I left the odd little house down at the end of the street to last. Weedy empty lots surrounded the dingy green clapboard house. It’s only neighbors were broken glass, scraps of paper and sodden sleeping bags, mostly with no one in them, snarled in the briars trying to overrun the house. Thick, thorny blackberry vines had grabbed hold of one sagging corner of the house. I’d never been able to tell whether the house sagged because the berry vines were pulling it down or if vines had snagged the house because it had begun crumbling of its own accord.
I didn’t bring the delivery truck up the narrow street. No room to turn around and the gravel shoulders were notoriously soft. Besides. The old man living in the house, Mr. Tilfson, never had anything bigger or heavier than a breadbox delivered. I carried his package up the street. I strode past the empty lot stinking of rot and urine. Homeless encampment, I assumed. Why didn’t the old man call the cops?
He knew my delivery schedule and I heard him coming out to the porch to meet me. Scraaaaaape. Clunk. Scraaaaaaape. Clunk. Listing like a barge taking on water, Mr. Tilfson listed. To remedy that situation, he dragged a great big axe around with him where ever he went. He used it to prop his decrepit, bony frame upright. The metal axe head rested on the ground. His gnarled hand rested on the butt end of the handle.
“Here you go,” I said, stopping one step down. I offered up his package.
Sparse, wiry, white hair poked like straw from beneath a baseball cap so old and filthy it was colorless. Dark bird eyes followed my every move and when I set the cardboard box into his free hand, he grinned a gap-toothed smile. He set the box on the porch rail.
“Afore you run off,” he wheezed. “Do an old man a favor? Got a deep freeze in the car port. Been a long time since these old bones’d let me reach down into the bottom of it for a morsel of venison.”
“Sure thing.” I rounded the front of the house.
He followed, dragging that damned axe across the porch as he came. Bloated black plastic trash bags, the skeletons of ancient lawnmowers and thick spider webs cluttered the car port, but against the back wall, a white deep freeze stood, the path to it clear of debris. The old man hefted his axe down one step, then, one hand on the railing, the other on the axe handle, hobbled down. He tailed me to the freezer, the metal of his makeshift crutch screeching on the concrete beneath my feet.
He hadn’t lied about not being able to get into the deep freeze. It took me two tries to break the seal and lift the lid. The damned thing wasn’t deep. It was cavernous. Leaning over to snatch a white paper wrapped packet off the bottom took me off my feet. I picked up the packet.
And looked into the pair of wide open, iced over eyes the wrapped meet had been concealing. My breath went out in a rush.
“Nice thing about being a butcher,” the old guy wheezed. “I can refill the larder my own self. Hand over the meat.”
What else could I do? Staring at those eyes, I handed up the packet. “I don’t understand how you get away with it.”
“Old age and treachery kid.”
Scraaaaape.Excrutiating pain exploded at the back of my head. I fell into those eyes. So far down.
“Old age and treachery."