“Banks just gonna sell this land. We’re doin’ them a favor.” He runs the back of his hand across his forehead, pushing his sweat-soaked black hair off his face. “If we don’t take it, it’ll end up in some junkyard. ’Least we take it we reuse it.”
I shrug and wedge the flat end of a crowbar between two pieces of wood. The wood slats have aged dark, but it’s the posts behind them I’m interested in. Leveraging with my weight, the old nails give way easily and I start a pile of salvageable wood. Cody does the same, throwing out pieces that are fragile and cracked. We fall into silence working side by side until our shirts are wet and our forearms and necks are pink and sting from the sun.
Once there’s nothing left to the structure, I motion to a small pile of rocks that is all that’s left of the cabin. “Not much more we can get out of this one.”
“Thank fuck. It’s hot as hell out here.” He tosses his crowbar and I load the first of a healthy pile of salvage wood into the back of the pickup. “Watch your back.” His eyes grow wide in mock fear. “Old Man Wilson might be lurking.”
I strong-arm a large pile of wood into the truck carefully to avoid splinters the size of pencils. “I thought you said the bank owned it?”
He chuckles and fires a few long planks into the truck bed, tossing up dirt. “I’m talking about the dead one.” He wiggles his gloved fingers and makes a haunted Ooooo sound before laughing.
“You mean a ghost?” I attempt to inflect humor into my voice and fail.
“Ahh . . . that’s right. You’ve only been here for a couple months. You’re not familiar with Payson’s history.” He tosses in an armful of planks and leans against the tailgate, breathing hard. “Wilson family. One of the first homesteaders in town, back in 1880 or some shit.”
I listen, but just barely, preoccupied with separating and loading wood.
“Old man Wilson was hard on the boys, used a horse whip on ’em, or so rumor has it.”
My head buzzes and vision blurs.
“One night they banned together, busted into their parents’ bedroom while they were sleeping.” He motions to the stone chimney of the main house. “Right over there, man. Those boys slit their father’s throat.”
I brace myself against the truck. Cody doesn’t seem to notice, or he just assumes I’m exhausted. Maybe that’s all it is, that combined with the heat.
“In the man’s own bed. Got their payback by watching him bleed out all over their own mother.”
My eyes focus on the wood, studying every intricate curve of its grain to keep in the present and fight off the gray haze edging my vision. I blink and wipe sweat from my eyes, hoping it’s the cause of my blurry view.
Not a blackout. Please, do not black out.
“They buried the man’s body somewhere on their land. When people started to figure things out, family said he’d been attacked by a mountain lion. Their mom carried that to her grave, never would give her sons up.” He chuckles and the sound of his boots crunching against dirt cuts through my near-blackout fog. “Story goes, the sound of their mother’s screams can still be heard in the night.”
I cringe. The tailgate slams shut.
Blackness flickers before my eyes.
“Whoa, dude, you okay?”
I blink back the darkness to find Cody, his hands on my shoulders and his concerned expression less than a foot from my face.
I blacked out. But only for a second.
“I’m fine, yeah.” I step back and dip my chin to wipe my sweaty face on my shoulder. “Hot. That’s all.”
“Freaky-ass shit, man.” His gaze moves over my face. “Your eyes, they . . .” He motions to my eyes. “Your face got all serious and your eyes . . .” He grins and starts laughing. “Oh, I get it!” He shoves me and shakes his head. “Real funny, asshole.”
“Ha, yeah. I was just messin’ around.” I reach into the cab of the truck to grab my water. My pulse pounds in my neck and I slow my breathing.
That was close. Way too close. Luckily this one was short enough to explain away. If I had a real blackout in front of Cody, he’d know my secret. I can’t afford to get too close and let my guard down. I slipped up. That can’t happen again. If I screw this up and they find out who I am, what I’ve done, I’ll never be able to stay here.
He comes around to the passenger side and hops in, still chuckling. “Remind me to never play ghost stories with you, freaky bastard.”
Freaky bastard. If he only knew how true that is.
God, this house is oppressive.