Horror and Thriller Fiction posted May 10, 2009


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
Selfish individuals seldom find true happiness.

Greed n' Feed

by Mastery


The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
The author has placed a warning on this post for language.





Duddles Custer lived alone in a farmhouse that sat a good distance from the road, the nearest neighbor, a half mile away. The house was neglected; paint was peeling, especially around the door and window frames. Shingles were missing and the front porch slumped.

There was a large front yard with a dying oak anchoring it. On one limb a tire dangled from a rotting rope. In the side yard was a 1950s-era Ford pickup up on cinder blocks. Jagged dead stumps of what looked like the remains of a privacy hedge ran across the front of the house. A porch swing hung at an angle on rusted chains and the doorbell was the kind you twisted with a handle.

The house was completely dark except for the light of the television screen from the parlor. It was dusk when the car bounced in on the muddy driveway. Unusual, because Duddles rarely had company call.

A man was driving and he had a woman with him. When they reached the porch, the driver killed the engine.

__________****__________

For a moment a thick silence hung inside the car. A thin cloud of smoke curled up from a roach clip in the ashtray. Both people sat gazing at the house for a moment.

"Let's go," said the woman. She leaned her body sideways into the man. Her voice was a low, thick whisper in his ear, her fingers like the brush of a bird's wing on his thigh.

The man slid a cigarette out of a pack of Winstons, lit it with a Zippo, dropped the lighter loudly on the console, and rubbed his hand over his face while he exhaled the smoke. When he Cracked his window, a pungent odor assaulted their nostrils.

"What in the hell is that smell?" asked the woman.

"Pig shit," he muttered. "Get used to it. This is a friggin farm, ya' know. We'll probably be stayin' the night. There's cow shit and chicken shit too." He chuckled and gazed like a fortune teller into her face. "Yeah, that's right, get used to it. And give me a minute, will ya? What's the hurry, anyway? The old man's not going anywhere." Neither of them spoke for awhile after that. His breathing was loud in the silence.

He continued to stare at the house, his shoulders erect to compensate for the way his stomach spilled over his belt. His face was slightly flushed, his small mouth pinched. Cheeks that were flecked with tiny blue and red veins. Yet, his arms were thick and powerful, deeply bronzed by the sun, they bore numerous scars, scabs and at least a dozen tattoos covering a variety of subject matter from mothers to sex and Harley-Davidson. His eyes were washed out, pale blue, the pupils like burnt match heads, his face manic and tight against the bone and ridged with bruises along the jaw. His hair was tied in a matador's twist on the nape of his neck.

The truth was the man wanted a drink. Not ease back into old habits, either, with a casual Manhattan sipped at a brass-rail bar with red leather booths and rows of gleaming glasses stacked in front of a long wall mirror. Rather, he craved kick-ass boilermakers with Jack Daniels and draft beer, or Beam straight up with water chaser, raw tequila that left him breathless and boiling in his own juices. And what's more, he wanted it in a knock-down, backstreet, lowbrow dumpy saloon where he didn't have to account for any of his subsequent ridiculous actions.

He had always been too busy worrying about himself and his own appetites. Never spent time thinking about his future. And now, at forty-six, when it was time to start thinking about it, he suddenly felt totally incapable of doing so. Where did he start? What should he do? A panic attack that revealed so much of his business to the woman sitting next to him had caused him to consider all that. Another beer was not the answer this time. He was sure of one thing: Lately she was proving to be a bossy pain in the ass.

"There's no rush," she said, after a while. "I just want to get this over and done. I thought you did, too?" She continued her finger-coaxing-artistry on his leg. The woman's hair was big and black with silver streaks. She had a pale indoor face and thick black eyebrows that almost met over the bridge of her broad nose. Her dress resembled a purple sandwich board glued over her immense, square-cut frame, and her face was composed of doughy cheeks, three chins, small lips and closely set eyes. She leaned back in her seat.

"What's the big deal, Clarence? You know the old goat has the money. You say he's leaving you a big-assed chunk when he croaks, anyway. Right? So why should he mind giving you some now? You need it -- he's got it. That all adds up one way as far as I can tell. Like you said, your mom would want it that way."

