Richard Bradley sat on the front porch engrossed in the Daily Messenger, Whitefish’s newspaper. The Daily M. was the only paper in the area other than the weekly newsletters from Glacier National Park and a quarterly periodical from Martin City listing coming events. But as far as the Martin City news was concerned, you could get the same information from eating at the Chinese restaurant and reading their Area Events place mat.
Bradley intermittently sipped on a steaming mug and pulled a drag from a rolled cigarette while the last of the rain drops fell into a bucket next to his seat. Really should fix the roof one of these days.
He was a rugged man with chiseled features and a thick jaw that looked like it had been broken sometime ago. His hands were rough from years working for the railway running out of Whitefish and his knees were a few slivers of cartilage away from needing to be replaced. Richard Bradley thought, but couldn`t remember a day where something on his body didn`t hurt. Too much living hard on the front end of my life, I guess? But now he had the cushy job he’d always wanted. The railway had bumped him up to head of a new security task force division six months ago when they started to bring in boxcars of equipment bound for Glacier Park. Environmental testing they’d said. "We have to protect our natural resources." From there he’d been placed as a go-between in damage control and crisis management. Nothing to do but report to a few higher ups and file paper work once a week. Outside of the odd camper lost in the wilderness and a rowdy tourist, or two, things were pretty quiet in this neck of the woods. Most importantly, it gave Richard Bradley more time to tend to his young son.
It wasn’t easy raising the boy alone and the past few years had been difficult. Rabbit had developed an attitude problem and was forever getting into mischief. There had been those who had called it ADD and recommended Ritalin for the boy like it was as common as dropping a quarter into a gumball machine, but Richard Bradley had refused. He had wanted to deal with the situation on his own terms, despite others heightened interest of keeping his boy on the straight and narrow. He’d enrolled Rabbit in sports to try to channel his energy and aggression. It had worked and his son had found his talent. He was one fast little kid. Now with more time to spend with Rabbit, he felt confident the worst was behind them.
Richard coughed and rolled a ball of phlegm from his throat before taking another sip of coffee. He spat the wad between two slats in the veranda rail as if he’d done it a million times. He looked at the weather forecast on the front page of the Daily M. Rain, rain, nothing but rain. I don’t mind so much having to work when it’s wet, but do they have to spoil everyone’s weekends too?
Jeffery and Rabbit rushed by him as the screen door snapped back with a bang.
“Jesus Christ!” Richard Bradley barked. “Elephants have more manners.”
The boys were all apologies. “Sorry Mister Bradley.” “Sorry Dad.”
“Where you two off to in such a hurry anyway?”
“Down to the creek, skip some stones,” the boys said in rehearsed unison as they grabbed their bikes.
Rabbit’s father looked at him slyly. “Don’t get into anymore trouble Rabbit.”
“No Sir. Scout’s honour.”
“...I promise Dad. No trouble.”
“OK....and stay away from Mr. Vilgrain`s property, you hear me?”
The two boys hopped aboard their trail bikes and road lazily down the road, sailing through the some muddy puddles and sending a line of spray upward along the tires. When they were sure their presence was no longer of concern,they picked up their pace.
“Slow down Rabbit. Shit, can’t expect the entire world to keep up with you. What’s next, racing bikes?”
“Maybe you should pretend Old Man Vilgrain is chasing you?”
“That`s not funny Rabbit.”
Rabbit relaxed his pace and drifted along side of his friend. “Are you sure he left the Backhoe all the way out on the fringe?”
“Saw it on my way to your house. Hey, maybe if we’re lucky we’ll find an unfinished bottle in the grass.”
“I don’t know Jeffery. The thought of putting my mouth on something Vilgrain’s been sucking on, is kinda gross.”
“Where’s the adventurous Rabbit I know when it comes to Old Man Vilgrain?”
“Oh yeah Jeffery. And you’re suddenly so tough.”
“Where are you two going in such a hurry?” Amber Switly’s voice had caught them off guard like having their hand in the cookie jar, and with all the talk about Old Man Vilgrain they almost shit themselves as they skidded to a halt.
Jeffery was first to see her crouched by the tall grass next to her bike tying up one of her high-tops. Her long dark hair was parted into to equal portions ending at pigtails on either side. A rabbit’s foot hung on a chain from a loop on her jeans, rolled up halfway to her knees, as she slowly rose to her feet.
