The dust flies up first. The sound of tires crunching gravel comes next. Depending on how fast a truck is going, a tire can pop a big chunk of gravel right into the side of the house. Hunter Potsy saw Joe Gardener, “Jolting Joe,” rip down the old gravel back road so fast one day a rock shot from under a tire and nailed his baby sister Lacie right on the temple. Papa tore into Joe with a string of swear words like you wouldn’t believe, all with a Parliament dangling out of his mouth. Lacie’s eyeball had a burst blood vessel. It grossed everyone out, but Papa said she still had to go to school. She couldn’t stay home alone, and he had to run telephone lines up at the new prison hospital.
This wasn’t Jolting Joe coming down the road. Hunter could tell from where he was jumping on the trampoline. He bounced up to get a glimpse over the hill. This was a black truck, and there was no jolt to it. Hunter jumped off the trampoline and sprinted to the dog shed. He hated when someone driving down the road could see him on the trampoline. There were no trees in the field where the trampoline was situated. From the gravel road, he was a sitting duck. An easy target.
Another splinter rammed its way into his foot. Some cooler day he would pull the crap wood boards up from the dog shed and put new boards down. He was nine and he already built a fort from scratch this summer. These boards were rotted and splintery, and besides, you could still see the blood stain from when they had to shoot Droopy. The dog had gone rabid or something and Papa shot him in the shed after he bit a chunk out of Uncle Daren’s cheek. Hunter dug his bare toe into the blood stain, and his heart sunk. He was still mad at Papa for that. The noise of the tires was slowing. Whoever was in the black truck was stopping at the farm. Papa’s voice was the next sound, and in this rare moment, a welcome comfort.
“Officer. What can I help you with today?”
Hunter crawled up on the dog crate to get a good peek out the shed window. Papa had his back to Hunter, sitting on the tailgate with his General Telephone Electric trucker hat smashed onto his head, pack of Parliaments and his deer rifle by his side.
Lacie was squeezed up close to Papa sitting guard with him on the tailgate. She was awful still, frightened of the sheriff in all his state.
“Afternoon Mr. Potsy. I’m Sheriff Harrison. I see you already know about the escaped inmate?”
“My brother Daren is a guard down at Crossroads and let me know. Shame that prison is stuffed to the gills. Too many inmates, not enough guards.”
Sheriff wiped his brow. “Yes sir. Welp, We’re gonna need access to your property. Got to get in there and confirm that this fella isn’t hiding out in your woods. We’re awful sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Shoot. We’re 190 acres of hunting land between Crossroads and the women’s prison. This isn’t the first break we’ve had to worry about on our land and won’t be the last. Do what you need to do.”
Papa sounded funny. He’d been drinking or something. He had that full throat sound that turned Hunter's stomach to knots.
Hunter popped off the dog crate. It was making his knees hurt. Slowly, he exited the dog shed and made his way across the front yard to the officer and Papa. Hunter wished he’d put his muck boots on. The apricot trees in the front yard were full with fruit and they’d mostly fallen and were rotting on the ground. Mamma was the only one who ever picked the apricots so the ground was soggy with unclaimed and fermented fruit. The hot pulp oozed between Hunter’s toes while the occasional apricot pit found its way into the still fresh burn on the bottom of his foot from the bottle rocket he stepped on last week at fourth of july.
“We’ll be patrolling the area and keeping an eye on the border of your south 40. If this fella gets into your woods, that would most likely be the entrance point.”
“I figure so, sheriff. Afternoon now.”
The sound of crunching gravel came first. Hunter watched the dust fly up as the sheriff’s truck tore back down the gravel road out of sight. Only then did Hunter notice Lacie’s soft cry.
Hunter turned toward the truck tailgate to finally see how liqueured up Papa was. His brain couldn’t make sense of it. The General Telephone Electric trucker hat, the cigarettes, and the gun we’re all in the right place, but the man with his arm around his baby sister’s tiny shoulders was not Papa.
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