Isaac LeFevre brings us a new short that stretches far beyond the length of recent flash fiction wroks we’ve seen. The Devil in Orchard Springs is a jarring tale of about 4,000 words that examines a small town turned suddenly insane. It’s fresh, it’s fun, it’s savagely disturbing and it’s all yours to soak up. Check it out below!
The Devil in Orchard Springs
It was awfully hot the day the devil came to Orchard Springs. I mean, I don’t know if it was the devil. It could have been a devil or something else altogether. I don’t know. I guess the devil is as close as I can come.
I first noticed something was wrong that early September night when Orchard Springs played their first football game of the season. My friends and I met in our usual spot. We sat at the far end of the bleachers from the entrance to the stadium. That was the closest to the band, and the cheerleaders spent most of their time down there as well. That last part had a lot to do with why I went to these games. I had not missed one for two years. Not since Melanie Higgins became a cheerleader. She wasn’t my girlfriend, you see, but we were close and it was only a matter of time. She and I had known each other all our lives. We played together when we were only toddlers when Mrs. Baker babysat us. All through the early days in school, we sat beside each other. At those games, we would flirt and blow kisses. She looked so pretty in that cheerleader uniform. They say for true happiness, you should be with someone who was not only a lover, but your best friend. That was her. I realize I was not as handsome and manly as those football players. But I had what matters, and I knew she knew it.
Me and my friends, we weren’t like those other guys. We watched the game enough to know what happened. The crowd cheering would alert us if anything amazing was happening, but mostly we just talked about honor society, church activities, or our college searches. Most of the other guys from our class who were not on the football team, well, they also came to the games, but would go into the parking lot to drink beer, smoke cigarettes and God knows what else. There was sex and drugs. They used filthy language and told the raunchiest of jokes. That was not for us. I guess we weren’t cool. The society of high school is corrupt, and we were incorruptible. It was a culture of pure pleasure seeking. They didn’t care about grades, laws, morals, or even their own safety. My friends and I, we weren’t like that so much. We weren’t perfect, but we did our level best to be good students and citizens. I wanted to be a person that my parents would be proud to say was their son. There were so many ways to have fun without being corrupt, irresponsible, or sinful, but most people seemed to overlook those.
Yet, I always did my best to remain optimistic. People are basically good, and those who have been corrupted will eventually see the error of their ways. So, there we were, our little group sitting alone, ostracized by design.
It wasn’t such a big deal to us, we were right and they were wrong. We didn’t need to be cool if that’s what it meant. Even many of the parents and adults engaged in reckless behavior out among those cars with the school-spirit flags rolled up in the window tracks. It’s not all that surprising that he came. Anyway, it turned out to be the last game we attended together.
As we left the stadium, I smelled it for the first time. The smell was sticky-sweet, fruiting, and rotten, like carrion pie with nice baked apple topping. It gave me pause for a moment, but I dismissed the thought in short order. Life throws many smells of unknown origin our way. Think about it. How often do you smell something odd outdoors and you have no idea from where it came? I thought it was a combination of the fresh grass, sweat, and the concession stand. I was wrong. I was so very wrong.
We won that game. I say “we” but I really had nothing to do with it. Don Callahan ran for a hundred and sixty yards. He was an animal, and a pretty good guy. He and Melanie went out on dates some, but I’m patient. The high of the victory quickly disappeared when I got home and found my mother crying over a glass of bourbon. Drops from her eyes padded on the table as she told me my father had gone. In a drunken rage he had left her with a red knot over her eye that would be purple the next day, and black the day after. I tried to console her, but the conversation quickly degraded to every problem she had ever had being my fault. A drunken mother may be the best way in the world to hear about all the horrible things you’ve done in your life, most of which you were unaware of. Running for office is a close second. We talked until late in the night, not because I wanted to, but because I was afraid to leave her alone. After I had taken my fair share of abuse I gave my mother a hug, which she resisted, and I went to bed. I hoped everyone would be more rational in the morning.
