Jeb Vanderhook hacks the rope holding the enormous sack over the high branch of the tree and Keith could have swore that it is the sound of a body hitting the ground that echoes through the woods. From a distance, he watches, eyes fixed on the position with morbid fascination, wondering what’s inside the tarp sack that’s been hanging from Crazy Jeb’s tree for days now. When he watched Crazy Jeb drive into town, he snuck out his window, abandoning his telescope and venturing out into the fresh sea of snow to see what was in the sack.
His feet crunching through the snow, Keith made his away through the silent trees standing as sentinels between the two houses. He had crept through the woods, climbing over the sagging chain link fence, and grabbed the axe whose head was sunken into the old stump by the shed that sort of sadly slumps to the right. Expecting it to be a dear, Keith had jabbed at it with the axe, holding it with two hands, hearing the tarp crinkle under the rusty head.
But before he could sink the head closer to the hanging sack and pull back part of the tarp, he heard the truck come roaring back. Dropping the axe by the stump, he rushed back into the woods where he now sits, cowering behind a tree, knees digging into the snow, and watching as Jeb deals with whatever he hung up in the tree days ago.
Leaving the sack where it fell, Crazy Jeb heads back to the house, stopping for a moment to look at the axe sitting near the stump, not where he left it before. Keith watches the misty breath shoot out form his nostrils, like a cartoon bull, his eyes narrowing as he searches the trees. Keith remembers his footprints and knows that if Crazy Jeb wanted to, he could follow him right back to his little hiding spot. Stupid move, Keith, he hisses at himself. Silently kicking himself, Keith knows that if Crazy Jeb drags him back to the house and tells mom that he was snooping in his property one more time, then being grounded right now will be the least of his troubles.
But all his worries melt away as he looks at the sack behind Crazy Jeb. He hears the crackle of the tarp moving and the slow, gentle movement of it. Keith knows in his heart that Crazy Jeb has totally kidnapped someone and is hanging them from the tree in his backyard. No matter what his dad says, Crazy Jeb is a madman. He has the proof right there in front of his eyes. Meanwhile, while the thing starts moving, Jeb just keeps walking, like there’s nothing to worry about, nothing sinister or weird at all happening under the tarp.
Keith watches as Crazy Jeb makes his way back toward the house, his back turned to his struggling victim, slowly starting to come to. Keith doesn’t make a sound. It takes more to scare him than any of this. Years of secretly borrowing horror movies from his friends and watching them while the rest of the house sleeps has readied him for this. Fear is for the weak, curiosity is for the dangerous. Keith watches with paralytic interest in the slowly writhing tarp. The only thing that Keith wants to know right now is who might be under that tarp. There are hundreds of people in this town that could be lurking under there, so which one did Crazy Jeb kidnap? It was only a matter of time, he supposed. Crazy Keith lived in relative isolation and wore leather, denim, and fur. Who does that, if not a psychopath?
The person under the tarp beings to move more confidently, rolling from side to side, Keith wonders if it’ll snap the bungee cords and escape. Crazy Jeb never married. Maybe he kidnaps beautiful women and butchers them before dumping their bodies in the river. A shiver runs down Keith’s spine. The crazy man lives just a dozen yards away from him. He knew he was a sick madman. He always knew it. Why wouldn’t his father ever listen to him? He’s a cop after all, he could have arrested him, long before this ever happened.
The screen door to the old house screams as Jeb vanishes inside, disappearing into the darkness and the gloom of that hovel. Keith feels the frigid bite of the cold seeping up through his drowned jeans. Brushing back his hair, he doesn’t dare move, wrapping his arms around him to keep warm, shivering from the cold. Crazy Jeb survives off of his tow truck job and that alone is enough to be suspicious of him. He’s the kind of man that only ever shows up when you’re in trouble, never a savior on a white stallion, but a minion of suffering.
The person under the tarp continues to writhe, constricting and flexing against the cords and the tarp, struggling to escape. Keith, unsure what to do, just keeps his eyes focused on the sack. He wonders why the man or woman doesn’t scream. Why don’t they call out for help?
When the screen door screams again, Keith watches as Crazy Jeb walks across the soggy backyard, his muddy cowboy boots picking up more muck with each step. His jeans are soaked half way up his thigh, but Keith’s eyes are fixed on the metal object slung over his shoulder. It’s a long, metal hook, something that doesn’t look like it’s every welcome, just like Crazy Jeb. Keith watches as Jeb lifts the hook over his head and with both hands, swings it down like an axe, cutting through the air and with a sickening, loud hack, it crushes through bone and pierces flesh. The person inside the sack lets out a howl that doesn’t even sound human, shrieking and writhing violently, squirming like a worm on the end of Crazy Jeb’s massive hook. It’s a sickening sight, one that makes Keith question his resolve. Grinding his teeth together, his lips peeled back in a snarl, Crazy Jeb digs his feet into the muck and starts pulling the shrieking sack across the muddy yard, ignoring the muffled screams.
Keith watches in horror, unable to look away, his red fingers touching the bark of the tree as he watches his neighbor drag a corpse across his yard to where his old, dented Chevy is waiting for him. Mixing with the mud slick, Keith thinks he can see a crimson streak, but it’s dark, very dark. Climbing into the bed of his truck, Crazy Jeb grips the metal, rusty hook with both hands, his palms and fingers digging into the duct tape wrapped handle. Grinding his teeth together and letting out hissing groan, he hoists the wriggling body into the back of his truck. Keith stares around the tree, making sure that he’s hidden, watching as the body smacks loudly in the bed of the truck, thrashing viciously as Crazy Jeb rips out the hook.
Without saying a word, Crazy Jeb swings the hook again and again at the body in the back of his truck, smacking it as hard as he can, letting out a grunt with each determined swing. Keith watches as the wailing sack stops making any noise and Crazy Jeb just stares at it, his chest and shoulders heaving as mist plumes outside his clenched teeth, coiling and roiling into nothingness.
Crazy Jeb looks around, making sure that he hasn’t been witnessed before he hops out of the bed of the truck and walks around to the driver’s side door. Swinging it open, he slips down into the seat and slams the door behind him. The boom of the door rattles through the trees, washing over Keith as he listens to the engine roaring to life. Looking away, he listens as Jeb pulls down the long driveway leading down to Ashwood Bend. Keith looks back the way he came, through the wooded field then up the hill to the house on the hill, the big, happy house where things were quiet and safe, or so he thought. He hadn’t come looking for this, not this. He’d expected something creepy, not horrifying.
As the snow begins the fall, Keith pushes up from the tree and heads back toward the house before his mom notices that he’s gone.