By Mord McGhee
Tony Hutchins opened the door to the shed. Old hinges creaked from rust and the smell of wood washed over him. Wet wood. Freshly cut wood. It was summer. Sticky hot, and the stockpile he’d brought in from trimmings of neighborhood trees stood like soldiers against one wall. He flicked on the light and walked inside, and to his horror, the guitar he’d spent so long working on lay on its side, neck broken in two. On the ground, a pile of feathers. Gray and brown, and a spot of blood upon the concrete. His heart dropped. “What the heck happened?” he said, and as if on cue, there was thunder.
He heard footsteps and his neighbor Ed was there. The older man grunted, said, “Back to the drawing board.”
“Yeah,” said Tony, blankly.
“What got in?” Ed asked, nodding his head towards the door.
“Nothing,” Tony returned. “Mean, the door was locked.” Ed walked away, and as Tony watched him go the old man threw his hands into the air for a moment then slid them into his pant pockets.
Tony dragged out a plastic chair which was tucked beneath his workbench, and he sat glumly regarding the busted instrument. With a heavy sigh he considered what it would take to make repairs, trying to decide if it was even worth the effort. The wood had come from a yard outside Charleston, two hours away. And though he could find something local, he didn’t think he could afford to, anyhow. Since his stroke he hadn’t been able to focus on anything other than working with wood. Then he saw something out of place.
He slid the chair back, and below the desk was a hole in the boards of the shed’s wall. Rising, he stepped outside and around the back. The hole was barely visible from there because of some flowers in planters. Three of them, and directly behind was a gap in the siding. With hands to hips he looked around for what could have done it. There were no animals he knew of who like to rip holes through the poly-board material. Maybe once it was there, he could see a cat or a snake or something had come inside, but otherwise it didn’t make sense. It was then Ed came back around the corner, an eight-foot board and a table saw in his hands. He said, “Here. You’ll need these if you don’t have some.”
Tony shook his head, said, “You saw this?” pointing down at the opening.
“Nope,” Ed returned.
“Last month a coyote dug into my tomato box,” he said, “and I just took a guess.” He leaned the board against the shed and placed the saw on the ground. “Think it was a coyote, anyway. Need help?”
“No,” Tony said. “But yeah, take a look.”
“Hmm,” Ed said. “How it is they do that I’ll never know.”
Tony came back around to the front, looked inside, and said, “I don’t know. Should talk to somebody about it, so it doesn’t happen again.” Ed shrugged, walked off. Tony called out, “Thanks!” and Ed threw his hands into the air over his head momentarily, then went into his back door.
Tony stood thinking, and at last took out two sawhorses and set them up. He took apart the end siding panels and exposed the length of the panel he needed to replace. Inside he shoved a Styrofoam package spacer and sealed off the inner insulation where it was gaping. Returning outside, he cut the board to specification and mounted it to the framing. Although the poly-board didn’t match color exactly, the hole was gone.
He folded down the horses and took them back inside. Taking the leftover board cuts, he tossed them into the corner with the other scrap. As he was about to clean up the mess where the feathers and broken guitar were, his eyes met something he hadn’t expected. From the shadowy heights of the rafters within two eyes shined back at him and coming out cover was a large iridescent brown head, and from its thin lips darted a forked tongue. Tony gasped, jumped outside, and slammed the door, trapping the snake inside.
“Ed!” he pounded on his neighbor’s door.
Ed appeared, chewing a bite from a sandwich in his hand. With a mouth full of it he said, “Wasn’t a coyote.”
“No,” said Tony.
“Way your hands are shaking,” Ed said, “my guess is it’s a snake.”
“Big one!” said Tony. “Hanging on the beam above the door. Almost got me.”
“One second,” Ed said, going further inside. Tony averted his eyes because he realized Ed was naked. A minute later Ed came back, stepping out through his screen door. He now had shorts and a shirt on, and sandals. He looked down at a card in his hand and then passed it to Tony. “Call that number,” he said.
Tony laughed uncomfortably, said, “I can’t afford to have someone trap it.”
“Just call,” Ed said. “See what she says.”
“She?” said Tony. “Who is this?”
Ed shrugged, “Some woman from up Vereen. Goes around rescuing snakes.”
“Need someone to rescue me,” said Tony. Then he tapped the card against his hand which only had a phone number in black against a white field. “Alright.”
Tony looked at his shed, and the thing now looked ten times its size. He left Ed be and walked back to it slowly, eyes peeled for any movement. Every step he was sure the snake would come leaping out at him. From the grass, from above the door when he pulled it open at last, and from the overhead wooden beams. When he finally did do just that, he thought he saw something brown and iridescent sliding on the ground near Styrofoam wedge he’d placed.
“Oh! thank heavens,” he said, glad it was going back whence it had slithered. Except that he’d just fixed that way out. Tony backed up, left the door as wide as it would go, and went into his house for the rest of the day.
The next day it became clear straightaway that the snake had not left willingly. Tony stepped off his porch and came towards the shed, leaning so that he could see fully inside the open door. “Shoot,” he said, seeing eyeshine in the rafters. Growing upset, he raced inside and grabbed a broom, then returning he poked and prodded until the reptile had vanished back into the shadows. In a worse way than before, he threw the broom onto the lawn and went back into the house. A minute later he was dialing the number Ed had given him.
“Howdy,” said a pleasant voice on the other end. “It’s your quarter, so speak to me.”
“Um, hello,” Tony said. “Have a snake.”
“Hot mama!” the woman on the other end said. “Where you at?”
“No good,” she said. “Can’t be there till tomorrow.”
Tony said, “No, that’s great. That’s great! Here’s my address.”
“Meantime is its head shaped like a spade or not so much?” she said.
Tony said, “Didn’t get a clear look. Sorry.”
“Worry not, my friend,” she said, cheerfully. “See you tomorrow!”
In the end it took three days. But she took the snake away without anyone being hurt, snake included. Her parting words were, “Next time skip the broom and just call. Lucky she wasn’t ornery.”
That night it rained steadily for hours. A good old coastal soaking. In the morning, the grass was still wet, crawling with loud barking treefrogs. The yellow and green critters dove for cover upon his passing, but Tony set out to decide what to do for the last time with the broken guitar.
The neighborhood cat came around, meowing in his smoker’s voice, demanding treats. Tony dropped three onto the floor and watched him sniff around the shop. “Some help you were,” he told the stray feline. Then the cat turned and padded out, disappearing into the woods.
Tony grabbed the guitar’s snapped neck, lifting it to get a better look. It was a shame because the dark walnut stain had come out perfectly. Then he moved the mason jar of homemade wood finish to the side of his bench and set upon it a piece of masking tape, upon which he wrote ‘Dark Walnut’ with a permanent marker. He then started recovering the machine heads with the satisfaction that at least something came out of it all.
Mord McGhee’s work can be read in four published novels and anywhere literary fiction is found. He is currently a board member of Rowayat.org and an associate editor for Ariel Publishing and Parsec SFF. Two unpublished manuscripts are Claymore Award Finalists of ’22, and upcoming are novellas ‘The Stroke of Oars’ and ‘Mind Poker.’ Mord is also an associate executive producer for upcoming feature film ‘The Man in the White Van.’ Mordmcghee.com for more! On a personal note, Mord collects fossils.