Saturday morning came early. After a wholesome breakfast of dry wheat toast and a cup of Dr. Pepper, I went looking for Dad. The neighborhood was busy. There was an unusual number of people out on their lawns and children were visible outside many of the homes. It was a nice enough morning if you didn’t mind the heat. It was awfully hot that day. It was already bordering on roasting, and only promised to get worse. I supposed everyone wanted to get all the outside business done before it broke a hundred. As I drove along though, I noticed more and more that the people that were outside just seemed to be standing around. They weren’t mowing the grass, or pulling weeds from flower beds. The children weren’t running, jumping, and playing. Neighbors weren’t speaking with other neighbors. People were just standing, or walking slowly along. Random rambling, I thought. Only later did I really reflect on it. I mean, the people did not look out of place nor did they act strange. They only were not active and working, and what was so wrong with that on a Saturday morning so awfully hot as this one?
My dad wasn’t hard to find. In fact, he was the first place I looked for him. He was holed up in an Airstream trailer that was on his used car lot. I parked my pickup truck behind the office out of habit so as not to block any of the cars for sale, and walked over to where the trailer was displayed perpendicular to the cars that aligned neatly in two rows. I heard unpleasant laughter as I approached the door that sent a shudder down my spine. That was my dad laughing, but that was not my dad’s laugh. The sun’s glare off the silver skin of the trailer was blinding, making it difficult to even look at it much less see through the windows. The windows were too high anyway. I knocked on the door.
No one answered. I waited a few minutes and knocked again. There was still no answer, but muffled men’s voices, broken occasionally by the clear expression of a cuss or that horrible laughter, continued from inside. After what must have been five minutes, I overcame my reluctance and pulled at the door handle. The stiff latch on the door resisted as I pulled out and I thought the door was locked, but when I pulled a little harder, it popped out and the shiny, silver door swung open. The heat and the smell hit me at once…sick, sweet and dead. The temperature had to be well over a hundred in that trailer. None of the windows were open, no fans were blowing, and no one seemed to mind.
The scene inside the trailer was as unexpected as it was disgusting. I felt my stomach rise and I was within inches of making my toast part of the pavement on which I stood. My old man sat on a folding metal chair across from Bud Cooley at the drop-leaf table, each of them holding large tumblers of straight whiskey. They clacked the glasses together before swallowing most of the glass in one gulp. On the floor were three nude women that looked like they might have worked the lot out at the truck stop. I’m sure you know the type, missing teeth here, bumps and bruises there. Their skin had taken on the palest green-white color and I knew that they had breathed their last. The one nearest the door had the unmistakable burn mark of a range-top grate on her cheek.
Dad took no notice of me and continued with the whiskey and the laughing.
“I came to talk to you about Mom,” I said to my father as if I were a schoolteacher telling a parent that little Jenny had been struggling. Looking back, I’m surprised that I just went on and said that. I was observing death and insanity through the opening as though I were watching gorillas in a zoo, but I just went on and said it.
“I came all over your mom,” announced Bud Cooley, and the two knocked their glasses together once again and laughed that grating laugh.
The gravity of that scene started to set in. There were dead bodies. Could my father have killed them? Had he had sex with them? Had he had sex with them after he killed them? What was going on? I took a step forward and put my foot on the first step, but found that I could only close the door and walk away. I was reeling in terror. What was happening? The vision of the dead women was stuck in my head. And their faces, Dad and Bud’s faces. Something was wrong with their faces, but I could not put my finger on what it was.
A loud crunch interrupted my terror as a silver Buick went head-on into the utility pole at the corner of the lot right when I stepped away from the trailer. The car hit with an amazing impact, leaving the pole askew and the front of the Buick crushed. The man occupying the car climbed out and walked slowly away, with the car still running, coughing but running. Blood poured down his face and dripped from his hands. He strolled down the street like a man without a worry in the world, like he had just dropped the car with a valet. As he passed another man walking down the sidewalk, he turned and grinned showing a bloody mouthful of broken teeth and continued walking. There was even a spring in his step. The recipient of the smile threw his head back in laughter and continued on his own path.
I was unaware of the weakness in my legs until I tried to move. It took a couple steps before I found the strength to walk. My walk quickly became a sprint back to my pickup truck, where I climbed inside and locked the doors. It was time to get the H-E-double-hockey-sticks away from that scene and let the cops sort it out. I didn’t need to be involved with this at all. Furthermore, I was worried that electrical pole was going to fall.
I had no idea where to go or what to do. I had just seen the most awful sight of my short life, and I could certainly not go home to my mother. What would I tell her about this? Lord help her if she decided to go to him. The hairs on my arms were prickly as a cactus and my blood as cold as rocky road. My head was swimming. I needed to think.
