holding the light, suddenly saw the maniacal glint in
his partner's eye. He felt a surge of terror as Farris
snarled at him, "Good bye, Adams. Been nice working
Holding the axe in front of him, Farris aimed a vicious
blow at the other man's chin. Adams screamed, raising
his arm at the last instant so that the blow was deflected
and snapped his collarbone like a twig. When Farris
withdrew the axe for another blow, Adams sensed his
closeness and reached out to claw at him. Their screams
mingled with the grunts and moans of their struggle,
the air stinking of sweat and hot blood and rage. Adams,
unable to use one arm, could not defend himself effectively.
Farris smashed the axe into the darkness again and again,
punching into whatever he could find, using the point
of the pickaxe to stab at his victim, sometimes striking
the earthen walls, sometimes feeling the thud of metal
on flesh. At last, Adams was quiet.
Jim stopped in this Tuesday evening at the drug store
to buy a copy of the evening paper, he greeted the pharmacist
with a wave.
much, Jimmy. How's things in the war zone?"
smiled to himself. Because Fred viewed Jim's hook and
artificial leg as honorable badges of courage, he looked
on Jim as a hero. Jim glanced at the pharmacist and
thought: He should have been in Nam. That would have
cured his nostalgic view of war.
hacking away at it," he answered as he picked up a copy
of the paper. Glancing at the front page, he stopped
in mid-step, totally unprepared for what he saw. The
headline read "Murder Victim Found in Hopewell." But
what shocked him was not the headline. It was the drawing
alongside the headline--a drawing of himself.
swayed for a moment on his artificial leg, almost losing
his balance. He looked at the picture again. It was
a pen and ink drawing of a portion of a map, and in
the center was a human figure. The head, right arm and
leg were normal. But he stared in disbelief at the left
limbs. The arm was held away from the body so that the
hook it had in place of a hand was clearly visible,
and the leg, normal to the knee, became a narrow post
ending in what looked like a claw for a foot. Too stunned
to move, he read the article, searching for some explanation.
decayed body of a male in his twenties was found behind
the municipal grounds in Hopewell yesterday, buried
in an ancient mound. Authorities believe the man had
been dead at least a month....
area in which the body was discovered forms a prehistoric
burial mound, commonly referred to as 'Man Mound'….
stared again at the drawing. It felt like some kind
of grim joke, his deformities spread all over the front
page of the paper like this--hook, leg post, both on
the left side just like his. It was as though someone
were shining a searchlight on him, exposing him to public
the eldest priest, remembered a story he had heard from
traders who came from the direction of the setting sun.
These men had seen burial mounds in the shape of spirits--bears,
birds, serpents--far different from the rounded hills
that his people always built. If he should bury Tukamne
in a spirit mound like that, the spirits would have
to receive her with honor, and she might be grateful
and wait for him on the other side.
the plan took shape, he began to see in his mind the
form of the mound he would build for Tukamne. It would
be an image of the Serpent-Spirit that had appeared
to him in the forest, an image half man, half snake.
He closed his eyes to remember the apparition more clearly.
He could see the dark, featureless head, the powerful
arm ending in a serpent's tail, the snake's body forming
one leg, its open mouth biting into the earth as if
preparing a grave for burial.
was approaching midnight as they bent over the lock
on the gate, Davis fumbling with the key while Jim held
their flashlight. Just as the padlock snapped open,
they heard a car coming up the street; it turned a corner
and its headlights splashed along the fence toward them,
sending their huge, distorted shadows racing across
the trees surrounding the mound. Frozen to the spot,
they watched the car. It turned another corner, and
left. Darkness returned.
a relieved look at each other, they carefully locked
the gate behind them. The exploit was no longer a lark.
The isolation of the place, its association with death,
ancient and modern, was chilling.
pointed to the right. "My fake note says the sculpture
is back in the crotch of the mound."
hope so," she said, "I've had enough of this. I just
want to get it and get out of here."
walked the forty or so feet from the waist of the mound
down around the right leg. As they were ready to turn
the corner and start for the crotch, Davis said, "Shh!
What was that?"
was a cracking of twigs in the distance, up by the head
of the mound, the sound of someone walking through underbrush.
Whoever it was had not come through the gate; he must
have come in from the back side of the mound, over the
fence. He was behind them. If he were heading for the
hole in the crotch, he would walk right past them!
considered leaving, but knew they would never make it
undetected. He whispered urgently to Davis, "Help me
get my shirt and my arm off."
she asked in alarm.
ask. Just do it!"
Other Half. ©John
W. Sloat, 2001.