Mud People

Mud People

By Billy Bob

Remember Stewey? Maybe you wouldn’t. You ain’t been here long, and that was almost ten years back. It’s only about three years since you bought this place from Larry what’s-his-name, right? Well, Stewey was long gone even before Larry bought it. Larry was the one changed the name to the Howdy Do Bar & Grill. I’ll have another Cutty, by the way. And slide them pickled eggs down here, would you?  I’m hungry.

Yeah. Before that, this place used to be called Dave and Dotty’s. They was the couple had that retarded girl, the one that disappeared. It was big news around here. Yup. Old Stewey was a strange one. Young fella when I knew him, maybe not even twenty. Could have been nice-looking, except he was one of the dirtiest critters I ever seen. To this day, I don’t know what his last name was, even though I spent three months living with him in a tent up Ten-Mile road when we was working on the drilling project Asarco was running up there.

That was how I come to be here, in fact, just before I went on social security and decided to stay for good. I like this town. I was born and raised in Boise, but I always did prefer things up in the panhandle. Folks up here might be a little nuttier than average, but they got an independent streak. I like that.

Well, me and Stewey had a little camp about a half mile into the national forest right on Horsefeather Creek. That’s the one runs into the Clearwater River at the stone bridge. Take away the mountainside and the trees, and you might could have spotted us from here with binoculars. We had a pretty sizeable old tent, one of them army surplus ones that looked like a little house. We could have stayed at the motel here in town if we’d been on the company tit like the drill bosses was, but hell. Couldn’t do it on the pay we got, and I was trying to save my money. Course, Stewey wouldn’t have lived in a motel anyway. He was half animal. High strung.

Sometimes I’d wake up at night and he’d be gone. He’d be off in the woods. I swear he could see in the dark. He had a crossbow, and he liked to sneak up on things. We’d have fresh meat a lot of times, usually squirrels or rabbits. Once we ate a fox. He brought a deer back one morning and gutted it out while I was trying to eat my breakfast. Sunk the carcass in the crick, and since it was ice cold, we feasted on venison for a month. Just go over to the crick and cut off a section. And he never lost an arrow. Bolts, I guess you call them. Anyway. Economical.

Other times, I don’t know what the hell he was doing at night. Just off roaming, I guess. Seen him outside the tent once, on his knees in the moonlight for maybe half an hour, solid still except for every once in a while his head would twitch this way or that. Like a deer. Almost thought I could see his ears move. Made my skin crawl.

One time I had a nightmare about him gutting me out like that deer. Most of the time he was fairly normal, though. For around here, anyway. Always thought he would have made a good caveman. Maybe his mother was some hillbilly gal that mated with a Sasquatch. Don’t believe I ever saw him wash or take a bath.

It didn’t bother him a bit we never got clean all summer. We spent all day on a rig in a cloud of smoke from a big Deutz diesel motor, taking a drill string up and down in a mess of mud and grease and gummy drill-hole additives, and we sweated like pigs most of the time. We’d come back to camp covered with grease, sleep in grease and go back to work the next day to get us covered with some more. Half the time we come home too tired to get firewood, so we’d just light up some diesel fuel and roast stuff like Vienna sausages and squirrels over it, and that diesel fuel got all over everything. The campsite pretty much turned black and stunk with it.

So I’m not saying it bothered me to get a little dirty either. I sure never was anybody that would get invited to tea with the ladies. You could scrub off in the creek with some soap, but it didn’t work all that good. Water was too damn cold, I guess. I didn’t get a shower until I moved into town that fall. Wasn’t a bad life, though, except we didn’t have no cots so we had to sleep on them foam pads.

I did kind of like the life, truth be known, though even then I was getting kind of old for it. I had my pistol, and Stewey had an AR-15 he got somewhere, and come twilight we’d get drunk and shoot bats. Stewey sure did like to shoot. Said more than once he wouldn’t ever want to live in a place where you couldn’t shoot any way you pleased any time you wanted to. If we was drunk enough, we’d just go over to the crick and shoot us up a fish dinner.

Folks said they could hear us way down here in town. Nobody ever came up to steal anything from our camp, because they thought we was crazy enough to be dangerous. And I’m still not sure that wasn’t true about Stewey. He did have a mean streak. Hot blooded. Hammered a Canuck real bad one night right in the parking lot of this very bar, and for no reason I could see. When Canucks come this side of the border, they was walking on thin ice as far as Stewey was concerned. Don’t know why that was.

Course, Stewey was okay if you got to know him, but even then he was hard to live with. We was drinking hard right along then, like I said. I was just starting to get the gout at that time, and my legs used to hurt pretty bad at night, and I guess I used to moan a bit. Stewey would wake up and yell for me to shut up and throw things at me and call me a goddamn old fool.

