HAVE ANOTHER by Ray O’Bannon
I feel foolish explaining how this all began. If I hadn’t gotten drunk that night I probably wouldn’t have gotten lost on those old dirt roads, wouldn’t have crashed my car into a tree avoiding the deer that jumped out from the darkness, wouldn’t have ended up rain soaked and lost in the woods. And I would never have come across Edna’s cottage. But I was fresh out of high school, and after a frustrating week at work and a fight with my girlfriend I thought liquor might offer some form of escape. So I drove out into the woods with a bottle of scotch. An hour later I was lost. An hour and a half later my car was wrecked and I was stumbling around in the woods. Did I mention I was rain soaked?
I considered following the road back to town but I was several miles from the city limits and hadn’t noticed any houses anywhere near the roadside. There had been, however, intermittent twinkles from deeper inside the woods. So after losing the car I followed the road to the first trail I saw snaking off into the trees. Then I started down that trail with a naïve certainty that it would lead me to a farmhouse or cabin. Janice or Reggie would probably come get me, even this late at night, if I could just get to a phone and call them. My cell phone had been on my dashboard before hitting the tree, and had apparently been flung out through the window. But surely this trail would lead to an inhabited building, a telephone, maybe even a warm jacket. Yes, I actually drove out into the woods without bringing my jacket. May I continue?
The trail dwindled into a footpath and the footpath ended in a weed choked field. My flashlight lasted just long enough for me to see a large bullfrog looking up at me. It seemed to be grinning. Then the flashlight went out and in aggravation I threw it into the darkness, half hoping it might hit the frog. After my eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, I noticed a faint flickering light coming from somewhere out in the trees. I stumbled across the field and made my way to the tree line. The light appeared to be coming from the window of a house.
I plunged into the trees and promptly tripped on some roots, smashing my kneecap against a large stone. Rising painfully back up, I continued forward through the grove of trees and stepped into the clearing that served as a front yard for a little cottage. The single lit window beckoned warmly, and I was reminded oddly of going ‘trick or treating’ as a child. As I approached the cabin, a shadow passed across the window. Then the front door slowly swung open and a plump older lady stood glaring out at me.
“Who’s out there?” she demanded sternly.
“Excuse me” I began hesitantly, “But I wrecked my car and I was hoping…”
“Oh, goodness!” came her shocked reply. “You had an accident? Why, you poor thing, you’re soaked clear through! You come here this instant!”
Relief flooded over me as I stepped forward and up the front steps of the cottage. I could now see my benefactor more clearly. She seemed to be in her late 50’s or early 60’s. Heavy set, she wore a long loose nightgown with a lurid purple floral print. Bright yellow flowers sprang from the vibrant purple background as vines of a wholly unnatural green writhed across the billowing folds of the fabric. This garment was complimented by a fluorescent pink knit shawl. Her hair was permed in a peculiar old fashioned style and she wore antique glasses with thick plastic rims, little fake diamonds set in the sides.
“Let’s get you in here where it’s warm and dry, young man” she chirped, grasping my arm and pulling me through the doorway. I noticed the heavy curtains, bright red flowers standing out like gunshot wounds against a pale yellow background. The living room furniture seemed to date from the 1950’s, an antique television staring blankly from one corner of the dimly lit chamber. I realized the light was pouring in from a little kitchen in the rear of the cottage, towards which I was now being tugged.
“Now you just come right this way and we’ll get you all taken care of” she continued to chatter. “My name’s Edna and don’t you worry at all, Aunt Edna will take care of everything. Just come have a seat in the kitchen, everything’s going to be fine.”
She prattled on as we passed through the kitchen door and entered what looked like a set from an old black and white TV show. The gas stove and refrigerator were antique, though both were in immaculate condition. The little table and chairs, with their chrome tubing and vinyl, reminded me of my grandmother’s place. A square plastic AM radio from the mid 50’s sat on the table beside a ceramic sugar dish shaped like a swan. The counters held a large chrome mixer with big black plastic knobs and a ceramic cookie jar shaped like a squirrel. On the stove sat one of those little metal coffee pots like you see in old cowboy movies.
“Let's get you dry here” Edna mumbled, pushing me into a chair and placing a fuzzy woolen blanket over my shoulders. “And get some food into you, too!”
After getting soaked by the rain it was wonderful to suddenly find myself sitting in such a cozy little kitchen, wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket, with nothing more than my throbbing kneecap to remind me of my earlier misfortunes. I was thrilled at how my luck had suddenly changed for the better. What a laugh.
“Fortunately I’m usually up late at night” she continued, “so there’s plenty of fresh coffee ready. And I baked some brownies earlier. Howard and I will never get through them all, so you’re certainly welcome to as many as you like. They’re my own recipe, you know.” Her eyes momentarily gleamed with pride as she turned to pour the coffee.
I noticed a doorway at the side of the room, its open door revealing a darkened chamber beyond. Presumably a bedroom, since a pair of slippers sat just beyond the entrance. Her husband, Howard, must be asleep in there, I realized. A dark wooden cane resting beside the doorframe seemed to confirm my guess.
“There’s plenty of stew” Edna explained, setting a cup of coffee in front of me. “And we’ve got all sorts of meat in the freezer right now, if you’d like a chop or a steak and some eggs.”
I sipped the coffee, preparing to respond. The grainy liquid hit my tongue like hot tar, filling my mouth with a taste like motor oil and spoiled fish. I did my best to smile politely. “That’s very kind of you, but I’m not very hungry right now. Would you perhaps have a telephone I could use?”
