Struggling through the bog at the back of the farm, Brody shifted the black garbage bag tucking it under his left arm, his right clearing a path through a mosquito fog.
“There’s a special place in hell for people like you,” he said.
Mike, five meters ahead, turned and stood at ease. “D’ya mean military folks or people who have a moral code? Either way, if that’s a qualifier for eternal damnation, then sign me up.” He watched the smaller man struggle. “What’s the hold up? That weed can’t weigh more than 3 Kgs.”
Brody stopped and adjusted the bag once again. Solar plexus, he strategized. Only way to shut this arrogant prick up. “I’m referring to people who can’t mind their own fucking business…” Taking the last few steps to solid ground, he tossed the bag at the soldier’s feet. “Do-gooders who think they’re saving the world by taking the moral high ground, all the while their own family’s up the shit creek… Moral code, what a joke.”
Mike stepped backwards, away from the garbage bag. “Why can’t we just toss this into the water and be done with it? Then we could walk on back to the house and act like none of this ever happened.”
“I’ve already told you; I’m not throwing it away. Besides, it belongs to Bryce.” Brody took out his phone.
“Correct. It belongs to your son…”
“I have a plan.”
“Plan? The sort of plan that includes rewarding your kid for bad behaviour—”
“It’s my strategy… and it’s got fuck all to do with you.” Brody dialled his wife’s number.
“It absolutely does have something to do with me! Why else would I be out here with you, traipsing through—”
“Shut up! Just shut up, please— Hi, it’s me. Are they still there?” Brody turned his back on Mike.
Bryce and Matthew sat on the front steps of the old stone farm house. Their mothers were escorting the officers around the property looking for a marijuana stash that had been anonymously reported a few hours earlier.
“My mom is so pissed off. I can hear it in her voice,” said Matthew.
“Mine too,” said Bryce.
“At least yours already knew about the weed. My dad hid my shit away from my mom ‘cause he said she’d overreact.” Matthew picked at a scab on his leg. “We never should have introduced them to each other. And on Labour Day. Stupid.”
“I know. Who knew they’d drink so much? And stinkin’ talk about everything.” Bryce scratched at the handwritten lettering on the water bottle he held in his hand. Brody, it said; his dad’s water bottle.
“Yeah, my parents NEVER talk to anyone about my disabilities. Like, never.”
“My parents tell everyone I’m dyslexic all the time. It’s their way of hiding their embarrassment that I can’t read. Pretending to be okay with it, I guess.”
“Weird,” said Matthew and flicked the scab away. He spread the blood coming out of the sore in different directions on his leg. “Compass.” He showed Bryce his work and then wiped it away with his shirt.
“When your dad just blurted out all that stuff about the animals, I was like, holy fuck!” Bryce took out his phone and checked the time.
“Yeah, but then your dad fuckin’ told all of them that we met on the dark web. How did he know that? I mean, Jesus, why did you tell him that?”
“When my dad found the last crop, I just blurted everything out. I couldn’t help it. I guess telling him about your animal stuff took the pressure off me a bit. I’m sorry man.”
“It’s just that now they know I’m off my meds. And they’ll never let me carry on using the marijuana. They’re so fuckin military, by the book and all that shit.”
“And I’m guessing my mom is going to be taking me to a new shrink; I like my old shrink.” Matthew slouched a little further into himself.
“Fuck. Sorry. I’m really sorry man.”
“K… Hey, nice surprise finding out that your dad kept the last crop. Do you think he’ll let you keep it?”
“Not a chance. I have no clue what he’s going to do with it.”
“Maybe he’s been smoking’ it…” The boys laughed. They heard their mother’s coming around the corner with the cops trailing close behind. Bryce stood and pulled up his pants; Matthew wiped hard at the last bit of blood on his leg.
“Fuck. Fuck!” Brody jammed his phone into his jean pocket. He looked over at, Mike. This is all your fault. “Bring the weed,” he said.
“Nope. No way my prints are getting anywhere near that bag–”
“That bag would’ve been safely hidden in the barn if you hadn’t gotten on your high horse a few hours ago–”
“How was I supposed to know they’d send a unit out right away? I’m not touching that bag!”
