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“Thanks for the hospitality, nurse,” V chuckled at his pun as he limped out the circular doors at the front of the hospital lobby, dragging his wheeled suitcase behind him with his good arm, the left one in a sling. Walking out of the cool hospital and into the sweltering Texas spring was like running into a hot brick wall. But he pushed forward and out towards the parking lot where he was surprised to see Officer Faust waiting there in his squad car.
“Ugh, I thought I said to get going to that kid’s attorney, officer!”
“He’s out of the office today,” the officer smiled as he opened the passenger door of the car and motioned for V to hop on in.
“Is this some sorta weird police joke?” V laughed sarcastically as Officer Faust shook his head.
“No, actually it seems in our haste to get you to the hospital and catch the perp, we neglected to bring your car up here; mainly because you had the keys in your pocket the whole time. So, I’ll be your ride back to your home, Mr. V.” Officer Faust gave him an authentic smile as V conceded and got in the car before they drove off.
“Heh, well I do have one favor to ask of you, officer,” V glanced back at the hospital momentarily.
“Hrm?” Faust enquired as they turned onto the main thoroughfare and headed towards V’s residence.
“Don’t call me Mr. V. It’s not my last name and it just makes me feel old.”
“Boy, I know the feeling!” the middle-aged officer chuckled.
“Every time I hear Mr. Faust, I think ‘man, where’d the time fly to, eh?’”
Faust quieted down after noticing that V was deep in thought; totally reasonable given what he’d been through in the past 72 hours.
“Listen, V,” he said after a few minutes’ worth of quiet driving.
“I don’t want you to get the wrong idea or anything, but, well…how long have you been upstate?”
“Twelve years,” V replied.
“Jeez, twelve years?! Well, it may come as a surprise to you V, but this place has kinda taken a turn for the worst over the past decade or so.” The officer eyed the pieces of loose trash caught in the fencing lining the road as well as the shoddy looking houses that had sprung up where older, nicer houses had fallen in or been bulldozed.
“Lord willing, I and others like me won’t let it completely go to the dogs, but I just thought you’d wanna know that it’s not likely as great as you remember from way back when.”
“Officer, compared to what’s up there in the Dallas area,” V turned to look him with a grimace at the movement in his injured shoulder as well as the memories of the inner city.
“This is practically paradise.”
“Well, thank God I’m a country boy, then,” Faust shuddered perhaps a bit dramatically as he shook the thoughts of something worse than this town away.
“They got drug-runners up there too?”
“Worse; from what I could gather, a lot of the drug gangs are so tough the local law won’t even tangle with them. So if the worst you’ve got down here is some kids cooking up meth in a garage or two, I think you’ve got it made,” V gave a sickly smile.
“I may not be able to get completely away from life’s vices; that’s impossible…but I think the chances of suffering from them less are a bit better here than back up there.”
“For your sake, I hope so,” Faust nodded gruffly as they pulled up in front of V’s home.
“Well, at least your car is still there,” he observed as V popped the squad vehicle door open. As he grabbed his bag to leave, Faust spoke up again.
“Hey V…I know we met under some pretty bad circumstances, but I just wanted to let you know that I admire your resolve in this matter.”
“Thanks,” V replied, honestly not expecting the officer to say something like that. He looked up at the inviting shade of the front porch of the ranch-style home and then back at Faust, really just wanting to get away from the heat of the day for a bit.
“Anyways,” the officer broke the silence.
“I was just gonna say that if you needed anything, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. ‘To Protect and To Serve’ and all that, right?” Faust fondly patted the side of the police car.
“Again, thanks officer. Really,” V gave him a quick smile and a nod and then walked up the driveway, giving his car a cursory glance before heading into the shade of the front porch. He looked back to see Faust was still idling there in the street and wearing a look of concern.
“Um, Officer, I think you can go now; I’m pretty sure I can manage unlocking the front door without getting shot again if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Oh, right, right! Just…not used to having decent folks like you around and I’m just looking out for you, V!” He put the car in gear and looked back once more.
“Good luck!” he called with a blip of the horn.
