Freeman's Front Porch Musings

Home of an aspiring writer seeking to improve his craft.

The Recluse…the beginning of the novella…unedited…

The American flag draped over the casket ruffled briefly as the wind kicked up. Wilma Waters, ne’ Franks, wife of Officer Jace Waters, held tiny Annabelle in her arms and stared at the casket. Wilma’s tears flowed freely; her chest convulsed with every sob.

How am I going to make it without Jace? How will I support my baby and give her the life she deserves?

As the bugler began playing Taps, Wilma wished she had had the abortion instead of choosing to bring Annabelle into the world.

Life may go on, but you’d be hard to prove it by Wilma.

Davy Ford stood at the rear of the funeral dressed in his Class A uniform and watched as his friend, Jace Waters was lowered into the ground. So long, old friend. I’ll see you again on the other side. As he turned to walk back toward the vehicle, he wiped a tear from his eye and muttered, “I will avenge you, brother.”

The quietness of the wood gave solace to the man known as Davy Ford, the recluse that lives in the small cedar cabin surrounded by a dilapidated stone fence left over from the Civil War, and the cracked visages of the concrete angels that adorn his overran flowerbeds along the front of a porch that’s seen better days. The disheveled appearance of the place coupled with the news that someone had moved into it caused people to slow down and gawk as they passed by. 

People like Annabelle Franks and Billy Thurston who spent Saturday on their bicycles and watched as the man unloaded the familiar-looking orange and white cargo van onto the front porch. “We should introduce ourselves,” Annabelle had said, but Billy shook his head and replied, “I don’t think he wants to be bothered.”

Billy’s words were prophetic, the man did not want to be bothered. Davy Ford was not a man who socialized with his neighbors, nor was he a man given to a litany of desires and vices. Instead, after a lifetime of giving himself to one cause or another, all Davy Ford wanted was peace.

He stood in his yard and looked around his newly purchased property and sighed contentedly. I’m halfway there. I have quietness in abundance, now all I need is peace to go with it.

Welcome home, Davy Ford.

Eight years later:

Davy Ford watched the kids at the end of his bricked drive from the concealment of his black living room drapes. “Don’t do it,” he muttered. “Don’t make me show you what I’m good at.” The kids didn’t encroach on his property, rather they stood near the green steel gate that kept unwanted solicitors and guests away, and they continued to stare at the house. 

Annabelle and Billy were back, looking and wondering about the man that lived alone in the cabin. “Why doesn’t anybody go check on this poor man,” Belle wondered aloud. Billy shrugged and snapped, “Probably cause he has a gate up, and a sign on the other side that says ‘You’re no longer a trespasser, you’re a target.’ I assume no one wants to get killed trying to be friendly.”

Annabelle scowled at Billy, then snapped, “Well, I wanna go see him. He’s lived here all this time, and no one has anything good to say about him.” Billy didn’t know what to say to that, so he changed the subject. “Why do you go by Belle instead of Annabelle?”

“Cause it’s shorter, and Belle’s a princess from a Disney story,” Belle answered. Her scowl darkened, and she continued, “Don’t change the subject Billy.”

Billy huffed, and snapped, “Well, this ain’t Beauty and the Beast, Belle. This is, I’ll suck the marrow from your bones and boil your flesh in extra virgin olive oil.”

Belle continued to stare down the drive, but Billy had stopped spying on the recluse. He turned his bike toward home. If the man didn’t want company, Billy wouldn’t infringe on the man’s solitude. 

“Come on,” Billy said. “It’s getting late, and there’s nothing happening here.”

“Okay,” Belle sighed. She turned her bike to follow Billy, but she looked back at the cabin. I’m going down there tomorrow, and I’m gonna find out if all those stories are true.

Davy watched as the kids pedaled off toward town, and he let the drapes fall back into place. I’ve got to get a security system, but I’m at the end of my money by mid-month. I just can’t afford to pay for a subscription. The ringing of his phone broke his chain of thought, and he walked into the kitchen and picked it up. “Yeah,” he answered gruffly. 

“Hello,” Dr. Lisa Smith responded. “How are you today?”

“Oh, hey doc. Sorry for the tone, I forgot you were calling today.”

“It’s okay,” Dr. Smith assured him. “Is everything okay with you?”

“Yeah,” Davy replied. “Just the usual lookie-loos coming by gawking. They sit up there at the edge of the drive like buzzards around carrion.”

Dr. Smith laughed, then asked, “Are you writing?”

Davy grew quiet, and he sat on the arm of his beige couch before answering. “Um, no. I have written nothing.”

“And why haven’t you Davy? Wouldn’t you like to heal?”

Davy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and cracked his knuckles, then answered, “I don’t know, doc.”

“Okay,” Dr. Smith responded. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I will call you on Friday of next week. You attempt to write something; I don’t care how much you write. It can just be a title for all I care, but I want you to sit down and try.”

“Yeah,” Davy groused. “I get it.”

“Good,” Dr. Smith said. “Davy, you’re a good man, and your life is wasting away in that cabin. Something must give.”

Davy muttered ‘mmmhmm’ and after saying goodbye, he tossed the phone on the couch. Heal? After all, I’ve done? There’s no healing from the trauma of my past, and she’s wrong. I’m not a good man; I’m a monster.

