Evelyn’s Country Depot by Scott Hughes

+++ Nick steered a truck pulling a flatbed trailer a quarter-mile through a pecan orchard, and finally the house came into view: a two-story cottage, white with black shutters. Next to the house sat a work shed, also white. “Evelyn’s Country Depot” was painted on its side in rudimentary letters. A chain-link fence enclosed an acre of the front yard surrounding dozens—maybe hundreds—of various lawn ornaments sculpted from cement. Nick parked outside the fence.
+++ Two years ago Evelyn Odom had borrowed $30,000 to open this lawn ornament business out of her home. She had defaulted on her loan by not making a payment in ninety days, so Nick had begun foreclosure. Since she’d offered her house as collateral, the bank was going to seize it, but at the moment Nick was here to repossess just the lawn ornaments. He had recently replaced a local retiree in a rural bank who had for decades made careless loans. Nick had spent the last few months repossessing everything from cars and farm equipment to a herd of dairy cows.
+++ He unlatched the gate and entered Miss Odom’s yard. A walkway of hexagonal cement cobblestones zigzagged toward the house through the lawn ornaments, which stood in rows like a battalion of soldiers. The first ones Nick passed were the usual mundane fare: jockeys, snails, gnomes, frogs, cherubs, dogs. Closer to the house, the ornaments became more macabre: frolicking devils, deformed gargoyles with boney wings, imps with mischievous eyes, and monstrosities with Cheshire grins of long cement teeth.
+++ Who’d ever buy such crap? Nick thought. And why in the hell did the bank loan her the money to start this turd factory?
+++ Just as he was considering saving one of the ornaments to leave on his retired predecessor’s doorstep, something to his left moved. He spun around. Only rows upon rows of cement creatures.
+++ As he made his way onto the porch, the creaky boards announced his arrival. The front door had no bell, so he rapped loudly, then waited. He knocked again, this time calling out, “Miss Odom, this is Nick Harper from Waterston Bank! Miss Odom?”
+++ Nick hoped she wasn’t home. He could take his time loading the lawn ornaments and be on his way without her hovering over him.
+++ A wrinkled female face appeared in the window beside the door. Her rheumy eyes scrutinized him through the smudged glass.
+++ “Evelyn Odom?” he said.
+++ “Yeah?”
+++ “Nick Harper from Waterston Bank. I’m afraid we have to repossess your… lawn ornaments.”
+++ “My statues?”
+++ “Yes, ma’am. You’ve defaulted on your loan. We’ve made repeated attempts to contact you through certified mail, but you haven’t responded.”
+++ “You ain’t takin’ my statues,” she said, “or my house.”
+++ “Your house is a separate matter, ma’am. I’m here just for the lawn ornaments.” Then he added, “I’m sorry, but it’s out of my hands now.”
+++ “Phooey! You ain’t takin’ what’s mine!”
+++ “Miss Odom, I’m taking the lawn ornaments. If you interfere, I’ll have to call the sheriff. I don’t want that, Miss Odom. Do you?”
+++ Her watery eyes narrowed. “Get gone, you shyster, if you know what’s best.” She flung a dingy flowery curtain over the window.
+++ Nick turned to begin loading the flatbed, and several of the lawn ornaments were blocking the pathway. If Evelyn had a friend here, things could turn dangerous. Another loan officer at the bank had told him he was once shot at while repossessing a guy’s boat.
+++Nick descended the steps and hurried along the walkway to the statues, as she’d called them, where he began to move aside the ones in his way. How a little old lady moved these heavy things about, he couldn’t say.
+++ The more of them he moved, the more there seemed to be in front of him. At first there’d been half a dozen blocking the path. Now, fifteen or twenty of them stood on the walkway.
+++ “What the hell?” Nick said.
+++ He glanced back at the house. The pathway behind him was now congested with the cement curios as well.
+++ Without warning, a flaring pain, like a white-hot spike, shot through his leg. Nick fell to his knees, clawing at his calf. Something was sticking out of it. He yanked out the object—a chisel, covered in his blood. He instinctively applied pressure to the wound, the blood sticky between his fingers.

The lawn ornaments had encircled him. In their small cement hands were pick hammers, pointed stone-carving tools, mallets, and more chisels. Others carried sticks and rocks. They came toward him with the stiff, jerky movements of a marionette.
+++ Nick stood, his calf singing with new pain, and was pelted with sticks and rocks. As they stoned him, the statues mimicked laughter, although no sound came from their cement throats. When he collapsed, they mimed cheering and applause.
+++ Nick tried fending them off, but they were numerous and quite powerful despite their dwarfishness. They jabbed him with sticks and chisels, beat at his hands and chest and face with hammers, and bound his hands and feet with wire. They propped him up on his knees, and the mob of lawn ornaments before him parted. Several gargoyles marched forward, carrying pails over their heads. Something gray sloshed over the pails’ sides.
+++A cherub gripped handfuls of Nick’s hair and snapped back his head, and an imp, leering, forced a rusty funnel into Nick’s throat. It tasted dirty and metallic. He gagged. He tried to scream, but only gagged more. He twisted his hands until the wire cut into his wrists. He bucked and seized, but the bonds didn’t break.
+++The statues restrained him with their gritty hands and began to pour wet cement into the funnel. Pail after pail of it went down his throat and into his stomach, where it would soon harden into a concrete tumor.

Scott Hughes’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Carbon Culture Review, Redivider, PopMatters, Strange Horizons, and Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. For more information, visit writescott.com.

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