As the squad car drove around the corner and out of the neighborhood, V gave a short sigh of relief. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the company and protection, but he figured anyone would get just a touch nervous if they basically had a cop shadowing them everywhere. He then turned his attention to the front door.
“Well, guess it’s the moment of truth,” he said aloud as he unlocked the door and slowly pushed it open with a creak.
“….you’ve gotta be frickin’ kidding me…”
The place was an absolute disaster! True, the house had only been up for sale for less than two years, but that was apparently plenty of time to totally trash the place. Hell, it might have been neglected the whole twelve years he’d been away, by the looks of it! Everywhere V turned, that pit in his stomach grew just a bit larger. It wasn’t a feeling of regret, but more of anger at how his childhood home had come to be so…wrecked wasn’t even quite the word; ravaged was more appropriate!
The living room carpet had peeled back, revealing the decades-old floor pad. What little carpet that was still attached to the floor looked to be completely threadbare and filthy, as if someone had simply given up on that room and used what they could as a floormat to clean their feet with. The rest of the old carpet was hacked up into large squares and stacked in the corners of the room or rolled up and piled against the wall. The smell of mold was everywhere! If V hadn’t already smelled worse in both the city and in the ranch pasture of his youth, he might have lost his hospital food lunch right there.
“Jeez…” he groaned, contemplating leaving his suitcase on the cleaner front porch before deciding against it and setting it down on a stack of carpet pieces with a squish. It wasn’t until he saw the small swarm of silverfish come running out of the carpet that he yanked his bag up off the floor and sat it on a sagging end table.
“Good gawd, what the hell happened here, man?!”
He briefly considered calling Officer Faust back to help him before realizing that he probably had more pressing matters than assisting in pest control. Nope, he was on his own in this hellish little endeavor.
He made his way into the dining room to find it significantly less disgusting, if only because the floors were made of tile instead of rotting carpet. But that of course was balanced by the fist-sized hole in the hardwood wall paneling just above the ancient dining room table. V had a feeling that the words ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘hell’ were going to be overused today…
V made his way down the hall adjoining the dining room and quickly inspected the master bedroom. It actually wasn’t all that bad, although the front window was boarded up and there was thick dust EVERYWHERE, even on the bed sheets! It was obvious the room hadn’t been used in a long time. He about-faced and peeked in the bathroom, half-expecting a disaster area, but instead finding the small room stocked with clean toilet paper and with a relatively clean floor and walls.
“Hrm, maybe this isn’t gonna as bad as I thought…”
He made his way down to the bedroom branching off the middle of the hallway to find it completely empty except for the carpet which bore the same thread-bare look as the living room, albeit there wasn’t any floor pad showing through yet.
V was about to continue on to his old room at the back of the house when he passed the second hallway door that led back out to the den. Across the room stood the sliding glass door that led out to the backyard and the ranchland that filled most of it. Curiosity about how the yard had held up got the better of him as he exited the hall and stood before the door.
“I think I’ll save my room for last…”
The heavy window curtains were drawn over the rest of the glass wall that faced the yard, and as he unlocked and slid the door aside, he nearly fell over at the sight.
“Well shit…at least this place was cheap…”
The 14 acres of ranchland his property sat on looked like a jungle of long brown prairie grass and thorn bushes; an innumerable number of shallow holes had been slashed into the ground like a pack of wild hogs had come rooting through the place. The fence had fallen down in several places or leaned to and fro as the wind brushed against it. His heart sank as he beheld all the tree stumps of the huge oak trees that had used to fill the yard near the house with shade. V stepped out onto the back patio and picked up a dirt clod from the edge of the yard; without those trees’ shade, the thick carpet grass had long since died and the ground was dried and parched. The clod crumbled to dust in his hand and blew away in the hot wind.
“Just…why?” V said aloud as made his way to the back of the house. Even the concrete basketball court had been defaced, with pieces of the slab broken off and tossed willy-nilly around the yard, as if some coked-up nut with a jackhammer had just gotten insanely bored. The basketball goal itself looked to have been hacksawed off about a foot above the ground, leaving a rusting stump of a post to match those of the dead trees everywhere.