“Bring that goddamn weed.”
“Can’t we just leave it here?”
“I’ve already told you, my strategy is–”
“The only thing a sixteen-year-old is going to learn from you keeping it is that his father is okay with him dealing drugs. What’s the street value of that stash anyway, must be a small fortune.”
“PICK UP THE BAG!”
“Keep your voice down, moron. Okay – fine, geez.” Mike pulled his sleeves over his hands and picked up the black bag. “Where’re we going?”
What’s your strategy, Brody? How’re you gonna get through the next few hours? Strategy. Think. Brody rubbed his left temple and walked faster.
“Hello!” Mike called from behind.
Solar plexus. Hate this guy. Don’t want to take him to the cabin. Brody kept walking.
“Hey! Hey, Brody, where the heck are we going?”
“Seriously? Seriously… you can’t shut up?”
“I’m not simply gonna follow you into the wild blue yonder–”
“Solar Plexus! I’m warning you man; I’m right on the fuckin’ edge here. Just, please, I’m trying to come up with a strategy.”
“You’re threatening me? That’s funny.” Mike adjusted his posture to claim the full eight inches he had on Brody. “What’s up with you and the word ‘strategy’? I’ve heard you say it like five times today,” he grinned and accented his voice, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“Oh, okay. Very funny, Inigo Montoya.” Brody stopped to catch his breath.
“HA! Your wife’s into Princess Bride as well? Mine watches it at least once a month.” Mike paused, grinning. “I can’t help using the lines though, they’re so often apropos.” He adjusted the black bag and chuckled to himself, “‘I’m not a witch, I’m your wife.’ Cracks me up every time.”
“For an army dude, you’re a bit soft,” said Mike, looking up through the trees to get his bearing.
“For a civilian, you take strategy way too seriously,” said Mike.
The men stood looking at each other. When they simultaneously snickered, Brody conceded and said, “There’s an old cabin in the back left corner of the property. We may as well hide out there until we get the all clear. Mosquitoes are killing me.”
The two men walked side by side in silence for five minutes until they came to a small clearing bordered on one side by a small stream. The last of the day’s sun lit up the space.
“We can drink the water from that. It’s clean,” said Brody. They walked over and knelt to quench their thirst; the garbage bag sat between them.
“Look, I realise now that I may have acted a bit rashly, Brody, but the fact is you admitted to helping your son stash the weed he’s been growing. Regardless of the reason, allowing your child to operate a grow-op is criminal, and since you’re the adult, you should be held responsible,” Mike glanced at Brody looking for a sign acquiescence.
Brody stood, picked up the bag and moved a few feet away from the stream.
Mike prodded once more, “You gotta realise that I couldn’t let that slide—”
“You’re not a fucking cop!”
“I’m military; I’m obligated to report it.”
“Obligated my ass—” Brody moved forward towards, Mike. “Why the fuck are you out here with me anyway?”
“Look, look. I said I might have made a mistake by reporting the grow-op. They won’t find anything. We’ve got all the marijuana with us, right? So let’s just wait the cops out…” said Mike.
Those who live in glass houses… thought Brody. Only reason he’s back here with me is ‘cause he knows if someone finds out their secret, Matthew will be under a microscope. Gotta make him remember what’s at stake.
“Like I said back at the house, if my son goes down for growing weed, you and your son are in serious shit. ‘Cause let me tell ya, I’m feeling pretty fucking obligated to report that you and your crazy wife might be raising the next Charles Manson,” said Brody. He walked back into the trees.
Mike followed closely behind, his eyes adjusting to the dark. “Matt is bipolar and autistic; he’s got battles. Even though he’s high functioning, he doesn’t have the same reasoning abilities you, and I have. He’s a good kid, just different.”
“Different? Listen, killing and dissecting three animals is not simply different. It could well be psychotic. You need to get him assessed.” said Brody.
“I don’t know if he actually killed them. At any rate…it’s just curiosity, and if we told his psychologist about it, it would be in his records forever…”
“And if he happened to kill someone, those records would lend to past behaviour– like I said, Charles Manson, dude. You’re obligated to get that shit reported.” Brody paused when he saw the cabin. “Listen, I haven’t been back here for a while. Not sure what we’ll find in there.”
