The house was what one would think of when asked to conjure an image of a farmhouse. It was a white two-story structure with faded and chipped white paint. The house had a covered front porch with two large wooden rocking chairs positioned to look out over the lawn stretching toward the road. The main door was open and through the screen door came the muffled sounds of cheering from a television set. I knocked on the screen door. There was a pregnant silence and I was about to knock a second time when I heard shuffling. I was greeted by an elderly hunchback woman in a cotton dress with a floral pattern and pink slippers that made a scuffing sound when she walked. Her white hair was pulled into a bun and she wore an oversized pair of glasses. A twang of disappointment hit me once I recognized how feeble she was. There was no way this woman, or her husband, could deliver the wood. The old woman pushed open the screen door a few inches to talk to me.
She said, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I said. I thumbed over my shoulder at the firewood. “I would like to buy some firewood but I don’t have a way to haul it.”
“Oh,” she said. “That’s no problem. My son can deliver for an extra ten dollars.”
“That would be great.”
She pushed the door open farther and said, “He’s at work right now. But if you want I can take down your address and number. He’ll call you to set up a time.”
I nodded and she motioned for me to enter the house. She led me through a darkened living room lined with overstuffed brown leather furniture and brown carpet and cheap imitation wood paneling. The walls were covered with old and worn photos of people I assumed were family members. The room was illuminated by the faint sunlight trickling through the sheer curtains and the glow of a television airing a daytime gameshow. I followed her into a brightly lit kitchen with an old Formica topped table with worn red vinyl covered chairs. A napkin holder sat in the middle of the table along with a small notepad and pen. She handed me the latter two and I wrote down my name, address, and number, being careful to print it neatly so it could be read easily. I was used to scribbling down things only I could decipher. When I was done I handed her the note pad, reached into my back pocket, retrieved my wallet, and thumbed through the bills.
“You never mind that,” she said. She looked at what I’d written, squinted, and simultaneously said, “You pay Charles when he delivers.” Her expression changed into one of surprise as she read the notepad. “Oh!”
“Is there a problem?” I stowed my wallet in my back pocket.
The old woman looked at me. “You moved into Karen’s old cabin?”
“She was my mother.”
She made a clucking noise and shook her head. “Was a shame to hear about her passing. Your mama was a nice lady. Used to stay and drink a cup of coffee with me when she placed her order.” She waved her hand dismissively at me and smiled with a touch of nostalgia. “We’d gossip about those peculiar characters down the road from her like a couple of school girls.”
“She told you about those two?”
The old woman held up three fingers.
“Three?” I said.
She nodded over animatedly. She gave a dry little laugh and laced the fingers of her hands together. “Don’t listen to me. Your mama was creative with those tall tales. I let her pull my leg all the time. I don’t get many visitors and I let people go on and on for a little bit of company. People ’round here come up with all kinds of stories about the local hermits.”
“What did she tell you?”
“Oh.” Her face flushed. “Mostly about what she heard coming from the cabin late at night. Said she was certain the father was having an inappropriate relationship with that girl.” She raised her eyebrows as if to question whether I understood what she was insinuating.
“Uhf,” was all I managed to get out. A sickening chill ran up my spine and a pang of disgust emanated deep in the pit of my stomach.
“She also had some crazy tales about a tall creature who ran around . . . nude in the woods at night. She said it lived with those people.”
“Honey, don’t you worry yourself about all that cockamamie. Old wives’ tales. People been hollerin’ about creatures in the woods for as long as I can remember. Sasquatch and wolf men and deformed inbred lunatics. It’s all malarkey.” She tapped her temple with the corner of the note pad. “And sometimes being a shut-in for too long can play tricks on the mind.”
She tapped my chest with the notepad, hitting the cuts on my chest. The pain renewed and I fought the urge to wince or grab her hand to stop her.
“You never mind those stories,” she said sternly. “They’re old spook stories to give the kiddies night terrors.”
“Did you ever meet her neighbors?”
She placed the notepad on the kitchen table. “No. They don’t buy firewood from us.” She slowly took a seat at the table. “Would you like to stay for a bit? I could make some coffee or tea.”
A part of me wanted to know more about what my mother told her. It was out of character for my mother to make up stories about monsters in the woods. And she must have heard something or seen something terrible to make such a vile accusation about Lloyd and his daughter. It struck me as odd she didn’t tell Phillip anything more than they had taken out her trash if she suspected they were committing such terrible acts.
The elderly woman appeared lonely and in want of a gossiping companion. I did want to know everything my mother told her but I had some grocery items in my car and I didn’t exactly feel comfortable or believe what the woman was saying. There were only two people living in the other cabin that I was aware of. It was more likely the old woman had my mother mixed up with someone else or the stories she was eluding to were constructed of her own imagination. Or delusions brought on by the onset of a mentally deteriorating disease.
“No, thank you though. I have some things in my car I need to refrigerate.”
“Maybe another time?”
I nodded. “Sure. Another time.” I knew I was only placating her. I would probably never return until I needed more firewood.
“All right then,” she said.
I said my goodbyes and she reassured me her son would call that evening. I informed her my phone didn’t have the greatest reception and told her to tell her son to leave a message if I didn’t answer. I left with a headful of dreadful images and questions about Lloyd and his daughter and whatever might be lurking in the woods. I tried to tell myself none of it was real but I couldn’t remember a time when my mother lied about something so ridiculous if the woman could be believed and my mother had been the one telling the stories. The lies Mom constructed about our financial situation while Phillip and I were kids was one thing. She was protecting us from unnecessary adult worries and taking on the burden and stress herself. She never tried to appease us with superfluous nonsense stories or bedtime fables. If it were true, if Mom had been the one originating the tales, this was something completely different and out of character for her.