The Thicket
By: Steve Carr

At The Beginning

Detective Russo walked into the interrogation room. His partner, Sam, was sitting at a table across from Tom Jensen, whose hands were cuffed behind his back. "Grab him and we'll take him back out there," he said.

"You sure?" he said, reluctantly rising from his chair. "There's something seriously wrong about that farm. Lots of crazy shit has always gone on out there for as long as I can remember."

"Yeah, I'm sure." He took a large bite of an apple, one from the bagful that Tom Jensen was carrying when he walked into town, his clothes splattered with blood.

Sam came around the table keeping his eyes averted from Tom's who was smiling at him with a chilling, placid smile. He helped Tom stand and then followed behind Det. Russo.

"Nothing better than an apple pie taken fresh out of the oven," Tom said as they left the room.

The First Encounter

Tom Jensen pulled a rotting apple from the tree. He shook his head in disgust and threw it into a thicket of bushes, vines and gnarled trees that lined the west side of his newly purchased farm. A minute later the apple flew out of the bushes and landed at the tips of his boots. He picked it up and examined the apple, appraising it. He walked over to the thicket, separated the bushes wide enough to peer in. He pushed them apart a little more and stepped through. As soon as the bushes closed behind him he found he had stepped onto a small neatly manicured lawn. He turned about as if he had lost his bearings. He turned again, stunned to see a small weather-worn house sitting on a small hill about fifty yards from where he was standing.

Practically tiptoeing he walked towards the house. The windows were dark. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs that led up to a porch. An empty porch swing moved gently back and forth. He cautiously climbed the creaking stairs keeping his eyes on the warped boards under his boots. At the top of the stairs, a movement on the porch swing made him turn his head. Tom stared at an elderly Black woman sitting in the swing.

The old woman smiled at him as a basket suddenly appeared at her side. She took a ball of yarn from the basket and began to move her hands and fingers as if she was using invisible knitting needles.

"My name's Muddy Weather," she said. "Some folks call me Muddy for short, which is okay, or Mud if they're bein' impolite, which ain't okay."

Tom gazed at her, bewildered.

"Well, you must be the new neighbor. I'm mighty pleased to meet you," she said.

He looked back at the thicket then back at Muddy.

"Well, neighbor, you better get home now. The next time you come by you don't have to stare at me all open-mouthed. You can say howdy Miss Weather or Muddy. I'll say hi right back, just like we were old friends. Maybe the next time when the cat don't got your tongue, you can tell me something about yourself. Now you better get home. Go along with you."

Tom backed down the stairs and crossed the lawn. He glanced back. White curtains in the windows were blowing gently in the breeze. Muddy was standing at the porch railing petting a large tabby cat. She waved at him. He quickly stepped into the thicket.

He bust through the bushes, his arms scratched and bleeding. In front of him his white and green house gleamed in the sunlight.

The Second Encounter: A Piece of the Pie

Tom looked down the driveway and saw Earlean enter the thicket. He threw open the door and ran down the driveway and entered the thicket where Earlean had gone in. He called out her name as he pushed aside thorns and bramble bushes. He exited the thicket and looked up at Muddy's house.

She came out onto the porch with a plate in her hand. There was a piece of apple pie on the plate. "Tom Jensen, you must be that youngster's pa. Come on up here and let's get acquainted. I got a nice piece of apple pie fresh out of the oven here waitin' for you."

Tom shook his head in disbelief. He went to the stairs. "My little girl is here?" he said.

"Lands sakes, yes. She's out back playing with Whisper. Whisper don't get much company. He sure loves children though," she said.

"Whisper?" Tom asked.

"Whisper, my cat," she said.

"I was worried about my daughter," he said.

"Your daughter is doing fine. I scare her a little, but in time she'll warm up to me," she said. "I guess when she's not so scared-like she'll be a little more talkative. But you didn't say much either the first time we met."

"I was here before, but I thought I just dreamt it. Then I saw Earlean going into the thicket. I am awake, aren't I?" he said.

"Sometimes it's hard to tell the stayin' awake from bein' asleep, isn't it?" she said.

"I should take Earlean home. Her mother is going to worry with us both gone," he said.

Earlean came around the corner of the house. She was carrying Whisper. "Look, Daddy. Whisper likes me."