“What is this place?”
“My father’s workshop. He was a bit of a hobbyist.” Brody leaned his shoulder against the wooden door and pushed his way into the room. Rotting wood and a strong musk engulfed the men as they stood at the entrance of the cabin. Brody dropped the bag down on the table next to the door; the sweet smell of marijuana adding its own note.
“Oh, my God. What? What is this?” Mike stood looking at a fox in riding gear standing on its hind legs with its right front paw pointing back at him. All around the cabin mounted animals were dressed as people, all busy with everyday human activities: the duck was cooking, the cat was writing, the fox was hunting.
Bryce and Matthew walked side by side through the wooded area on the border of the property. Sent to get their fathers, each carrying a flashlight.
“You know what I’ve been meaning to ask you? How do you actually kill the animals? Like, you know, does it hurt them?” Bryce scratched the side of his jaw.
“What, no way man. I don’t kill them myself, I get them already dead,” said Matthew.
“Oh, fuck. Haha! I thought that maybe you strangled them or something.”
Matthew looked at his friend, horrified. “I steal the bodies from the Humane Society. I volunteer there.”
“Yeah, so when they euthanise an animal or it dies from natural causes, they leave them in a crate before they are incinerated… I take an animal I am interested in, and then you know… study them.” The boys walked awhile in silence. Matthew repeatedly bent to swot away flies from his legs.
“You know what I can’t figure out?” said Bryce.
“What?” said Matthew.
“Why did your dad go along with taking the weed into the bog after he was the one who called the cops in the first place?” Bryce switched on his flashlight; it was getting darker the further into the trees they got.
“Because I told him where I got the money to buy all that weed from you.”
“Where did you get that money? It must have been almost three grand in the end…”
“I sold my meds.” Matthew laughed. “I sold all my antipsychotics, anti-depressants, a whole prescription of T3’s that I got when I broke my ankle.”
“T3’s for an ankle break?”
“Yeah, man. My shrink fuckin’ gives me any pill I ask for. He’s a gold mine.” Matthew turned on his flashlight.
“Nice,” said Bryce.
“I’m guessing we won’t be allowed to set off all the fireworks we bought for tonight?”
“Probs no. But you know, yesterday I heard my mom inviting the neighbours over for a bonfire around nine tonight. So, Maybe. Not sure if she would have had time to cancel that.”
Brody took a sidelong look at, Mike. “It’s called anthropomorphic taxidermy. My father was an amateur taxidermist.” Your son would feel real at home here. “Give it a minute…It’s not as bad as it first seems. It’s an art form–”
“Give me a break…” said Mike.
“No I’m serious, it is. Google it. My dad sold some of this shit to a museum in Boston. It’s legit, I swear.” Brody waited a few seconds and then decided it was safe to make himself comfortable. He walked over to the other side of the room where an old single bed was pushed up against the wall. He bent over and beat both arms against the cover, dust filling the space around him. He sat down on the edge of the bed and looked about the cabin. “I’ve forgotten how unsettling this stuff can be.”
Mike took a few steps toward the fox and reached out to touch its fur. He dropped his arm down by his side. “I can’t believe… I mean… You were just going off at me about my son killing animals, and all the while your father did the same thing.” said Mike.
“This is taxidermy it’s nothing like what Matthew did.” said Brody.
Mike walked over to where a short-haired grey cat was sitting at a miniature wooden desk, writing. “I don’t see how it’s any different. Your Dad and Matt, they both admire animals– he does, I swear, he has been obsessed with animals since I can remember– they both killed them to explore their anatomy.”
Brody got up and walked to a counter that had a small built-in sink on one end and a hot plate on the other. He parted an orange and brown floral curtain that hung below the surface and took a kerosene lamp off a shelf. He opened the second drawer near the hot plate and took out a box of matches.
“Look, I know it’s disturbing to hear a kid has skinned a cat, but I swear, he wasn’t all psycho about it. Brody, I walked in on him as he was looking at the cat’s heart… He looked studious, not possessed or anything freaky. Honestly. He’s a good kid. If this crazy stuff is excusable…” Mike went to the bed and sat with his back against the headboard. He looked around and realised he felt comfortable in the cabin.