"You're right, I suppose. Let's go then, but just keep that mouth shut, will ya?" He swung open his door, even though he felt a wave of anger break over him. "All I can say, is you've got more balls then any ten men I've ever met. I swear." He paused and stretched. Then, flipping his cigarette to the ground, he put it out with his foot and headed for the door. The woman hustled in close behind him.

Luther, the old mongrel dog, moseyed out from the rear of the house, cocked its head in their direction as it caught their smell, gave a tired bark and then retreated back to the shed.

___________*****____________


Duddles watched from the kitchen window.

"Damn!" He muttered as he yanked his suspenders up over his shoulders. "Now I'll miss Jeopardy." Company. Ha! Here we go again. Gimme, gimme, gimmee. He wished he lived thousands of miles away from people whose lives were modeled on the lyrics of country-and-western songs. His nephew was a major disappointment. A lazy-assed mooch. Duddles had grown to hate the man.

Duddles was a hard-working farmer, whose fingernails were long, thick and filthy, but it didn't matter. He wore soiled gray pants and an equally dirty long john shirt. With a bald scalp freckled by the sun and scarred by misjudgments, his skin was the color and texture of the rind on a smoked ham. Gray hair grew out of his nose and ears. His shoulders and upper chest were braided with knots of veins and muscles. He was seventy-six, but by no means ready for Tom Bakeman's Funeral Home in town.

The bell clanged four times.

"Alright! Alright! Hold your horses!" Duddles shuffled to the door, unhooked the deadbolt and pulled the door open just a crack.

"Yeah?" he growled. "What do you want, Junior?"

"Hi, Uncle!"

"Hello, boy -- I said what do you want?"

Clarence laughed. "Why, I come to visit, is all. Goodness, is that any way to greet your kin? Can't we come in?"

"All depends." Duddles eyed the overweight woman behind Clarence. She looked the other way and she tucked a few stray hairs behind her ear.

"Oh, Uncle Jack, this is my friend, Shelly. You can call him Duddles, if you like, Shell. Everybody calls him Duddles -- right, Uncle Jack?"

"Yeah. Well . . . come on in," said Duddles. "Have a seat, if you've a mind to." He pointed to an aging burgundy couch that had crocheted doilies spread on the arms and headrest. But it was it was easy to make out the worn spots through the gaps in the doilies. A hardwood rocker sat in front of a small television. It was the only other piece of visible furniture besides a chipped coffee table and an antique-looking hutch in the kitchen. The only thing that distinguished the kitchen from the living room was a yellow linoleum floor. An antiquated dinette table with two matching chairs straddled severe cracks in the flooring. Thin brown carpeting covered the area just the other side of the refrigerator. The walls were yellow, and small sections of plaster were missing from the ceiling.

The smell of coffee lingered in the kitchen.

A dark hallway angled off the kitchen. A solitary floor lamp served as the only source of light in the living room. Dangling from a light bulb above a kitchen table, was a pull-string. The table was cluttered with papers, books and miscellaneous this and that. Boxes of Quaker Oats, coffee and dozens of cans of Campbell's soup were stacked at the end of a long kitchen counter.

"Hi," said Shelly, as she plopped down on the couch. When she smiled at Duddles, she revealed some unfortunate teeth. "Clarence has told me so much about you." she said as she surveyed her surroundings.

"I bet he has," Duddles mumbled.

Clarence sat and immediately stretched his legs out on the coffee table. He crossed his mud-stained boots and spread his arms across the back of the couch. Shelly snuggled up against him and pulled one dangling hand down around her shoulder. She bit off a hangnail and took it off her tongue with her fingers.

"What you been up to, old man?" said Clarence.

"Just finishing supper," said Duddles. He rested his fists on either side of his plate, fork and knife in grips, as if guarding the food from poachers. "I only cooked a coupla' chops, so I hope you two et," he said. He put down his fork and gnawed on a pork chop bone, then dropped it onto his plate and loudly sipped his coffee.

"Naw, that's alright, Uncle. We're not hungry, are we, Shell?"

