Taken Back Home

by Philip Roberts

Cliff Crichlow had spent his youth being told to stay away from Raul Skenandore’s farm. At first he’d been afraid of the man, peeking through windows each time the backfire of Raul’s aged, rusted truck sounded. He always came at least once a week for food and other supplies, speaking only to Kirk Thompson who ran the general store. Most avoided the man with his leathery skin, browning teeth, and perpetual scowl, head topped with a cowboy hat, though occasionally topped with nothing but thin, wiry gray hair.

Wasn’t until Cliff turned seventeen and Raul was going on sixty that the flyer got put up in the general store. Most in town scoffed at the idea of working for Raul. Even if they hadn’t already disliked the man personally, talk got around of the odd colors one could occasionally see off in the distance towards Raul’s farm, or the sounds that carried in the still, summer air now and then.

Cliff had grown out of his superstitions. He left his house with his mother’s cries following him, telling him “That man will be the death of you.”  He walked down the dirt road through the twilight until he came upon Raul’s modest home for the first time. The old structure with its squeaky screen door, faded brown paint job, and dry, cracked front lawn showed nothing of the wealth Raul had to have stuffed somewhere.

The living room stank of age and cigarette smoke. “Didn’t think anyone would take it,” Raul said in his dry voice. Cliff had always considered Raul’s voice to be one born from fifty years of a throat being drenched in whiskey. He never liked the man, not from the day he shook hands and accepted his first pay, or the day he hauled Todd Skenandore’s unconscious body into the barn out around back. They traveled across ten states to find the boy, a long lost son, Raul had said, and they’d waited in the darkness of the boy’s apartment until a light click of the lock marked his arrival home.

Eight years in Raul’s service had given Cliff more than enough muscle to take the scrawnier Todd down in a single blow, and heft around his body to wherever Raul wanted it.

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