“Why were you hiding it from his mother then?” Brody asked as he struck the match and lit the lamp.
“‘Cause she’d’ve come to the same conclusions you did. She’s so paranoid about, Matthew. Convinced he’s going to do something really bad… ever since the bipolar diagnosis.” Mike sat still for a moment and stared at the far corner of the cabin. He looked at a photograph of Brody and his father. “I think she’s lost sight of who he is. But I can still see Matt; I’m his father. He’s a good kid.”
Brody walked over to the table by the door, picked up the black bag and brought it over to the bed. He placed the lamp on the desk next to the bed and carefully untied the knot on the garbage bag. When he had it open, he placed the bag in front of Mike. Inside were a collection of sealed clear plastic bags, each one containing a portion of marijuana. Brody pointed at the pile of bags and said, “You see this stuff? When you look at it, you see an illegal substance grown by my son for profit. You see it as proof that he is delinquent, and that I’m a bad father for keeping it. But you know what this fucked up shit shows me? D’ya wanna know man? It shows me that my son who is so dyslexic he can’t fucking read a grade one reader, so anxious about his future that he didn’t sleep for two straight weeks last semester… it shows me and him, both, that he can do something all on his own, without anybody’s help, and he can make it pay.”
Mike sat staring at the bag. After a few moments, he reached in and took out one of the clear bags but immediately dropped it back into place. He looked up at Brody. “It’s illegal,” he said holding open both hands in defeat, “I’m sorry, I don’t get it.”
Brody began tying up the black bag and then stopped. “We’re farmers,” he said. “He grew something on land that hasn’t produced anything for years. To any farmer, that’s genius. I was proud of him. I couldn’t do what he did. He’s a better farmer than I am… Bryce is smarter than me.”
Brody took the pungent bag back over to the table by the door. He went back to the floral curtain under the sink and pulled out two glasses and a bottle of whiskey. It was half full.
“When I found the weed growing, I was horrified. But then, I saw how it was so well cultivated; there were all sorts of farming principles in practice and, you know, I got excited.” Brody poured the liquid into the glasses and handed one over to, Mike. “It was his second crop. Can you believe that?” Brody laughed. “I made him harvest this crop when it was ready, and then I took it from him and hid it. Man, he was so pissed. But, I think he was kinda relieved at the same time. He was feeling nervous about it.”
“He didn’t know you kept the last crop of marijuana?” said Mike.
“Hell no. Tonight was the first he heard of it. You’re the one who told him when you freaked out and called the cops. I was going to keep it until he lost confidence in himself again.”
“Just a reminder?” said Mike.
“Just a reminder,” said Brody. “I’ve bought a bunch of different seeds, I’ve given it to him to see if he can grow a different crop next year. I haven’t been able to do it – this land is shit – maybe he can?”
They drank their whiskey in silence. “This weird animal stuff grows on you. It’s inspiring in a way… Matt would like it.”
“There’s actually a school type place for taxidermy. Maybe you could look into it for Matthew,” said Brody.
“Redirect him. Good plan. Not sure if I’ll get it passed his mother.” Mike shook his head.
“I’ll be honest with you,” said Brody, “I didn’t tell my wife about the weed until it was all harvested and then hidden away. She didn’t talk to me for two days.”
“No talking for two days. Bliss,” Mike said as he poured himself some more whiskey. “More?”
“Sure,” said Brody.
The two sons came for their fathers at 8 pm. The cops had departed with leftover pie and an invitation to shoot duck at the pond that upcoming hunting season. Matthew was very excited to discover the art of anthropomorphic taxidermy. His father encouraged him to google it and then show his search results to his mother. Bryce expressed his relief that his last harvest had not been disposed of.
“Oh, well, we threw it in the bog. Weren’t sure if the cops were going to come back here,” said Brody. The black garbage bag was tucked away under the bed.
The fathers and their sons made their way back to the farmhouse hoping that they had reached the end of the Labour Day celebrations. They were greeted by a crowd of new guests sipping Irish coffees, and their wives.