The grey SUV cruised down Highway 87 with a large sleek bass boat in tow. Jay Gilmore was a big-shot lawyer from Oklahoma City, who was currently going through a mid-life crisis. Earlier this year, his wife of twenty-two years left him after she caught him boffing their eighteen-year old babysitter. She had known about his secretary, but this was just too much. In the divorce, she ended up with the house and the kids, but this didnt matter to Jay, because now he was free.
When the divorce was final, Jays partner in the law firm, Thomas Chambers, had suggested Jay take some time off. He offered to let Jay borrow his boat and use his lake house on Toledo Bend Reservoir, on the Texas-Louisiana border. Jay took Thomas up on the idea. He immediately borrowed the boat and headed south.
About ten miles outside of the small East Texas town of Center, the SUV passed over a hill and a gas station came into view. Jays gas tank was full, but his stomach wasnt. Since he was now a swinging single, Jay had decided to start jogging and go on a diet — all hed had to eat today was a bran muffin for breakfast.
Jay looked at his gold watch (an anniversary present, Jay briefly thought): 2:57 p.m.
He pulled the SUV into the dirt parking lot and stopped right at the entrance. As he stepped out, he noticed the old gas pump. It was a throwback from the roaring twenties if he ever saw one. Definitely an antique.
Jay pressed a button on his keychain, causing the SUV to lock its doors and salute him with a little honk of the horn and flash of the headlights.
The worn building looked like something straight out of the old west. The stout wooden door at the gas stations entrance was propped open with a brick. On each side of the door was a window with several of its panes missing or broken. A low wooden porch ran along the front of the building. On the porch to the left of the door was a makeshift bench made of a wooden plank resting on a small metal bucket on one end and a wooden pail on the other.
To the right of the door was an old man. Here we have an authentic Hillbilly, Jay thought, another antique.
The old man sat with his chair tilted back on two legs. He wore a pair of faded blue jean overalls which looked to be almost as their owner and a John Deere hat that looked even older. An open coffee can was resting between his legs, serving as a spittoon.
As Jay stepped up on the porch, he commented, Nice weather.
The old man leaned forward and spat into the coffee can, making a sloshing sound and leaving a trail of black/brown liquid in one corner of his toothless mouth. He reached into a pocket on the front of his overalls and produced a red handkerchief which he used to wipe his mouth.
Yep, the old man finally answered.
Feeling he had been adequately cultured by this brief conversation with the hillbilly, Jay continued into the store.
Jay couldnt believe his eyes; the inside of the store looked even older than the outside. Sacks of feed and fertilizer were stacked high along the back walls and in neat piles throughout the building. The walls were adorned with various farming tools, halters and bridles, and various other implements of what Jay considered third world technology. Just inside the store, to the left, sat the only row of shelves in the store, and they were almost entirely reserved for gardening supplies and seeds.
This must be where the hillbillies buy their anniversary presents, Jay thought chuckling to himself.
The only food inside the entire building (unless you were a horse, cow, chicken, or other form of livestock), was on the top shelf of the garden supplies, and they shared the shelf with other small items like flashlight batteries, spark plugs, and Skoal cans. (Impulse buys for rednecks, Jay thought to himself, again making himself chuckle.) The food consisted of homemade fruit pies and cookies wrapped neatly in plastic wrap, a small stack of about a half dozen moonpies, and one small red box of Raisins.
Jay looked around for someone to help him, but he couldnt find anyone. Hello? Jay called out. Is anybody here? > outside he heard the old man spit again before answering. Whatcha want?
Jay poked his head out the door. Is this your store?
Yep, the old man said without turning.
Do you have any food or chips?
Foods just inside, to yer left, the old man drawled.
Jays mouth fell open in disbelief. Is that all youve got? he said, sounding every bit as shocked as he looked.
Jay went back inside and looked at the food. The fruit pies and cookies were out of the question, theres no telling who made them or what they were made of, and as far as the moonpies were concerned, he felt he had been cultured enough just walking in this dump. Ill be damned if Im going to eat a moonpie! Jay thought. That left the lonely box of raisins.
Jay began looking around for drinks, but couldnt find a wall-cooler or even a soda machine. He poked his head back out the door, Do you have any bottled water?
Any soft drinks?
Well what the hell do you drink around here? Jay asked, now fuming.
Got water in the back sink. Yer welcome to it. The old man gurgled, then leaned forward and spat heavily into the can.
Jay walked back in the building and mumbled, Geezer.
Jay then went over to the counter, at least he assumed it was the counter; he couldnt tell for sure because it didnt have a cash register. He placed his box of raisins on the counter then turned to the door and yelled, Im ready to check out.
Whatcha got? the old man asked.
A box of raisins.
A quarter. Just leave it on the counter.
Jay began searching his pockets, but couldnt find any change. I dont have any change. Do you have change for a dollar?
Jay turned and faced the door and practically screamed, Youve got to be kidding!
Jay was now furious. He took a dollar bill out of his front pocket, tore it in half, put one half in back in his pocket, and the other half on the counter. He then walked out the front door, pleased with his little act of vengeance. Keep the change. he told the old man while smiling his best courtroom smile.
