[Fiction] Hinterkaifeck — Eitan Benzion

The wheat grows up like alien shoots. When the wind comes, and the stalks rustle, and the seeds fly off in clusters, those seeds go like souls to Tartarus, whistling and afraid. The barren reeds left standing shift in increments in the haunted afterdraft of wind. At night they seem like spinal crop, vertebrae stacked precarious.

Most days you can count the hours by the horologium of passing chassis, motored by the few engines good enough to get out to this far country without wheezing themselves to death. Feed store goes by early, red truck with rust and a dingy bumper that hangs onto the bed by two loose screws. Its motor whines like a child. Round ten comes the neighbor man, heading to his other plot down the way where he keeps the beeves separate from the sows so as not to breed them. That truck’s a deep blue, near to black, and runs healthily on a good engine. Neighbor man’s rich, he can afford it. About two past noon goes the sheriff with his chuckling engine and the busted right taillight and after he, near sunset, is the 4:05 greyhound to ———. These are the timekeeping regulars for this stretch of road, grains in the hourglass, springs in the watch. Should anything ever end their procession it would be like the end of time and time-telling. As if the deep cracks in the country road’s asphalt had grinned and supped the clock.

Birds in aether floating, spinning. Seem delirious if you watch. Like drunks. The cows just stay downturned, attuned to the ley line charge of volting sparked soil beneath. Every animal here grazes in accord with that subterranean layer, the compelling realm of secret fear that lives beneath their feet. God forbid the crusty nag go clockwise around his ring— that would anger the Deity below, and the nag may become oblation to His unsatiate maw. The way these dumb brutes move around here, you’d think they’re scared of something. Like animal reasoning were real, mutual, coerced.

Just the old jailbird tenant farmer and his elder wife and their sick daughter and skinny grandkid and the imbecile boy they keep for the stables (and keep in the attic when not at work in those stables) seem not to know the unspoken rules of the land, zigging and zagging and presuming to own the place, sowing and reaping it. If they had any sense they’d see it, see that they’re just as accountable to the unspoken thing that lives here and is leaseholder on this plot, that they owe a hefty debt.

Creditor comes at midnight. Sundown had set in blackly hues, orb orbiting out of the sky like a marionette puppet. Darktime sky hangs rotten with woundrot perforations, star shine seeping through. Alas at last that the sun was stole away in a blaze and pitch dark does reign, and regardless of the precedence the stage is set and ready.

Inside, the sallow yellow glow of gas is all to see from without. Its buzzed flickers strobe the window panes so as to bring into relief the dirt streaks and flecks of grime. Strange settles into the place most clearly at night. The fields are parched and demand an offering. There is no chicken, goat, or ram to bloodlet, no priest to do the letting, no penitent assembled faithful to make heard the sorry cry of the nearly damned. Just the altar, just the slab, spread out in the land and aching that the cleaver come. Even so the haunt pasture finds its way. A new car is coming unforeseen even as the family is fat and sleepy with warm milk. The driver and his passenger are grinding teeth and white knuckled. The one reaches for his bag. The engine’s off.

Hinterkaifeck.

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Eitan Benzion’s work has either been published or is forthcoming at Apocalypse Confidential, Misery Tourism, and A Thin Slice of Anxiety. He’s at one of two desks, writing. You can find him on Twitter @natienoizy.