"That cat. He's a sweet old thing," Muddy said. "Look at me. I'm standin' here holdin' your pie and it's gettin' colder by the moment. Do you want a slice?"

"Thank you, but I better get back home. Miss Weather."

"I'm right here if you want to come for a visit. You come back any time. Bring your wife and little girl," she said.

"Thank you," he said, then told Earlean, "Say goodbye to Whisper. We have to go."

Earlean rubbed her face against the cat's fur, then placed it on the porch. She took her father's hand.

Holding hands they went into the thicket.

The Third Encounter: Love and Marriage

Tom and Reba stumbled out of the thicket, falling into the grass near Muddy's garden. Tom placed his hand on the bullet wound in Reba's side, trying to stem the flow of blood. He looked up and saw the light on in Muddy's house.

"Help. Help me. My wife has been shot," Tom called out.

Muddy came out of the house and hurried down the stairs and across the grass to where Reba was lying cradled in Tom's arms.

"She's been shot. Our baby, Earlean, she's in there. In the house. Call someone. Get someone," Tom said pleadingly.

"I can't call anyone Tom. Let's get your wife into the house and then we can figure out what to do," she said.

They laid her on the sofa, her head resting on a handmade pillow. She closed her eyes and drifted in and out of consciousness. Tom pulled his hand away from Reba's side. His hand was covered in her blood.

"Before anything else we got to stop that bleedin'. You put your hand back there and keep talking to her nice and gentle," Muddy said.

As Muddy went into her kitchen Tom put his head on Reba's breasts and fell asleep.

The Fourth Encounter: Murder, He Says

"Tom, why heaven on earth! What have you gone and done to yourself," Muddy said, suddenly appearing, standing over him.

He rolled over and wrapped his arms around her legs. "I'm so tired, Miss Weather. I'd like to close my eyes and go to sleep forever."

"Now, now. Don't you go talkin' that way. We all get tired sometimes," she said.

"I've had a really bad day. My orchard isn't doing well. I haven't admitted this to anyone, but I don't think I'm cut out to grow apples." he said. "And there's something else. I think some bad people killed my wife and daughter."

"You mean that pretty wife of yours and that precious child of yours is over at your house dead, and you're here talking about being tired?" she said.

"You don't understand, Muddy. I've been shot in the head," he said.

"You seem mighty scratched up, but I don't see where any bullets went in you," she said.

He sat up. "I know, I know. I'm mixed up about it. Reba was tapping her pencil . . .no, she was tapping her fingers. Earlean wanted something. Cookies. People were coming. I made Earlean get in the closet."

Muddy put her hand on his head. "I suppose you're feeling the worse kind of misery the devil ever invented. Sometimes you got to wrestle with the devil. I've wrestled with him a few times. Look at me. I'm still standing. Now don't you think a big strong man like you could do a little wrestlin' with that fire-breathin', horn-headed good-for nothin'?"

Tom began to sob. "I guess."

A Follow-Up Encounter

Sam Hardy and Detective Russo got out of the police car they had parked in Tom Jensen's driveway. Tom was in the back seat.

Det. Ruffalo gazed appraisingly at the thicket. "Stay here with Mr. Jensen," Det. Russo said. "I want to go in the house and have a look around again."

"What are you looking for?" Sam asked.

"Even though he killed his wife and daughter, I don't think he's crazy. I don't know what he is, but I have a gut feeling he's not nuts," Det. Russo said.

"Detective, why did we bring him along?" Sam asked.

"I don't know yet," Det. Russo said. He went to the front door and unlocked it and went in, leaving the door open behind him. There were splattered blood stains everywhere. Chalk outlines remained on the living room floor of Reba’s body. A large blood stain was on the carpet. He went into the kitchen. A crossword puzzle and pencil were on the table.

The door slammed in the living room.

"Sam, is that you?" Det. Russo called out. Getting no response, he walked into the living room. He tried to open the door but was unable to. "Sam, are you out there?"

He turned, then fell back against the door.

Reba's body was in the chair.

"What the hell?" he said.

Hearing footsteps running down the hallway, he walked over in time to see the heel of a girl's shoe going into Earlean's bedroom. He raised his gun. "Okay, who's ever down there, come out with your hands up." He waited a minute then slowly walked down the hall and looked in Earlean's bedroom. The door to the closet creaked open. Looking in, he saw Earlean's hand sticking from beneath a stuffed animal, a yellow tabby.

