I Don’t Hold Hands with Anybody Anymore
‘Haunted’ could mean this place, a tumble-down shack in the woods, a dilapidated cube with a skinny chimney, a spot nobody’s been in since Reagan was president. ‘Haunted’ could also mean the man who slogs through the woods, hampered—slowed-up, even—by the sledge of memory and regret he seems to be dragging behind him wherever he goes.
The place has a smell to it. A heavy, sweet smell that pinches the back of my throat, then turns sour as rotting leaves. Sure, the floor creaks, but it also whines and I step only where the floor joists lead, because the floor itself has rotted through in places and I can see all the way down to the dirt.
I half-expect to find corpses. Corpses, or bones in the fire place. This little shack would be the perfect place, if there ever was one, to stash murder victims. Hell, maybe that’s why the floor is torn up in the places it is. Not dry rot, but a cannibal with a claw hammer yanking up the boards to hide his latest John Doe.
But, no bones. None that I can see. I edge past the fireplace, clomping on the cement hearth. Just a few grayed-over branches sticking out of an ancient ash heap. I think about lighting them, just to see how fast they’d burn, but what if the chimney’s plugged? Autumn-after-autumn dropping leaves down it, and twig-snarled squirrel nests and clumps of mistletoe. Hell, maybe it’s the chimney where the bodies are.
Instead, I light a cigarette.
There’s no nothing now. No good feelings and no good reasons. No good people, and dogs eventually die or run away. I don’t hold hands with anybody anymore, nor do I hold onto much of anything else at all. So, why not die too?
After the cigarette, I head back. It’s starting to get dark and the trees begin to grow together in their shadows. Halfway there, I almost break my ankle on the hump of a root. Finally, my car at the trailhead, there it is. Dusk has soaked it. Driving off, the fog in my headlights reminds me of ghosts, heavy specters slinking along, eyes peeled for home.
© Paul Luikart
Paul Luikart is the author of the short story collections Animal Heart (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016) and Brief Instructions (Ghostbird Press, 2017.) He serves as an adjunct professor of fiction writing at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He and his family live in Chattanooga, Tennessee.