Rotten Peaches (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles) excerpt
By late afternoon a tired and hungry Thelonious was ready to pack it in for the day—until he saw the ruined timber barn. It was set well back from the road in a field so long untended it actually seemed to consume the structure. An oak tree had fallen onto the roof, causing it to collapse. The tree was thriving and had even become part of the barn, feeding new life into something left to die. Parking at the edge of what once had been a driveway, Thelonious got out of the Mini. He stood for a moment perusing the site. Slinging his camera bag over one shoulder, he trundled forth into the overgrown field. A No Trespassing sign lay on the ground, covered over with weedy detritus. It was still attached to a chain that had fallen down between two rotted posts. He passed right by, never seeing it.
Thelonious photographed the barn from various angles, changing lenses as he saw fit. Although the weight of his camera bag was a nuisance, he dared not set it down for fear it would be swallowed by the overgrowth. Approaching the barn’s entrance, he noticed several bales of hay inside that had been left there to rot. Rust-covered farm implements lay scattered about both inside and out. He included them in some of the images, since they lent extra character to the scene. He even captured a triangle of sunlight coming through the barn’s collapsed roof as it returned the mouldering hay to its original golden splendour, zooming in when a mouse poked its head out to feel the sunshine on its whiskers. The light shifted and changed hue, adding shadow, depth and richness to his compositions. Had Thelonious’s attention not been caught by a ramshackle assemblage of containers off to one side, he might’ve seen the figure skulking in the shadows behind him.
A rusty metal cylinder with a triangular-shaped lid had been set up in a corner of the barn. An encrusted pipe had been attached to the top, the elbow joint bending it sideways connecting it to a worm-eaten wooden barrel; its remaining iron bands had turned green with corrosion. Glass jugs and jam jars lay strewn about on the dirt floor. Some looked as if they had mouse droppings on them. Thelonious’s nostrils detected the odour of fermenting grains. It appeared that he’d stumbled upon a moonshine still.
As Thelonious framed it in his viewfinder, he heard a loud explosion. A bullet whistled past his right ear, nearly taking his deerstalker hat with it.
“Hold it right thare!”
A wiry old man with a shotgun stepped out from the shadows. He planted himself solidly behind Thelonious. A long scraggly beard hung from his chin; it would’ve been white if not for the dribbles of tobacco juice. Thelonious was pretty sure he saw things moving in it.
The ancient codger aimed the firearm at Thelonious’s chest, the brown sticks of his arms surprisingly steady as they stuck out from his tattered bib overalls. “This here’s private property!” he shouted.
Thelonious took a few steps back, feeling his bowels loosening. “I thought the barn was abandoned?” he croaked.
“Abandoned?” The old man spat into the dirt. “This here barn ain’t abandoned!”
“I must’ve made a mistake.”
“Ah’ll say y’all made a mistake! This here’s my farm!”
“Hmmph…” The farmer squinted hard at his intruder, his creased face like a dried plum above the beard.
Thelonious shifted the camera bag to his other shoulder. “I’ll just be on my way then.”
But the farmer had other ideas. He moved nearer, closing the gap between them. “Did that no ’count Bobby Ray Tuggle send y’all down here to steal my corn liquor?”
“No!” Thelonious shook his head until he thought it would fall off. The cosy relationship between the old man’s index finger and the shotgun’s trigger was making him nervous.
“Y’all don’t know Bobby Ray?”
“I don’t know anyone!”
“Okay. If’n y’all say so.”
Hoping this was the end of it, Thelonious turned to go.
“Not so dang fast! Didn’t y’all see my ‘no trespassing’ sign?”
“What ‘no trespassing’ sign?”
“Y’all walked right on past it. It’s thare, plain as day!” A skeletal brown finger pointed toward the barn’s gaping entrance. “C’aint miss it!”
“But I didn’t see any sign!”
“Ah shoot trespassers.” The farmer gave Thelonious a grisly brown grin. “Shot me one last year. He’s buried out back of the barn. Wanna see?”