Walter’s café was empty. Thank goodness for that. I took a seat in one of the two booths away from the window. I had no desire to sit close to the glass on a day that hot. I could feel my jaw trembling and my hands were hard to control as I grabbed the table to slide into the booth. Melanie walked out of the back and to my table. She was Walter Higgins, the owner’s, daughter. She looked as fresh and pretty as ever, and how must I have looked, white as a sheet and trembling? I did my best to get hold of myself as she walked up. She stared down at me with her blue eyes. They did not look as bright as usual. They seemed tired, but her smile was working overtime. She had on blood red lipstick like I had never seen. She seemed rather seductive if I do say so myself. She put a hand on my shoulder and asked what she could do for me. I ordered a Coke and she said she could do that and a lot more. Had I not been in the state of panicked nightmare, I might have read something into that, but I said that I only wanted a coke right now and she pulled her hand away, sighed, and walked with heavy feet back toward the kitchen. I started trying to convince myself I had not seen what I knew I did.
Some time passed and I snapped out of my trance to see my Coke sitting on the table in front me. I had been somewhere else, I wondered if she had spoken to me when she brought it out. Regardless, it was cold, wet, and just what I needed. Crushed ice floated in the top half of the glass and droplets of condensation covered the outer layer of the translucent, red, plastic glass telling the day’s heat to back off. I picked it up and sucked up a big straw full of that ice cold…urine?
I spit out everything that hadn’t already gone down the pipe, and slammed the glass down on the table. I put my nose to the top just to verify what I already knew to be true. Melanie served me a glass of piss. I slid out of the booth and stormed through the doors into the kitchen. There, on the floor beneath the stainless steel sink was Walter. He was naked from head to toe, his large hairy pendulous belly in front of him. Under him was Melanie, and they were doing something fathers and daughters ought not to do. Melanie looked up at me and licked her lips. I smelled the stink again. It was stronger than ever. And their faces were not right, not right at all.
I thought the smell was lingering in my nose, the way bad smells do, because I could still smell it after I got outside. I rounded the corner from the side door to where I parked only to end up leaping behind the signpost as a tow truck rammed the back of my pickup and sent it through the front window of the café. The driver climbed down with a sinister grin on his face and the spear of an erection attempting to breech his sweat pants
“What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled.
“Just joining the fun,” he said in a gravely voice. “I hear there’s something sweet inside.”
I stood aghast for a moment as the driver sauntered past me and into the café wearing a huge grin showing off his yellowing teeth. I debated on whether I should go and help Melanie get away, but she seemed quite complicit in this debauchery. All I could think of was getting home. Something strange was certainly happening and, the way I figured, I needed my mom as much as she needed me. My truck was useless, wrecked, and half in the building. I noticed Melanie’s Nissan parked at the side door with the keys inside. Stealing was wrong, but under the circumstances, God would surely forgive.
My conscience got the best of me and I ran inside to find Melanie on all fours with her father in front and the tow truck driver behind. Melanie, who was beginning to bleed, was groaning in what sounded more like ecstasy than pain. “I’m taking your car, Melanie,” I said, loud enough to hear but not loud enough to cause a disturbance. As I ran toward the door, I heard a gravelly voice yell, “Hey, you can go next.” I tore through the door, got in the car, and sped away, leaving the scene behind and thinking of their faces. Oh God, their faces.
The damage to their faces had become more obvious. They were…cracking, splitting in places. The raw red was exposed behind little dry splits in the skin. It was only the dryness and discoloration at first, little hairline fractures in the dermis. By then it had progressed.
As I drove along Orchard Avenue back toward home I was struck by the number of cars that had crashed or been abandoned along the side streets. It all seemed very chaotic except that none of the cars had been left on Orchard Avenue. The four lanes were clear of cars, and people. In fact, I saw no one. I could not help but wonder where everyone had gone. Signs of life were everywhere, but no life was to be seen. Two blocks past Main Street I saw Dad’s car lot. The door of the Airstream was hanging open now and I could not resist the impulse to stop and try once more to get my dad to come home. As I exited the car I realized that the smell, that sick, dead, sweet smell had become overwhelming. The heat was beyond unbearable and…music. I could hear music. A rhythmic diminishing chord of music repeated over and over. Drums, horns, even something sounding like electronic music, all following the same cadence.
