused his amusement. She shuddered at this and push the thought away. In a moment she’d wish she could have held on to it a little longer.
The sensation she felt upon arrival was gone she was sure it was just her and Chester left in the river bottom. She didn’t hold out much hope for Orville. Orville was dead and she knew it, she’d look for him later but now she had Chester to tend to. She reached the truck and saw Chester shovel a small black bird into his mouth. She tried to take it from him and scolded him for trying to eat it but he growled at her and she pulled her hand away looking at him. It wasn’t a bird, the black thing was some kind of meat. She picked one up and looked closer as the boy’s eyes followed her. What was it. She turned it in her hand while Chester chewed the piece in his mouth watching her. There was something stuck to it and when she peeled away what appeared to be cloth she saw part of a badly done tattoo she recognized instantly, she had found Orville. Part of him anyway. She screamed and threw the chunk from her hand. The sound of her screams were accompanied with the tearing of fabric. Chester’s clothes fell in rags at his feet as four more legs burst from his back, smaller versions of the spider legs that had hung from the sky. One of the new appendages shot out and pierced the peice of Orville she had thrown and brought it to his mouth. Ruth passed out.
When she awoke this time the boy was leaning over the side of the truck looking at her on the ground. He watched as she stood, never losing eye contact. Ruth was more than a little weary of what she now thought of as a creature in the back of her truck. She looked at his naked body as he studied her, his new additions were neatly folded and tucked against his body and resembled scars. He was about a foot tall then when they came, now looking like a two or three year old toddler. When she noticed him staring at her his face lit up and he smiled. That was when she knew she’d do anything for him. When he called her Mama, she knew she loved him.
Chester and Ruth return in
CHESTER TEST HIS LEGS