He suddenly inhaled, sniffing the air. "Apple pie?"

When he entered the kitchen, Tom was standing at the oven.

"Mmmmm. Doesn't that apple pie smell good, Detective? There's nothing like a fresh baked apple pie right out of the oven. Me and Whisper have been waiting for this pie," Tom said.

Det. Russo raised his gun and aimed it at Tom.

"My, my, Detective you are the most impatient man I've ever met. The pie will be out soon enough," Tom said.

"Look, Jensen....," Det. Russo started.

"Muddy Weather is my name in case you forgot," Tom said.

"Look, Jensen, this has gone far enough," Det. Russo said.

"You haven't seen all the possibilities. All the endless possibilities," Tom said.

"What are you talking about?" Det. Russo said. "What possibilities?"

Suddenly Reba appeared at the table, tapping a nail file on the table as she stared at the crossword puzzle. She looked up at Det. Russo and smiled, then suddenly vanished.

The kitchen grew dark and the sound of rain hitting the roof resounded in the house.

Det. Russo backed against the wall, scared speechless.

"I think my pie is finally done," Tom said. He opened the oven and pulled out a steaming hot pie. He held it close to his nose and closed his eyes in delight.

"Look Tom, Muddy, whatever is going on here, I don't care. I just want the truth."

Tom laughed loudly. Scratches suddenly appeared across his face and arms. "The truth? There is no truth Detective. I wish my daddy was here to explain it. He was always so much better at talkin' to folks. There isn't any truth though. There's an event and the echoes of that event. One little thing can and always does set off a whole string of other things. You got to be careful Detective, but the truth is unknowable."

"Okay, I get it," Det. Russo said. He raised his gun and aimed it at Tom. "I want out of here."

Back To The Start

Det. Russo landed on his knees on the gravel walkway leading to the front door. He looked up and saw Sam staring at him, amused and perplexed.

"The ghosts in there getting to you, Detective?" Sam said.

Det. Russo stood up. "Sam, have you been out here the entire time?"

"All three minutes," Sam said.

"Three minutes?" Det. Russo said. He ran over to the car and looked in.

Tom smiled at him, knowingly.

"He's been in there the three minutes?" Det. Russo asked Sam.

"Yeah. What happened? You really are acting like you were spooked," Sam said.

"It's some sort of parallel universe going on. I don't know. It doesn't make sense," Det. Russo said. "Let him go."

"What? You want me to let Jensen go? I can't do that," Sam said.

"Yes, you can. I'll take the blame if anything happens. Let him go," Det. Russo said.

Sam shook his head and opened the back door and reached in and unlocked the handcuffs around Tom's wrists.

Tom climbed out. "Oh, there's nothing like a pretty day. Now, I don't mind a good thunderstorm now and then and I must admit I'm partial to the kind of solitude that night provides, but a sunny day is special." He walked to the thicket and stepped in.

Det. Russo followed him as Sam stared in disbelief.

The Solution

Det. Russo stumbled out of the thicket and landed on his knees on the gravel walkway. His face and arms were scratched. His clothes were torn. He looked up and saw Sam staring at him, concerned and perplexed.

"What were you doing in that thicket? You're a mess," Sam said.

"Sam, have you been out here the entire time?" Det. Russo replied.

"Thirty-three minutes. I was getting worried. I almost came in after you," Sam said.

"Thirty-three minutes?" Det. Russo looked over at Tom.

Tom smiled at him knowingly.

"He's been in there the entire time?" Det. Russo asked.

"Yeah. What happened? You really acting like you've freaked out or something," Sam said.

"I don't know, but it’s going to stop," Det. Russo said. "Let him go."

"What? You want me to let Jensen go? I can't do that," Sam said.

"Yes, you can. I'll take the blame if anything happens. Let him go," Det. Russo said.

Sam shook his head and opened the back door and reached in and unlocked the handcuffs around Tom's wrists.

Tom climbed out. "I may be called Muddy Weather, but I don't think there's nothing like a pretty day. Now, I don't mind some rain now and then. It's good for the apple trees. Nothing like a fresh baked apple pie."

Det. Russo raised his gun and shot Tom in the head.

THE END

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