The old man nodded then leaned forward and spat into his can.
Jay walked around the front of the SUV, muttering about the ignorance of rednecks and hillbillies. He reached for the door handle, but instead of opening the door it set off his alarm. The horn started blowing, the lights started flashing, and Jay started swearing. He fished the keys out of his pocket and finally got the alarm to stop. He climbed in and slammed the door. Looking up at the old man he saw the geezer had tobacco rolling down his cheeks as he slapped his knee and laughed.
He threw the SUV in gear and spun out of the driveway hoping to stir up enough dust to make the old fart choke to death.
Jay was hungry as hell, but didnt have anything to wash the raisins down with so he decided to save them until got to the lake house.
He glanced over in the passenger seat at the box, but instead of seeing the raven-haired maiden smiling over her bountiful harvest that was on every box of raisins produced by this particular company, there was the Grim Reaper gazing over a harvest of human heads, with an entirely different kind of smile on his face.
The SUV started shaking heavily, and Jay realized he was running off the road. He maneuvered back on the road, careful not to overcompensate and send the SUV and boat flipping.
When Jay was safely back on the road he glanced back at the box, but the vision of Death was gone. Only the tanned maiden and her harvest remained.
* * *
Still fuming from his encounter with the old man, Jay slammed the door as he walked into Thomass lake house. He walked through the kitchen and tossed the unopened box of raisins on the bare kitchen table, then continued down the hall and put his bags in the back bedroom.
When Jay returned to the kitchen, he opened the cupboard. Empty. He walked over to the fridge and opened it. No food, but there were two twelve-packs of beer with only three beers missing. This, at least, was good, and this was Texas beer, not the lower alcohol content crap they sell in Oklahoma. He took one beer out, opened it, and drank half of it down without coming up for a breath. He then sat down at the kitchen table and looked at the box of raisins, which was sitting in the middle of the table like a cheap centerpiece. He looked at the picture on the box. No Grim Reaper; the raven-haired maiden was still there.
Ive been on the road too long, Jay thought.
Jay grabbed the box, opened it, and tilted it back much like he had the beer. Nothing. With the box still to his mouth, he began to hit the bottom, trying to knock the raisins loose. Still nothing. Jay took the box from his mouth and looked inside. There was only one raisin in the bottom of the box.
What the hell?
He had carried the box to the Land Rover and then into the house; raisins dont weigh much, but surely he would have noticed the difference in the weight of a full box of raisins and an empty — or at least almost empty — box. Jay put the box down again, and began looking through all the kitchen cabinets. No food.
He decided to go into town and get something and headed out the door. At the kitchen door Jay stopped. He went back to the kitchen table.
One raisins better than none.
Jay reached with his first two fingers to get the raisin, but, although he was able to get a finger on either side of it, he was unable to get it out. Jay decided it was probably spoiled anyway and tried to remove his fingers from the box. Only they wouldnt come out.
Jay chuckled a little nervously. This hasnt been my day.
He grabbed the box tight with his left hand. Positioning himself like an archer trying to draw a powerful bow, he tried to pull his fingers out, but they were still stuck.
Then Jay felt something sticky spread over the tips of his two fingers. He stopped and looked at his hand. His fingers were in the box all the way to their last knuckle. The odd thing was, considering the length of the box and the length of his fingers, the tips of his fingers should be sticking out the other end of the box. Then he saw something that gripped him with horror, the box was slowly climbing upward, and the mouth of the box was expanding to accommodate his hand.
Jay shrieked in horror and began frantically tugging on the box. He ran over to the phone and picked it up, the line was dead (Thomas had informed him that the phone in the kitchen was broken, but in his panic Jay didnt think to try the phone in the bedroom). He looked down and saw the box was now past his wrist and working its way up his forearm.
Jay frantically began opening drawers in the kitchen until he found a butcher knife. He then laid his stump of an arm down on the table and began hacking at the box, but it did no good, it didnt even scratch the surface.
The box was now making its way over his elbow.
Jay switched his grip on the knife and began stabbing the box with powerful downward strokes, but still it remained undamaged.
The box was over half way up his biceps when Jay frantically decided to take drastic measures. He placed the knife under his armpit and began sawing upward, screaming as he did so. After a few strokes with the sharp knife, he hit the artery and blood began pumping rhythmically out of the wound and down his side. However, the box soon covered Jays wound, preventing further blood loss, as well as preventing Jay from making any further progress.
Jay collapsed on the floor in a heap; the blood loss had drained him of all strength. He was unable to lift his head out of the pool of his own blood on the kitchen floor.
When the box reached his shoulder, Jay hoped briefly that it
wouldnt be able to expand any more, but he soon felt the lip climbing
up the side of his neck and then his face. Not much longer and half of his
face was covered. Soon his eyes were covered and the world went black.
Next came his nose, and then his mouth. Jay struggled for breathe, but all
he got was the sickening smell of sour raisins. His chest heaved and he
managed to summon enough energy to thrash about on the floor, but it was to
no avail. Jays consciousness soon fled to a blackness from which he
would never return.
Copyright © 2003 by Byron Starr