The glare of the sun filtered through the trees and shimmered on the dew of the wet grass as Belle pedaled toward the cabin. She didn’t tell Billy that she was going down to visit the hermit today, partly because she knew he’d try to talk her out of it, but mainly because she wanted to speak with him alone. Billy would just make things awkward.

She arrived at the gate and leaned her bike against a massive pine, and looked down the drive before reaching for the top rung. Behind her, Billy skidded to a stop and let his bike crash to the ground. 

“I knew it,” he exclaimed. “You’re going down there, aren’t ya?”

“Yes,” Belle answered, pushing her straw-colored hair out of her eyes. “You wanna go with me?”

“No,” Billy snapped. “And you shouldn’t go down there either. You know the stories the old men tell in front of the general store.”

Dolla Bills, the local general store, was a gathering place for old timers to sit around and tell tall tales. Old men gathered on the front porch, a checkerboard rested in the middle on top of whiskey barrels, and they regaled youngsters with unbelievable stories of the recluse at the end of town.

“He ate children to stay alive during the war,” one of them told Billy. “Had blood runnin’ out of his mouth and everything.” Another old man would join in and add, “Yep, heard one time he was gnawing on a juicy leg, when the police found him.”

Billy had leaned forward engrossed in the story, and he asked, “What did he say?” The old man had looked Billy dead in the eye, without even cracking a smile, and responded, “Me like the tender meat.”

Belle had rolled her eyes, just like she was doing now, and she snapped, “Fine! Stay here then sissy. I’m going down there.”

Belle crossed the gate and walked down the drive and when she had gone down a good piece, she turned back and looked at Billy with her arms raised. “See,” she laughed. “He didn’t kill me.”

“Yet,” Billy added. “He hasn’t killed you yet.”

Belle turned and walked toward the cabin, and as she walked, she took in the disarray of the flowerbeds and the broken spots in the stone fence. “He should do something about all this,” Belle muttered. Green moss covered much of the brick and made for hard walking, as her feet kept slipping. 

She noticed as she walked where various statues stood in the flowerbeds, there was even a gnome holding something in its hands that read: Face toward enemy. Concrete angels were everywhere, some with cracked faces, others with broken wings, but all seemed to reflect the personality of the individual who lived here.

Weeds grew at the base of the stone fence, and vines of poison oak, ivy, and sumac clung to the stone. Behind her, a noise sounded and it caused Belle to screech, and she turned to confront her fear. It was just Billy. 

She hissed, “What are you doin’?” Billy all red-faced and panting, shrugged and said, “I came to get you.” Belle scowled, her eyes narrowed and nostrils flared, she snapped, “You came to get me? You almost scared me to death!”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But we shouldn’t be here.” Billy glanced around the yard, his eyes darting furtively from broken statue to statue, and he wiped at the sweat that dotted his brow. 

“Too late,” Belle said, as a grin stretched across her soft face. “Come on, let’s go knock on the door.”

Davy watched the kids in his yard and frowned at their unwanted intrusion. The girl seemed to be the ringleader, the boy an unwilling participant in the girl’s shenanigans. He took a deep breath and walked to the door.

Belle ran up the crooked stairs and raised her hand to knock on the door, when the door opened, and a muscular bald man stepped out. He growled, “Can you not read?”

Billy yelped and fell off the porch, and Belle backed up and froze. The man crossed his arms and waited for Belle to answer his question. Belle paused for just a second, and extended her hand toward Davy and said, “Howdy, neighbor! I’m Belle, and you are…”

“…Not interested. Beat it, kid, and never come back.”

Billy jumped to his feet and raced up the steps, grabbed Belle by the hand, and muttered, “We’re really sorry to bother you, mister. We’re leaving now.” And without another word, Billy dashed off the porch, dragging Belle in his wake, and sprinted toward the safety of the steel gate.

Belle did not know what was going on. She had readied another attempt at befriending the recluse after the first attempt was rejected, but then Billy had dragged her off the porch before she could establish a line of communication with the man.

Belle hollered, “Will you let me go!”

Billy didn’t let up, instead he raced ever onward toward the cattle gate. When he arrived, he released Belle’s hand and bent over at the waist breathing hard. His red hair stuck to his head with sweat, and the perspiration stung his eyes, and his nostrils flared. Belle smacked Billy on the back of his head and snapped, “I was so close Billy! Why couldn’t you just freakin’ wait?”

She smacked Billy again, and Billy scowled at his friend. “Quit it! I saved your life from being cannibalized!” Belle scoffed, and shouted, “What are you talkin’ about? Was he gnawing on a bloody bone? No, he was just a man.”

Davy shook his head and went back inside. I’ve gotta do something about these nosey busybodies. After nearly a decade of living on the outskirts of town, and no visitors, these kids had waltzed right up to the front door and tried to befriend him.

“Unacceptable,” Davy mumbled. “Friendship’s not on my agenda. Besides, it’s been almost ten years, why would I start socializing now?”

He walked down the stairs to his lair, that’s what he had named his basement, and he had set it up to serve as his writing room. Davy sat in the recliner and propped his feet up and then opened the laptop.

The blank sheet of digital paper mocked him, and he closed the lid. He would try again tomorrow.

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