"Whaaaat? To hell, I ain't." She studied Clarence's face like a child who had been grounded. "Speak for yourself, asshole."

"Easy now," said Clarence. He squeezed Shelly's knee and swung his legs back around onto the floor and stood. "I need a drink, myself." He winked at Shelly. "Let's see what you got in the old liquor stash, 'eh." He sauntered towards the cabinet above the refrigerator.

"Get away from there, boy! I'm warning you. You don't need any of that booze -- particular you driving."

"Hey! Where's the toilet," asked Shelly. "I've got to piss like a racehorse."

Duddles pointed down the hall. Shelly pranced toward the bathroom.

"So, com'on, Jack. What's wrong, anyway. Somebody shove a bumblebee up your ass? He opened the cabinet. "Let me have a look, here." He laughed as he reached in and clanged bottles together, checking the liquor. He wrapped his hand around a fifth of Old Grand-Dad Kentucky bourbon.

"Ahh ha! Here we are." He held it up to the light; it was nearly full. "I know you do your share of this poison, old man. Don't worry, I'm only gonna have a little drinker-poo. How about you? Want a taste?" He lit a cigarette and smoked it without taking it out of his mouth.

"No!" said Duddles. "And you shouldn't either, damned fool." He hung his head and stared at the bone on his plate. His fingers shook as he fiddled with his fork. He felt the blood rising in his wrinkled face; heard every one of his heartbeats smacking in his ears. Good God! How I hate this.

"Well, pour a stiff one for me too, as long as it's out," said Shelly, as she sashayed her way back to the couch. "Come on, old man. Damn!" she said. "Ain't no sense in being an asshole about things. God knows I've seen enough of a walking, talking rectum with your nephew, here. By the way, you could use some soap in the shithouse."

"Shut up, bitch," said Clarence. He pawed his chin. "Let me see if I remember where we keep the glasses, now." Ashes were on the front of his shirt.

He discovered some Libby juice glasses in a cabinet above the sink and shuffled back to the couch. Setting the bottle down, he poured three fingers of whiskey in each glass.

Duddles stood, hesitated, then moved to the sink with his plate. "All I want to know is why you come bothering me again, boy. What's the excuse this time? What do you want? Can't be a job?"

Shelly stubbornly folded her arms over her bosom. "I'll answer that.
Clarence needs for you to give him some of that money you got stored up -- that's what." She placed her gaze squarely on Duddles who in turn stared at her in disbelief.

"Now, Shell. Darn it all," said Clarence. "Don't mind Shelly, Clarence laughed. She's got a mouth disease. It don't know when to stay shut."

"What?" Her head swiveled in his direction. "Who are you kiddin, lamebrain? Fuck you! Here's the thing, Pops, we might as well get it right out here in the open. Truth is, Clarence lost his job at the paint factory. He needs cash. Something to tide us over. There, it's done."

Duddles stood at the sink, running water over his plate. "It figures -- no big surprise." He turned to face her.. "Junior's right , you know. You have got quite the mouth, woman. But in case you don't know, your boyfriend has the reverse King Midas touch, everything he puts his hands on turns to shit. In fact, him and trouble seem to go together like shit and stink. He looked at Clarence. "Boy . . . you're good. Being a perfect loser requires just one thing -- practice."

"Aw! Jack, that's just not fair, now. I've had lots of jobs." He poured himself another triple.

"That's the idea," said Duddles. He studied Shelly's face. "What's that you do for a living, Miss?"

She ignored Duddles at first. "Hey, Mister one-way," she said to Clarence. "How about me?" She dangled her empty glass in his face, then looked at Duddles.

"I work at the vet's office over in Harbor Springs two days a week, if it's any of your business."

"Oh, I see," he nodded. No doubt this stupid pook prefers to spend her days with four-legged beasts and her nights with two-legged ones. "That's it? That's all you do? Well, here's my answer for you, Miss. I don't know where my nephew found you, or where you got the notion that I was rich, but he's mistaken. I don't have nothing' to spare, and I'm not that Trump fella, neither. Times are getting rougher for everybody." He sat back down at the kitchen table and sipped his coffee.

