"Excuse me, but I'm a little lost..." Cletus interrupted.
"Sorry," Darren apologized, turning to Cletus as he did so.
"According to legend, and one document historically, there is a beast that roams the woods at the base of Lover's Leap," Darren started.
"Yea! I remember my scout master told us that story too... How the Indian princess and the warrior threw themselves off Lover's Leap and in their blood was born a beast that lurked the woods." Dixie interrupted, excited she had remembered as much as she had.
"Precisely. There are all sorts of other stories and legends concerning it.. The one of the Sauntee Witch, like Dixie just said... There are also Cherokee and Creek warriors that would speak of it trailing their hunting and war parties, striking at any who would dare venture too close to the Sacred Lands it protected... And even in the famous "Battle in the Clouds", which happened at the peak of Lookout Mountain- not far from here- the rebel soldiers spoke of a beast that slaughtered Braggs' remaining men during their retreat through these lands... Said to be what lost them the Deep South..." Darren paused, seeing the pair engaged in what he was saying; stoned eyes focused like lasers as they passed the joint quietly between themselves.
"Anyways, about a few months back a father and son went missing out in the area... Gone up there to prep some land they had for hunting and never came down... Few days go by... A week... Then suddenly the kid shows up, out of nowhere... He's all sorts of chewed up and bloodied, like some animal had been keeping him as a chew toy for all that time. Crawled right out of the brush and into the RV of these two hikers. They come home, find the kid bleeding out on their floor and call the cops. The kid died before the cops came, but not before he told these people what had happened..."
Darren paused as he took a sip from his warming beer and lit a cigarette.
"So what happened," Dixie asked excited, slightly bouncing up and down as she did so; the pair hanging off Darren's words as though he was telling them around a camp fire.
"The kid told these two that he and his dad had set off to track a hog or something that was ruining their feeding stations. That's where they saw it... Where the chase began... He said they gave it a good run before it finally caught up to his father; killing the man in a single blow. It seemed to toy with the boy though, giving chase and being playful by comparison; swipes that merely bled him out as opposed to gutting him in one swoop."
"That a pretty goddamn awful story," Cletus finally said after the trio sat in awkward silence following the end of Darren's tale.
"Yea, I'm pretty bummed out now..." Dixie added, thin pale arms wrapped tightly around Cletus'.
"And I'm not seeing where I fit into all this..." Cletus continued.
"Being as my chick seems to know more about this than I do, and I am neither a dead man or his son..."
Darren had to think quickly, not sure exactly himself where he had taken things, the combination of nerves and marijuana shaking him from bringing up his true reason for being there. He could feel his throat tighten again, his hands grow slick and his armpits drippy. He looked around the room, hoping to hide his snitching eyes from his audience, the two stoned hicks giving him the same look dogs give when human behavior strikes them odd.
Then it came to him, the solution to his problem seemingly brought about by divine intervention, the idea manifesting itself out of sheer panic.
"Well, after hearing from Lester what a great help you were to him in helping him hunt his fantastic beasts, my associate and I would be wondering if you would do us the same favor..."
He could see the request crash against a sea wall of glazed eyes and confusion, two blind melons grinning back unsure of what exactly their guest was getting at.
"I mean, obviously we would be willing to compensate your time..."
"How much compensation were we talking?" Dixie chimed in, finally a topic they understood coming across.
"It.. It wouldn't be much, unfortunately... It's sort of a side business project between my associate and I... But say two hundred for a few days time? Take us into the woods, find what we need, help us get out alive, as I'm sure you have had clocked more woodland time than either my friend or I," Darren continued, laying it on a bit thick (while he and Chris were hardly woodman, between having grown up in the south and spending their twenties chasing ghouls and ghosts, they both had had their share of time spent in the wilds and wilderness). He could see the wheels turning, more in Dixie than Cletus (he seemed to sit there glaring at Darren, who wasn't sure if it was done in a poor attempt to be menacing or just the blank stare of a mindless junkie looking back).
She whispered something into Cletus' ear, him whispering something back agitated. She then shot Broshus a look, cold and stern as her eyes and his met. She mouthed something quiet; those once kissable lips pulled thin over clenched teeth as she did her best to mask the dispute. Darren watched this duel play out over a few seconds, the two going back and forth like this as they debated taking up his offer. He could see Dixie was urging for it, while something seemed to stay Broshus from taking it (if for nothing more than to have put an end to the big eyed glares and exasperated looks coming off Dixie). Cletus finally relented, though; Dixie reducing her debate style to simply driving her pointed finger into the soft meat between his ribs as she whispered something about needing the money. He gave a heavy sigh, to be sure everyone understood the level of duress he had made this choice under.
"I'll go with your friend and you, though truthfully I'm not sure just how useful I'll be. I'm big 'n strong, sho'nuff. But around these woods, I'm as fresh as you two cats are... But if we bring Dixie with us..." He said, the scowl of duress slowly morphing into a cheshire grin as he looked over to his chick, her eyes growing large as he dragged her into his business.
"I'd love to Cletus, but I-"
"- I would love to go with you guys, is what she was gonna say... When we getting started?" Broshus bulldozed, ignoring her effort to back out as he shot her a glance.
"Well, figure earlier the better... Say nine o'clock, over by the north entrance to the trail leading in?" Darren offered, loosening a bit as he bought himself more time with Cletus.
"Nine works... Ain't been up that early in a few, but I think I can muster..." Cletus said with a grin, running thick fingers through his shaggy head of hair.
"Now, about that fifty you said I had coming if I sat and listened to your bullshit..."
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