Well, the real fool was Stewey. When he come down here to town one time to buy beer and ammunition, he fell in love with a retarded girl. Darcie. She was, what, maybe 15 years old? But well formed, you know? And she had that magic. Whatever it is about some women that they might not have a face and a body that’s all that different from another woman, but it makes you want them real bad? Like they cast a spell. Something about their eyes or the way they move, or just the way they look when they ain’t doing nothing. Got a glow about them. Some people say it’s chemicals they give off. Darcie was dumb as a dog, but whatever it was, it was coming off her like steam.

Well, I’m old, but I ain’t dead. I could feel it. Now a young buck like Stewey, come up against a gal like that, like as not he’d cut off an arm just for one chance to get his hands on her. So her parents were the ones that was running this place back then, before they sold it to Larry and he changed the name to the Howdy Do. Oh, did I already say that? Guess I’m getting senile.

Better have another Cutty. And how about one of them meat sticks, too? Well, Darcie’s parents didn’t pay much attention to what she did, and she just kind of roamed around loose. Used to spend a lot of time off in the woods by herself. As far as I can figure, Stewey followed her out in the woods one day.

That was about the time he really got strange. Late in the summer, like September maybe, and he said he didn’t want to drink with me no more. Said she didn’t like it. Gave me his gun and said to keep it. Said she didn’t like it. Kicked me out of the tent, and I moved into town, and the next time I come back to look the camp was gone. I still got that gun of his, by the way.

I’d see him in town every once in a while, but he wouldn’t tell nobody nothing about where he lived. I think she knew, though. Folks would see her hitch-hiking up County 12 along the Clearwater, and from what I heard, she always wanted to be dropped off in a different place. Always up around Troy Falls, though. And then she’d just disappear in the woods. I think she was half animal too.

Then Stewey stopped showing up in town altogether. Just disappeared, and I ain’t seen him since. That wasn’t long after that Arab guy come up from Spokane and bought the Sinclair. Jerry, everybody called him, but his real name was Ah-Mood or Bah-Bood or one of them names they like to take up. People were damned if they were going to put up with that, so they called him Jerry. Seemed like an okay guy, though. He was all by himself, kind of a loner like a lot of other people around here, I guess. Worked on my truck once and did just fine. Except  I couldn’t find my sunglasses afterwards, and I was sure I’d left them on the dash. Always had my suspicions about that.

Wasn’t long afterwards that Darcie disappeared for good, and what do you think? She was last seen being picked up by none other than that Jerry, right out past the edge of town where County 12 meets the highway. Ain’t been seen since. Jerry told the sheriff he dropped her off on his way fishing up the Clearwater, and his neighbors even said he gave them some fish to prove it. But you know how some folks are around here about people who don’t look like them. Just won’t cut them no slack at all. Not as nutty as that Aryan crowd over by Naples, but still. Narrow minded.

Sheriff Holtz had his prejudices too. Still does, and everybody knows it. You ever hear him go on about mud people? Well, he arrested Jerry and got the district attorney up from Bonners Ferry. The DA looked into it and said he didn’t see any reason why Jerry should be charged. No evidence, he said. Jerry had a clean record and seemed like an upstanding citizen. Girls will run away, he told the sheriff. Course, as Sheriff Holtz has pointed out lots of times since, the DA was a jew. Now I don’t hold no firm opinions on the Trilateral Commission like the sheriff does, but still. I guess you never know.

At any rate, the Sheriff wasn’t too happy about the way things worked out.  Darcie’s parents were all over him, and he finally had to tell them the same thing the DA told him, though it must have made him choke to say it. He spent a lot of time watching Jerry after that. Other people were suspicious of Jerry too. There were those that liked him, of course, but you got your mix of people in any town.

Wellsir, they found old Jerry up a logging road with about five holes from a deer rifle in him. Sheriff never did find out who did it. Course, I don’t imagine he looked too hard neither. Ask my opinion, I think that whole situation went the wrong way. I do believe folks got the wrong idea about Jerry, but such things will happen, I guess. Not that I’m no expert. Darn shame about old Jerry, though.

Know what I think? I think Stewey and Darcie are still out there in the woods. Carl Nelson’s wife, now, she claims she saw the two of them at a shopping mall down in Spokane, but I don’t buy that. I think they’re still around.

Sometimes when I go up on the Clearwater fishing, and it’s getting on dusk, I hear voices. You know how a river can sound like voices at night? A million little sounds that all run together and make you think they sound like something else? Like maybe the little people are all around you, out there whispering in the bushes and shadows where you can’t see? Or ghost voices, maybe.

Well, I think I hear kids’ voices. More than once I’ve heard a noise in the woods and spun around to look and thought I seen something go out of sight or heard something running. Spooky as hell. Could just be the river, or maybe squirrels or deer. Then again, maybe there’s some half-retarded animal kids running around up there.

Course, maybe I just drink too much. Maybe ought to stop. My feet are starting to keep me awake at night with the gout again, even in a nice soft bed. But you know what I think? I think it’s too bad she made him give up his gun, or I bet I could sure find them come twilight.

I’ll have another one of them pickled eggs, I guess. Say, I’m hungry. Think you could fire up that griddle and make me a cheeseburger?

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