Chapter 5.1

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Julia and the Fox

"I'm telling ya Jethro! This trap's got potential. Spent damn near a fortune on some special poison from that creepy witch Mel. She assured me that it's a pure-grade oap-eate poison...same stuff that the Chinks brought inta town with 'em when they were working on the railroad – 'cept it's tweaked a bit for our purposes." Looking up from his crudely drawn map, Cliff noticed Jethro solemnly nod his head and scan the trees as if he anticipated ambush. "It's not much further along the creek here." Smiling, Cliff added, "I set the trap up right under this tree that looks like a lady's backside." Cliff caught Jethro rolling his eyes as the two young boys continued their arduous trek through the mud. "Jeth, make sure yer gun's loaded and ready. Reckon I won't have time to unsling and load my rifle if we trapped us a cranky grizzly."

The boys continued inching along the creek until Cliff slammed his dirty palm into Jethro's torn jacket. "Wait!" Cliff hissed. "You smell that?" Cliff inquired without expecting an answer. Crouching, he stuck his finger deep into a wet puddle and swirled it in the mud. Examining his muddy finger, Cliff inhaled the aroma and proceeded to stick his finger into his mouth –immediately taking it out and spitting out a dollop of mud and saliva. "Shit... that's what that is... probably deer shit, but could be 'coon shit too. Quick Jeth, the trap is just on the other side of this hill. I betcha my first chest hair that I got me a nice buck or a coon. Be ready on that trigger, the poison's non-lethal." Cliff and Jethro sprinted up to the top of the hill kicking down stones and leaves. Cresting the hill and holding their hats against the morning sun, the boys squinted to see the distant trap. Cliff watched Jethro survey the valley below, pistol cocked, fingers itching. Jethro edged down the hill jumping from boulder to upturned tree branch with the grace of a hare as Cliff, with a little less patience and finesse, ran down the hill shouting swears and cries of disbelief.

"Ahhh what'n the Hell!" Cliff shouted as he slid on his overalls three feet before the trap, entombing his knees in two cold muddy trenches. "No! No! Nooo!" Jethro approached. A bold smile adorned his face as he stood over his friend's shoulder, studying the snare trap. "There's Goddamn blood on here...And..." Cliff dragged his finger along the jagged edge of the trap, then, licking his finger, spat with disgust. "Poison's still on there... but not as strong. We definitely got something. But where the fuck, it is I don't know. Look, there's a tuft of hair here in the mud. Looks like it's red, but Hell, it could've been white for all I know, caked in mud."

Having calmed down, Cliff picked himself up, scraped off the excess mud from his overalls and looked to Jethro whose rare smile still decorated his rough face. "I reckon we had better be heading home. We're already gunna be late for lunch. Don't want to make my Granz angry." Cliff looked to his friend for acknowledgment and, in finding Jethro beaming brighter than the noonday sun, he blushed and retorted: "Hey, just because you ain't blood don't mean you'd escape the switch, so don't give me none of that bootlicking crap. And by the way: I haven't lost this bet yet so don't be jumping on any scissors when we get in."

*****

Cliff and Jethro approached the quaint cabin just past noon. It was unseasonably hot for a fall day, and as such, the two boys were drenched in sweat by the time they climbed the rickety porch steps. Attempting to sneak in through the back, they undid their boots and started tiptoeing inside when they heard Cliff's grandmother yell: "Clifford! Don't you bring your dirty boots and clothes in here and muddle up the house after I just spent all morning cleaning! Not to mention that Ms. Peggy'll be here this evening for lessons with Julia. Your chow'll be here when you tidy up. Now git!" Cliff turned to Jethro who suppressed a grin with his dirty hand.

"Yes'um Granz." Pausing, Cliff continued, "Wash basin's only big enough for one set of overalls... Reckon you'd better head on back to the creek to wash yours." Cliff's smile budded as Jethro –deflated– retreated into the woods once again. Stripping down to his drawers, and leaning his rifle against the banister, Cliff began washing his muddy overalls in the washbasin on the porch. He sloshed the water around and spun the water in circles creating a whirlpool.

"Clifford!" yelled the grandmother from within the house, making Cliff jump. "You'd best be washing those clothes and not just splashing water!"

"I am, Granz!" Cliff whined. With a renewed, fear-driven vigor and extra elbow grease, Cliff scrubbed the muddy stains from his overalls. Spotting something in the water, Cliff fished with his finger and hooked a tuft of red hair. Puzzled, he yelled out to the house: "Julia! Did you go and wash one of your dolls in the basin again? There's red hair in the water."

After a moment's pause, a small girl emerged from the house looking nervous. Cliff had yet to realize that the girl had walked out, but she stood there watching. Clutched tightly to her chest was a book decorated with mythological beings and heroes. Smoothing her simple tan dress, she asked "What Cliff?"

Looking up from his chore, red in the face, Cliff yelled: "Girl! Ain't you got ears that hear and a brain that thinks? I asked you if you gone and washed your doll in the water. You know you ain't allowed to do that 'cause the hair clogs up the washboard."

"Ohh...yeah sorry. I forgot. Won't happen again Cliff. I promise," Julia responded as she ran back inside. Cliff heard her door close shut.

"What in the Hell was the point in sending her to that school if she ain't learned nothing? 'Cept maybe how ta be a Yankee," Cliff huffed to himself as he finished washing his overalls and hung them on the clothesline. He spotted Jethro walking back up to the farmhouse in his underwear and Cliff waved him over. The two boys entered into the house –much to Granz' dismay– only wearing their drawers. "Thanks for the chow Granz, looks delightful." Cliff said as they sat down at the worn table. Jethro nodded his head in approval when the grandmother entered the kitchen decked to the nines. Her dress, decorated with sunflowers, struggled to hold in her massive girth. A parasol that might have been big enough to shade her face alone, twirled in between her pudgy fingers.

"I'm off to a wedding outta town. Won't be back until the morn. Clifford, you take care of your sister now! And Jethro, you take care of Clifford. You might not be family, but I'll put a hurtin on you if Clifford gets inta trouble. And boys..." the grandmother continued as she looked them over condescendingly, "get some clothes on... don't y'all know what time of the year it is?"

The boys, busy cooling the hellish slurry with their breath, both nodded and waved her out. A carriage was waiting in front of the house. The boys chuckled as Cliff's grandmother squeezed onto the carriage. Without paying attention, Cliff, feeling for his spoon on the table, knocked his hand against the piping hot bowl of gravy which bathed his hand in a wave of hellish slurry. Cliff released a shriek of pain. Jethro lunged across the room to grab the tin that housed the bandage roll and the antiseptic cream but he turned back to Cliff motioning an empty tin.

"Julia! Where's the antiseptic and bandages!"

"One moment please," came Julia's quiet response.

"No problem, I'm not in pain over here..." Cliff sat, clutching his burnt palm to his bare chest. 

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This story will continue in 5.2 and 5.3. Thanks again for all your support thus far in. 

Read on,

Matt

Photo credit: Pixabay user Unsplash  




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