“Where we’re going is none of your business Amber.”
“Can I come?”
“No girls. Especially ones whose mother named them after a porn star.”
“Shut up fatty!”
“Let her come Jeffery.”
“I could always go back to bed and you could go to Old Man Vilgrain’s yourself.”
“You’re going to Old Man Vilgrain’s? Ooooo...I want to come.” Amber’s blue eyes sparkled and her sweet face lit up with enthusiasm.
“Damn Rabbit...OK....but she has to apologize for calling me ‘fatty’.”
“He said I was a porn star first!”
Amber crossed her arms and cast a fiery gaze at Jeffery. After a moment of reflection she finally said, “I’m sorry I called you fatty.”
“Not much of an apology”-
-“Now you Jeffery.”
“Apologize to Amber.”
“Why?...Oh alright!” Jeffery kicked the dirt as he straddled his bike and looked off into the distance. “I’m sorry I called you a dumb-ass porn star.”
“Dumb-ass? I’ll show you-”
“I’m sorry.....you know....the porn thing.”
Amber toyed with him, “I can’t hear you.”
Jeffery pointed a stern finger in her direction. “Look, don’t push it.”
Rabbit interjected, “Both of you knock it off. Come on Amber.”
“Shit, why don’t you two just get married?”
“As if,” Rabbit said and started to blush.
“Dude, she already has your foot hanging from her jeans. How long before she gets everything else?”
Amber ignored their banter. She hoofed the kickstand with her foot and threw her leg over the cross-bar to the adjacent pedal. “Just let me tell my Mom where I’m going and-”
“-You want to come or not?” Jeffery huffed. “Besides this is a secret mission.”
Amber eloquently swept her arm in the direction of the road. “OK, lead the way boys.”
“Look I’m only letting you come under protest. We get caught by Old Man Vilgrain and it’s every man for himself, got it?”
“That includes being abducted by aliens....”
“There aren’t any aliens stupid.”
“Don’t you see the lights coming from his house at night? Alien experiments. Cross my heart. Rabbit and I have seen them with our own eyes. We nearly got abducted ourselves. Why do you think his wife left him?”
“Really? Rabbit that true?”
“Look, if there’s any trouble with Old Man Vilgrain, we split up and meet at our safe house in the woods. Got it.”
Jeffery saluted. “Sir! Yes sir!”
“Come on we’re wasting time.” Rabbit said, and motioned for the three to move on.
After a few minutes of idle chit-chat followed by more name calling, the three kids stopped in their tracks. There just beyond a small hillock by the road the Holy Grail stood- a yellow Backhoe, motionless, its front loader at half mast and it’s rear digger coiled against the body of the machine like the tail of a scorpion. The tires were covered in mud from the excessive rain and a flattened trail led backward through the tall grass to the property of Old Man Vilgrain.
Jeffery shouted with glee, “See I told you! Is this cool, or what?”
The three threw down their bikes and ran to the meshed-in driver’s seat next to the huge rear wheels.
“Me first! Lift me up.”
“No way Amber! You were last to join the expedition. Wait your turn.”
She batted her long lashes at him. “Please Jeffery.”
“Fine, give me your foot.” Jeffery clasped his pudgy fingers together to give Amber a foot hold. When she put her foot in, he upended her backward onto the grass.
Amber screamed, “You ass!”
Jeffery smiled at her, saluted and then began to climb aboard the Backhoe with laboured puffing. He settled into the seat and gazed at Rabbit in awe, “Jesus, Rabbit, this is sweet! Vilgrain left the key in the ignition! Man, he must have been blotto to do that? I’m going to take it for a spin. Knock over some bushes too.”
“I wouldn’t do that Jeffery.” Rabbit had that feeling again. The one he always got before something bad happened. It was a tingling in his finger tips, the one that had saved him countless times before from imminent danger except for the fridge incident. This time it was stronger than ever. But why? We’re nowhere near Vigrain’s house. However, Rabbit couldn’t shake the feeling. “Jeffery come down. Please.”
Jeffery turned the key. The engine of the Backhoe roared to life.
Amber had collected herself after her unexpected fall and brushed the dirt and mud off her butt. She looked up at Jeffery and shook her head in a negative fashion.