First, I tried the door to the office of the car lot. It was unlocked. I peered around the doorframe and scanned the room. No one was there. I moved through the door into the cool air. Finally, someone had an air conditioner running. I opened the middle drawer to release the locks on the other drawers on the old wooden desk. I pulled the metal handle on the bottom left drawer and the ancient wood slid away. I reached in and grabbed a bowie knife that had been in there for fifteen years and probably had not held an edge in ten. I held the knife in my right hand as I pushed the drawer closed with my foot. Ok, I now had a weapon, just in case. I stepped back outside and the heat slammed my face. I quickened my breath as I got used to the hot air in my lungs. I can’t remember if I shut the office door or not.
I made my way to the door of the trailer. My dad and Bud were still in there, their faces split and cracked like the others only worse. Sections of the skin had started to slide. Tectonic plates of flesh drifted along hot molten beds of raw bloody bone. “Not long now,” said Dad in a deep gravely voice not unlike that of the tow truck driver. “Can you hear ’em?”
I could hear them. The music was louder now. I bounded to the street and looked. There was a tree blocking my view. I climbed up on top of a Taurus, and leaped from there onto the hood of a suburban. When I got high enough to see through a break in the trees, I could see the procession. There were thousands of people. More thousands than Orchard Springs could produce. Had it gone through another town? Had it gone through many towns? How many? I answered my own question by looking past Orchard Avenue at the overpass that connected to the main highway. The people were endless. The music was loud now and the people were…dancing. They moved left to the music, then right when it repeated. All in step so perfect that the stomp sounded less like a roar or rumble and more like a snap. Floating above the crowd near the front I could see the bells of sousaphones. Flashes of brass indicated other horns and the boom of drums continued in perfect step with the stomps of the feet.
As it came closer, I could see the leader, small and wicked. He wore a tuxedo-with-tails and a top hat. He carried and twirled an ebony cane with gold at the knob and the tip. His skin was gray and ancient, almost translucent, and his eyes were large black globes, not shiny glassy globes, but dark black globes that devoured all light. Deep fissures of time outlined every feature from his small, almost imperceptible smile to his hairless head. He moved in perfect rhythm with the crowd working and twirling his cane. He was the most sinister of drum majors and a dandy devil indeed.
As the procession reached the car lot, I could see the way the feet of the people were moving. I jumped down from my perch to get a closer look. It was very quick and complicated yet it had a bounce to it that seemed clownish. As I stood there scratching my face I wondered how these people were able to maintain that rhythm. It occurred to me that the steps to this dance required great talent. It looked as practiced and flawless as a trapeze act. I had never seen such talent. Moreover, I certainly never thought my mom had such a talent. Nevertheless, there she was making the steps flawlessly. It was good to see my mother and father doing something together. After the scare we had today, it was fucking great. I watched curiously, as I drank from the glass of bourbon Melanie handed me when she walked up beside me. Between the cool burn of the liquor and the light breeze against my naked body as Melanie removed my sweaty clothes, it was actually not so hot after all. As I moved against Melanie, I watched over her shoulder the unbelievable dance that was finally moving past us. So fast. So precise. But, I found it remarkably easy to keep up. It wasn’t so hard. The dance felt good. Really good. Really goddam good. It went well with the sweet smell in the air and the warm smooth flesh all around me. It was pure pleasure, just what I was seeking. We were all cool now.
I began to laugh when I saw the bowie knife in my hand slicing through the flesh of Don Callahan. That fucker had it coming. Melanie was mine, although I could not remember why that bothered me so much. I just knew it was the cool thing to do. We both got a good chuckle as he fell to the ground and the dance just kept going right over him. The snap-steps were flattening and grinding more of him into the pavement with each row of feet. I looked down with pleasure at the knife in my hand. I felt warm comfort as more blood dripped onto me as so much of Don’s had. It felt good how the little rivulets of piss ran down the front of my legs exposing little strips of skin through the drying blood, and how the splitting of my skin felt when exposing the molten red beneath that. I realized my hands were steady now and I had the rhythm locked. It was so cool. More and more of Melanie’s true beauty, the beauty beneath her skin, was being exposed. I dropped the knife. It was time to let go. We were all letting go and it was right. It was awfully cool the day the devil came to Orchard Springs.