Shelly's eyes peeled the skin off his face.

Duddles stared at her. "When I started working this two-hundred acres, years ago, a man could make a decent living. Well, I was smart enough to save a bit after the wife died, but I still manage to care for sixteen swine and thirty cows . . . tons of chickens, too. I plant fifty-two acres every spring, besides." He leaned back on his chair. "It's just me and the farm now, and what I do have won't be going nowhere until I'm six feet under -- know what I mean?" He switched his eyes to the TV.

Clarence and Shelly continued to drink one after another without any chasers, and kept going well into the night, basically ignoring Duddles. It didn't take long for them to go through the fifth of whiskey. With each drink they got more and more abusive and loud with one another and Duddles. Filthy language was the highlight of the night, and despite Duddles' protest, Clarence opened a bottle of Bacardi when the Old Grandad was gone.

Duddles loathed his predicament. He listened to their ramblings until just before midnight when they finally passed out on the couch. They leaned on one another like two crippled candidates from skid row. To hell with them. They can sleep on the floor for all I care, thought Duddles. When he stood his legs felt loose. Uncoordinated, from having sat in one position too long, his knees popped like those of a man who was way too old for farming.

Clicking the television off, Duddles went to his room. He left his door ajar. With any luck at all, I'll wake up and they'll be gone out of here. It's my own fault. You just don't invite bulls into clock shops and act surprised at the results. But, what if these morons pull something while I'm asleep? They could rob me -- might even hurt me, for Chrissakes.

After pondering the situation, Duddles opened the bottom drawer of his dresser and retrieved his nine-inch hunting knife. He carefully slid it under the pillow opposite his own. Even though he was extremely tired, he found himself struggling to fall sleep. He was afraid to close his eyes and lay in the dark looking at the ceiling. I wish his father was alive to see how his boy turned out. I'd kick his ass. He should've taught Clarence respect. It just ain't right. A man deserves his privacy. That lad has the IQ of a moth. His mother would have been better off if she had thrown him away and raised the afterbirth. I'm damned sure fed up and I sure as hell don't need his fat-ass girlfriend telling me what she wants. Some nerve. Her face could make a train turn onto a dirt road. That don't help matters, either. Trash . . . both of them . . . just trash.

The night's extraordinary events rendered peace impossible until, at last, around four in the morning, Duddles snored.

____________***______________


It was seven o'clock when the first hint of light in the black sky thinned toward gray, and the beginnings of visibility appeared before there was any touch of color in the eastern sky. Shelly was the first to awaken; she opened her eyes just before dawn. It took a moment or two for her to realize where she was. Her head throbbed and her mouth tasted like the bottom of a birdcage. The house was still dark. She looked over at Clarence who was tipped on his left side, snoring. However, the racket coming from down the hall, was much, much louder. Duddles was obviously still asleep.

Shelly blinked herself awake. She tried to size up the situation wondering in her stupor whether she could find something valuable tucked away while the old man and Clarence still slept. She took several deep breaths and wiped her eyes with her sleeves. What harm can it do, if I look around? Bet he's got shit hidden all over this dump. The inside of this place looks like shit, but maybe Uncle Scrooge keeps inside of the walls lined with cash.

Shelly became excited at the prospect and felt a rush of adrenaline. Yeah. What the hell. The old bastard doesn't want to give up any cash -- I'll just have to help myself. She looked at her boyfriend on the couch. I can't depend on you, loser. Screw you, I find it, it's all mine, Baby Cakes.

She started in the living room. Although already getting light outside, it was still too dark to see. One damned window. Who does that shit? She was afraid to turn on either of the lights. It would surely wake them up? Using a cigarette lighter, she kneeled and pulled the carpet back on all four corners. Yanking it back as far as possible, she checked for a hiding place under the floor. Nothing.