Jeffery was in heaven, “Rummmmm look at me. Grand Theft Auto! Outta my way mother-fucker!”
Amber protested. “Language!”
“Shut up Bukkake breath!”
Jeffery didn’t know. He’d just heard Old Man Vilgrain say it once during one of his tirades, so he just said,“Ask your Mother.”
“Rabbit, Tell him to stop it.”
“Jeffery, come down right now. I’m not kidding around.”
“All right. Ughh. What the....?” Jeffery shut the engine down. He peeled his hands off the wheel and looked at the palms. A dead calm descended. There didn’t even seem to be sounds of wildlife; birds; crickets; cicadas. Even the air seemed thick and heavy with no promise of a breeze. Once again dark clouds stood on the horizon awaiting their marching orders to move in and cover the fields with daylight darkness.
“What? Did Old Man Vilgrain puke on the wheel, or something?”
“No, I don’t think so......but it’s sticky......like gum, or sap.”
Rabbit noticed what Jeffery was talking about. He could see it now. It hadn’t been evident before camouflaged by the Backhoe’s yellow exterior, but on the black seat and steering wheel, there seemed to be a yellow powder, or dust.
“What is this stuff....bee pollen?” Jeffery said as if talking to himself. He brushed his hands together and wiped them on his jeans.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this Jeffery. What if Vilgrain knows we’re here?”
“That never bothered you before.”
“Well, it’s bothering me now. Come on. We shouldn’t be here. Let’s go. We can hang out in the tree house instead and shoot squirrels with my pellet rifle.”
Jeffery huffed and gazed ahead. “All right,” he said. “I’m bored anyway.”
“Do I at least get first crack with the riffle?” Amber said.
“I got a better idea,” Jeffery said as he thumped to the ground. “Instead of shooting squirrels, maybe we can play doctor instead.” He winked her.
“In your dreams, stupid head.”
“You mean, in yours, until you grow some tits.”
There was a sound as something hit the tall grass nearby. Startled the three kids hit the ground and remained motionless.
“What the hell was that Rabbit?”
“I don’t know?”
Amber began to whimper, “Old Man Vilgrain. He’s throwing things at us. Rabbit's right, he knows we’re here. We’re going to get abducted.”
Rabbit reassured her, “I don’t think so. I don’t hear any footsteps, or cursing. It’s usually one, or the other, sometimes both.”
Slowly the boys rose to their feet. “It came from over there, to the right of the Backhoe. Amber stay here and Jeffery and I will check it out.”
“Screw that. I’m coming with you.”
The three of them crept closer to the tall grass where they’d heard the disturbance.
“Argh!!” Jeffery yelled.
Amber screamed and Jeffery began to laugh.
“I hate you,” she said.
“You love it. You know it.”
Together they pushed aside the grasses to view the area of impact. There on the ground was a Canadian Goose. It was dead. As Rabbit looked at the bird he thought the day had just gotten a little duller and the grey had taken on a deeper bluish tinge. Yet, the clouds had not settled in, remaining at a distance. His head swam with the image of it and he felt ill.
“That was weird,” Amber said. “Whatcha suppose happened? Someone huntin’?”
“It wasn’t shot. It just looks dead. I don’t know.”
“Alien death ray?” Jeffery said.
“Stop it! You’re freaking me out.”
“Afraid you’ll pee your pants again Amber?”
“I didn’t pee my pants, Ass.”
“Right and I’m the president of the United States.” Jeffery stated proudly with a hand thumping his chest.
Rabbit picked up a shaft of dead wood that he’d found on the ground next to the Bobcat.
“What are you doing Rabbit?”
“Poking it with a stick.”
“Cause I don’t want to touch it Amber, OK?”
Rabbit nudged the dead bird lightly with the stick. It rocked slightly. He pushed a little harder and the stick sank into the bird’s chest like a hot knife through butter. An oozing yellow liquid began to emerge accompanied by an acrid, pungent odour.
Amber squealed, “Eww gross-out!”
“What did you do that for?”
“I didn’t touch it that hard Jeffery. It just went in.”
“Maybe it`s got that West Mile Virus?”
Rabbit’s fingers began to tingle again. “We should go.”
There was another thud a few yards away and then another. The three looked skyward and several more birds began to fall from above.
“Let’s get out of here!”
In blind panic they began to run.