Edna turned with an apologetic frown. “Oh no, I’m afraid we don’t have one of those here. We did have, you know, but we so seldom needed it for anything… I forgot, do you use cream in your coffee?”
“Please” I murmured, my hopes of calling for help ruined. This late at night I certainly couldn’t expect Edna or Howard to drive me back to town, and if I could find another farmhouse I’d need to awaken, and probably anger, the occupants. Yet I was beginning to prefer the idea of sleeping in my wrecked car rather than remaining here. This place was starting to creep me out a little, though I couldn’t say exactly why. I sat wondering what to do as Edna placed a carton of cream on the table. Rather than making the coffee palatable, the spoiled lumpy cream only made things worse.
Edna turned to the counter and returned with a foil covered pan. She removed the foil to reveal a fresh uncut pan of brownies. As she sat the pan on the table, a male voice came weakly from the dark bedroom.
“Edna, what are you doing out there? You aren’t up to anything, are you?”
She stood looking embarrassed for a moment before regaining her composure and giving me a hesitant smile. “You’ll have to excuse Howard. He isn’t very well, you know… but don’t be alarmed, he won’t hurt you or anything. I promise”. She gave an odd little giggle. “Here, let me find something to cut that with…”
She opened a drawer and then turned back with a large shiny meat cleaver in her hand. Before I could say anything she raised the cleaver high over her head. I flinched in sudden terror as it came flashing downward, thinking she intended to strike me with the blade. But the sharp metal flashed past me and slammed into the pan of brownies, shaking the table as it cut the contents in half. She then made several more vicious strikes, cleaving the brownies into something like squares. I realized she must be mentally unstable, and began hoping for the first time that I wasn’t in any real danger.
“Edna, you’ve had enough!” Howard yelled from the bedroom. “You don’t need any more!”
She ignored his comments, handing me a jagged brownie. Then she stood waiting expectantly, so I raised the confection to my lips and took a tentative bite. It tasted like cocoa and warm raw meat, with something hard and crunchy in it.
“You know,” Edna prattled on, selecting a brownie for herself and biting into it enthusiastically, “It’s just so hard to ever get enough of the things you enjoy. There are so many disappointments in life, after all. So you have to grab as much pleasure as you can, that’s what I’ve always said. And why shouldn’t a person do the things they enjoy?”
I was searching my mind for an appropriate answer when Edna again raised the cleaver over her head. But she was now staring directly at me and this time I had no doubt at all. The cleaver was aimed at my forehead.
As I leapt back from the table an old man suddenly appeared in the bedroom doorway, blue striped pajamas covering his frail form. He lurched forward, holding the wooden cane I had noticed earlier. But rather than lean on it for support, he was raising it threateningly over his head as he came up behind Edna. He grabbed Edna’s arm before she could swing the heavy cleaver. He shouted angrily as they struggled.
“You don’t need any more, I tell you! I should never have let you have so many to begin with!”
“Let go of me!” screeched Edna. “I only want one more, Howard! Just one more!”
I stumbled backwards through the kitchen door, wondering how long the frail old man could hold Edna back. I spun around and crossed the dim living room, slamming myself into the front door, which was locked. Hearing heavy footsteps approaching from behind, I realized there wasn’t time to fumble with the latch. Throwing myself forward again, I began smashing my shoulder into the door. The wood suddenly gave way and I found myself tumbling down the front steps and out into the darkness of the yard. Unable to catch my balance, I went rolling across the yard a little ways before striking my head against a large rock. I think I blacked out for a few moments. Then, from behind me, Edna’s screams shattered the stillness. I turned, expecting to face my bizarre attacker. What I saw will remain in my memory for all time.
At some point the rain had stopped and the clouds had drifted elsewhere. A bright full moon now bathed everything in its eerie silvery light. I gasped as I turned my terrified gaze back towards Edna’s cottage. Because the cottage was no longer there.
Rising slowly to my feet, I stared in astonishment. Where the cottage had stood, I now beheld only a crumbling foundation, streaked with a last few remaining floorboards. Here and there a few sections of wall rose up like jagged teeth. The remains of an old brick chimney bleakly stood watch over the area. Broken at shoulder height, it now resembled some sort of clumsy headstone, marking the final resting place of someone’s hopes and dreams. I stepped closer to the ruins and gazed down at the ground beneath the scattered floorboards. It was covered with bones.
There were hundreds of them, glowing dully in the moonlight, and I realized they were human. The many skulls were by far the worst of it, their empty eye sockets staring pleadingly up at the cold uncaring stars. As I stood frozen with shock and horror, the bones seemed to sink down slowly into the ground, and within a short while I beheld only the ruins of the cottage, rising up hopelessly from the weeds. After a long while, I turned and walked away.
My return to civilization held no further horrors, aside from my seeing a glowing green eye staring out at me from the roadside. This turned out to be my cell phone, caught in some bushes. It was damaged but usable, and Janice was kind enough to come rescue me. I spent most of the weekend sleeping. I never told anyone about Edna’s cottage. Life went on.
But that terrible night will always haunt my dreams. And I find myself wondering all too often… what if I were to return there one night? Would I still see those horrible bones glowing dully under the floorboards? Or would I encounter a cheery little cottage, with one window lit, and Edna staring out in her pink shawl and lurid purple nightgown?