by Karen Duvall
by Karen Duvall
Esther stepped out of the Jeep and into a yard bursting with wildflowers. Dozens of hummingbirds hovered over them, their wings buzzing like a swarm of bees as they flitted from blossom to blossom. Just beyond lay the weathered old cabin that had belonged to her grandfather before he disappeared.
A shove from behind made her stumble.
Chris pushed past her and laughed. "You're blockin' the road, Buckwheat."
She glared at his ample backside and watched him mow down a swath of wildflowers with his size thirteen Reeboks. The hummingbirds darted out of his way.
Esther trod over the path of crushed flowers to the front porch. "You have no respect for nature."
Chris dropped his box of cleaning supplies and wiped sweat from his freckled forehead with a shirt sleeve. "So what? It's all getting bull-dozed anyway."
"You don't know that."
He chuckled. "No one's gonna buy a shabby, seventy-year-old cabin with a leaky roof and no indoor plumbing."
Esther frowned. "It has its charm."
"This cabin is a piece of crap."
She dug a key from her back pocket and slipped it into the enormous keyhole on the front door. "Grampa loved this place."
"Grampa was crazy."
Not really. Esther's grandfather had only been a little touched in the head before he disappeared, but that was because of his stroke. It wasn't his fault.
She rattled the doorknob. "It's stuck."
"Let me," Chris said, reaching for the door.
"I'll do it." Harry, Esther's brother, heaved their luggage from the Jeep. He barreled his way between Chris and Esther, his lanky body towering a foot above them both. "Wussies. Leave it to a man to do a man's job."
Chris rolled his eyes.
Harry rammed the door with his shoulder. "It's not... stuck... any... more." He grunted and flung himself against the plank of old boards. The hinges gave way and the door flew inward. "I'll fix it tomorrow."
Esther stood facing the open doorway and stared in disbelief. "Good lord!"
Chris stood beside her. "What the hell happened in here?"
"Some cobwebs and a little dust. No big deal. What do you expect after two years?" Harry peeled a matted web from the front of his shirt as he turned around. He took one look at the walls inside. "Holy shit!"
Streaks of sunlight cut through a fog of disturbed dust and shone over dingy gray walls covered with writing.
Chris's eyes widened as he scanned the string of foreign words on all four walls. "Looks like it was written with brown paint."
Harry leaned close to a wall and sniffed. He shook his head. "Not paint. Smells like blood to me."
Esther stayed in the doorway, amazed by the scope of writing that filled nearly every inch of wall space. The alphabet was English, but the combination of letters looked like nonsense. Was this Grampa's work? She squinted, a word she recognized catching her attention. She pointed at it and said, "Does that say 'humbenthalos'?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "That's what Grampa used to call the hummingbirds. Check out how it's repeated over and over."
"He'd told us he made it up. I wonder if he made all this up, too." Esther stepped into the room to take it all in. "But when? Before or after his stroke?"
Chris shook his head. "Doesn't matter. It's all coming down anyway."
"I wish you'd stop saying that." She ran her hand across one of the words and sniffed her fingers before wiping them on her jeans. "I wonder where the blood came from."
Harry tilted his head toward the kitchen. "I think your answer is in here."
At the far corner of the kitchen lay the dried, partially decomposed corpses of several animals. Esther couldn't tell for sure what they'd been before their mutilation, but she recognized at least one raccoon and a skunk. The long, skeletal snout peeking from the bottom of the heap was probably a coyote.
"Now that's disgusting." Chris covered his nose with the hem of his shirt.
The carcasses were mummified and didn't smell like anything, but Esther detected a very faint scent of dry earth mixed with rotting vegetables. Though it was the height of summer, not a single fly hovered around the mound of decaying bodies.
Esther knew she should be repulsed, but she felt fascinated instead. The condition of her grandfather's cabin was like a puzzle that had a solution for opening doors to places she'd only dreamed of...
Harry tapped her lightly on the shoulder. "Earth to Esther."
She spun around to face him. "I was just thinking how odd that it doesn't stink in here."
Chris still had his nose covered. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, man," Harry said. "It just smells like dust."
Chris backed out of the kitchen. "I need some air." He rushed outside to the porch.
Harry followed. "You okay?"
Chris bent forward to clasp his hands over his thick knees. Sweat darkened the red hair at the back of his neck and his pudgy sides heaved like a bellows. "I'm fine. Couldn't breathe in there, that's all."
Harry overturned a bucket from the box of cleaning stuff and sat, gesturing for Chris to do the same. Esther joined them, settling herself on the weather-polished boards of the porch floor.
"I used to love this place when I was a kid," Chris said. "But now it creeps me out."
"Because Grampa's dead?" Harry asked.
Chris stared at him. "No, idiot. Because of the blood on the walls and the dead animals in the kitchen. That's not normal."
"Maybe Grampa isn't dead," Esther said.
Both men looked at her as if she'd just sprouted a third eye.
End of Part 1
Tune in next Saturday, October 8, for Part 2 of Humbenthalos
© 2011 Karen Duvall