The floor squeaked under her feet no matter how slowly she paced herself, but she continued to wobble her way to the kitchen. The hutch had six drawers. Shelly pulled them out, one by one, but found nothing except papers, receipts and old TV Guides. She grinned. Stupid old fool. What the hell does anybody want with old TV Guides? Manila envelopes and other clutter including pencils, pens, and rubber bands were jammed in another drawer. She paused and listened. Then, sliding out the bottom drawer, she discovered expensive-looking silver. Silver was good, but too big to smuggle inside her purse. Fancy-Dance, Lacey napkins were bunched up alongside the silver. Big deal. Where in the hell does he keep the cash?

She snapped the lighter shut and stood still. Listened to the snoring. Think, Shell. What next? Where would an old man hide his good shit? She began to search the kitchen cabinets. No wonder he kept food stacked on the counter. The shelves were loaded with canned goods. Checking inside the canister set, she found Coffee in one, tea bags in another. One of the last two held loose change, mostly pennies. The last was empty. Damn! One of the kitchen chairs was pulled away from the table, so she sat down. What now? Do I dare try for his wallet? It would no doubt be in his pants pocket, right? It was always that way with Dad. Shelly briefly remembered the times she'd gone through her father's pockets while he slept. But, then, Dad was usually passed out, drunk, too.

Shelly's temples pounded at the thought of getting caught. I'm not going to get caught though . . . never did with Daddy, and I won't now. Wonder if the old goat is a sound sleeper. He sure seems to be. What the hell, give it a go.

Step, after deliberate step, she made her way down the hallway to the door of Duddle's room. The snoring was even louder now. The door was open a ways. Good. She looked in and saw daylight peeking under the shade on the bedroom window. She wouldn't need the lighter. She nudged her way into the room and paused just inside the door. Listening to Duddles' even breathing, she edged her way over to a stuffed chair that sat a few feet from his bed. She spied his pants draped over the back. Reaching down, she picked up the pants, then, using her fingers, pinched the material until she felt the hard, thick square that could only be a wallet. Slowly, she slid the prize out in the open, dropped the pants and turned to leave.

The snoring stopped. Shelly stopped, too. She stood erect, holding her breath. Afraid to look behind her. Oh, shit!


_______***_______


Duddles suddenly sat upright in the bed. Something? What? He squinted and suddenly made out the figure by the chair. Shelly felt his eyes on her. She gawked at him -- then put a hand to her mouth in order to stifle a scream.

"What the hell are you doing in here . . .?" Duddles bounced out of bed and lunged for her, but Shelly swung a fist and pounded him on the side of his face. She struck him hard. Off guard and half awake, Duddles was knocked back off his feet and went flying. He landed on the bed.

"Leave me alone!" she screamed. After that, everything moved like the last scene of an action movie.

"What gives you the right?" he yelled. Slithering a hand under the pillow, he located the knife and jerked it out. "Goddamn you!" Tears filled his eyes. But he wasn't really crying when he grabbed a fistful of Shelly's hair. She fell back against the closet door. Duddles appeared to change. His skin was gray-white, his features contorted like a death mask. Something behind his eyes had been short-circuited by rage. His expression brimmed with fury. He yanked her head back and sliced cleanly through her neck, severing the carotid arteries and jugular veins, cutting so deeply, in fact, that the knife carved into her cervical spine on its jagged crescent path from her left to right ear. Her eyes were wide open when Duddles let her drop to the floor like a bag of wet laundry. She fell straight down; when her face hit the floor, a geyser of blood sprayed his legs.

Oh God! Duddles had killed before. Years earlier, in the war. And now, so many years later, this killing seemed more like an accident than a murder. He felt the adrenaline pumping in his veins in the same way he used to feel hunting, when a large animal suddenly came into focus inside his telescopic sight. God, oh, God!

He barely heard the footsteps pounding the floor behind him. The light came on and Clarence bolted into the room, knocking Duddles to one side.

"What in the fuck did you do, old man?" Clarence stared at the bloody heap that was Shelly laying against the wall. For just a moment, his eyes were like those of a man trying to figure out how to get inside a bus after the doors have been closed on him. His eyes wide, his face pale, he looked like he might either faint or wet his pants.