“I guess someone needed a 9 foot basketball hoop,” V mused in disgust as he kicked a small piece of concrete out into the brush. Within seconds he was greeted with the familiar rasp of a rattlesnake’s warning sounding from the flotsam of the yard.
“Oh, well that’s just really great,” V shook his head despairingly before a large structure halfway out in the yard drew his eye. He couldn’t believe it as he jogged along the worn dirt path that cut through the grass towards the faded red building.
“Well all things considered, I really can’t believe this thing is still standing!” V beamingly declared as he beheld the two-storied barn before him. His grandpa had built the thing decades before V was even born to store supplies for their small ranch, but it had obviously fallen out of use since then. Even so, it still looked to be in fairly good shape. But it wasn’t the defying soundness of the structure that surprised him the most as he neared the large front double doors.
“You know we can’t jus’ give up without a fight for our farm!” a female voice with a heavy country accent hissed from inside the barn.
“It’s our well-bein’ and if’n them brothers take it, what’ll we do then?!”
What in the world…
V leaned his head closer to the door, wary of more possible squatters on the property.
Shoulda asked Faust for a bullet proof vest or something.
“Ah know, Ah know, but they’ve run off everyone else with their machines; even if we work our flanks off, we can’t keep up with them!” a male voice replied with a worried tone that belied the deepness of it.
“Ah say we go out an’ bust their stuff up at night; that’ll show’em!” a third voice much higher then the other two practically squeaked in a southern accent that would have been adorable to V if he wasn’t concerned about who exactly the voices belonged to…and why did they sound so familiar?!
“No we can’t stoop to their level of back-stabbin’ dishonesty, sugarcube,” the first voice replied.
“Ya know that ain’t how the Apple family does things!”
“Aww AJ, ya sure we can’t just at least put holes in their tires an”-
V recoiled slightly from the door in shock before leaning back in, eyes as wide as half-dollars.
“Ah said NO and Ah mean NO, Applebloom!” the first voice said with a stomp on the ground that disturbed the dirt around V’s feet even outside the barn.
“Ugh this is just a real pain in the flank. Makes me wonder what Granny Smith’d do if she was still here…”
The first voiced wavered a bit at the end of the statement.
“Aww don’t you worry AJ; we’ll get it figured out an”-
The deep voice suddenly halted and was replaced by a snuffling noise and a few quiet whispers that V couldn’t make out. He was still in disbelief at who the voices sounded like, but he couldn’t bring himself to fully believe it as he reached for the right side door handle with his good arm.
V the heat’s getting to your head! There’s no way or reason for them to be here!
Thoughts like that were just insane…right?
V found his voice as he grabbed the handle and prepared to yank the door open.
“Alright! I dunno who’s in there, but this is my barn, and you’re trespassing in it! I’ll give you one chance to leave before I call the cops!”
For a split second V wished he’d brought some sort of weapon with him, but that thought was whisked away as he pulled the door open, a splash of sunlight cutting into the dark and dusty structure.
“Hello? Who’s in here?” V tried to sound tough, but his voice wavered audibly as he realized just how dumb a decision he’d made walking from a bright exterior into a dark building-he was effectively blind.
“What in tarnation is that!?” the female voice cried out as something pounded the ground towards him.
“Get back, AJ! YAAAAAAAAH!!”
V held his good arm out before him in a lame defense as a large dark red shape hit him full speed and sent him flying backwards and crashing up against the closed door. He looked up to see teeth and an angry-looking muzzle snorting in his face.
“What are ya doin’ in our barn, huh?!”
“Y-your barn?” V coughed, trying to focus, but it was no use.
“This isn’t your barn…ugh”-
V slid to the ground and slowly blacked out as a blurry orange shape appeared out of the shadows and began berating the red shape; her voice was a distant muffled yell, but he recognized who it was…he still couldn’t believe it.
Small note: The house described here is as close to my own actual childhood home as I could remember as well as the recent photos I saw from it...it's seriously in that bad a shape now! But now we need an explanation as to what the hay AJ and her family are doing in V's barn, methinks! Again, feedback is appreciated! ^^