"Shelly! What the fuck did you do to her, Jack? What . . . what did you do? Oh, sweet Jesus!" Clarence kneeled. He lay his fingers on Shelly's neck, and closed his eyes. No pulse. "She's dead. You did this, asshole. You're crazy, Jack!"

"I . . . I don't know. Your woman . . . she was here in my room. She . . . she had no business in here. My wallet, in her hand, too. Look! See? She's a thief. She scared me. I just . . . " Duddles spoke in such a calm, yet chilling tone, that he could hear every one of his heartbeats smacking in his ears. He was having difficulty breathing. His pulse raced with the spiked adrenaline racing through his veins.

"You killed her! Goddammit! She's dead!" He jumped up and grabbed Duddles by the throat. "You stupid, stupid old fool. Shaking Duddles back and forth, he screamed. "I ought to kill you!" His hands squeezed tighter and tighter. Duddles face turned blue -- then light purple.

Suddenly, Clarence loosened his grip. He shoved Duddles away and dropped his hands. "Ha! Ha! No! Nope, I got it. Yessir', a better idea." He poked Duddles in the chest with one stiff finger and spoke softly. "You're a murderer, a fuckin' murderer. Tell you what I'm gonna do now, Jack, old boy. I'm gonna go for the cops. Yeah . . . that's right. Get 'em over here, and put your sorry ass away. You selfish bastard. You always treated me second rate, didn't you? Ever since Dad died. I've never been good enough for you, have I?"

Duddles stared at him with vacant eyes.

Clarence bent down and grabbed the blood-soaked wallet. He wiped his hands on Duddles' long johns and turned his back on him while he rummaged through the wallet. He pulled out four twenty-dollar bills.

"This is just the beginning, Jack. I'm gonna get all of it now. Yeah, all of it, while you rot in Statesville." He tossed the wallet back in the puddle of blood that grew by the second.

Duddles grabbed the knife.

"No, you . . ." Clarence said as he half turned to face Duddles. His eyes widened, shock frozen on his face. His hand started up, but much too late.

"Ahhhhh! . . ." he screamed, as the blade sliced through the flesh of his back. He tried to raise up but gasped and fell forward, onto his knees.

Duddles seemed to be outside of his body as he stabbed -- stabbed -- stabbed. Again, again and again. Each time he thrust the knife, he rhythmically screamed: "There! There! There!" Spurts of blood shot out in volleys, spraying his hands, chest and face.

He slowly stood up when he finished -- tossed the knife on the floor. His breathing out of control. Silence filled the room. So quiet that Duddles could hear his own pounding heartbeat. He gasped while his body shivered.. He looked like a guppy seeking oxygen at the top of a polluted aquarium.

"Jesus! What . . . what have I done?" he murmured.

___________***__________


Duddles sat at the kitchen table for hours. There are moments in a person's life when they think the last few feet of film have snapped loose from the reel. When that happens, they hear their own blood thundering in their ears or a sound like the thunder of waves on a rocky shore. When they see these images in their sleep or experience them in their working day, they know they do not represent a negotiable fate. The images are indeed their future, and no exception will be made for them.

The sun had passed over the house. Duddles hadn't eaten -- barely moved. It was as if he was in an irreversible, hypnotic trance. His mind was a tangle of snakes; he hadn't decided what to do. He couldn't. Knowing what's right was one thing, and yet what to do was quite another. He could not spend the rest of his days in prison.

Finally, as the sun dipped in the west, Duddles knew what he had to do.

He would need some sheets; everything was bloody. Sheets will be the best thing. Yes. He had to go back into his room. It was the only way. Blood splattered the walls and furniture. Both bodies lay in puddles of red. A section of ceiling was sprayed with the aftermath of rage. Flies already buzzed throughout the room, celebrating the carnage.

Duddles quickly ripped the sheets off the bed. He flipped each of the bodies over onto sheets and rolled them up like mummies. That done, he hoisted one body at a time up and over his shoulder, then headed out the back door.

Luther barked when Duddles awkwardly stumbled down the back porch steps. He continued to bark as he watched his master sway like a drunk sailor down the path towards the barn.

It was time to feed the pigs.





















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