Horace Yoder thinks he's got the perfect scam. All he has to do is pretend to have been kicked out of an Amish order, get a job on a local farm and when the family is asleep steal their valuables and resell them for a tidy profit. Unfortunately for Yoder, the family has other ideas...and their plans are MUCH more sinister. A new horror novella from the author of WITCHING HOUR THEATRE.
ExcerptA man calling himself Horace Yoder lumbered up the road toward an old white farmhouse. His breathing was labored, his strides nearly a stagger. His big leather boots scuffed the dusty road almost as though he were drunk.
Horace paused, winced up at the sun, and thought, Lord, it’s sweltering out here.
It’s what he hated most about the country. Near a coast or a lake there was breeze. Here, nestled between cornfields and forests, he felt oppressed, enveloped by a suffocating canopy of heat.
His heart pounded, squeezed, pounded, squeezed. He could almost see it in there, a swollen red lump like a masticated wad of steak. Last time he’d visited a doctor—six years ago concerning a suspicious lump under his right testicle—he’d been told he needed to lose at least sixty pounds. The doctor rambled on about cholesterol, heart disease, several other looming calamities, but Horace had long since ceased worrying about things that could kill him twenty years from now. After all, he was still on the right side of forty, if only by a few months, and if he began to feel bad on a regular basis, well, he’d think about reforming then. For the time being he could cope with being winded on long walks and ride out the occasional heart palpitation.
Nearing the farmhouse he noted the numerous outbuildings beyond it. Not a prosperous farm, but not a dying one either. Here and there Horace spotted signs of inattention. The awning on the western side of the house canted slightly, the braces supporting it likely rusted through. A basement window was missing, replaced by a ragged scrap of tarpaper. The porch itself seemed to sink into the ground like a capsized raft. For a moment, Horace considered moving on to the next house. A place like this, they might want a man to work like hell to earn his keep, and that certainly wouldn’t do.
He rubbed the thin line of chin whiskers—ridiculous looking but absolutely necessary—and his fingers came away wet. He peered up the road but could only see a hundred yards of cornfield. Beyond that, more woods. More walking.
To hell with it, he thought. This house would have to do.
Checking to make sure his black hat was on straight, Horace stepped from the dusty road to the yard and saw how the grass here was browning. It crunched under his big leather boots. Horace climbed the sinking porch and took off his hat.
He knocked on the screen door and waited. As he stood, his shoulders slightly hunched, he noticed a hornets’ nest in one of the oak trees beside the house. Gray, a series of bloated loops, the nest looked like something from a children’s book. It did not appear dangerous at all, but Horace had seen what happened when one was disturbed. Scary things, hornets. Fatter than wasps and more persistent. You angered a wasp, it buzzed around and eventually lost interest.
Not hornets. They could be vindictive as angry women, pursuing a man for miles, their lazy, looping flight paths belying the danger contained in their stings.
The wooden inner door opened and a short, wiry man asked, “Car break down?”
Through the dark gray screen Horace studied the man’s face a moment—dark complexion, prominent cheekbones—and said, “I don’t own a car, sir. I’m just looking for a place to work for a meal and maybe a bed for the night.”
The man’s dark eyes—he had to be some kind of Indian or something—narrowed to slits.
“I’m a good worker,” Horace went on. “I can do odd jobs, fix things.”
The man continued staring at him, dark eyes baleful. Horace couldn’t tell if it was impatience or outright hostility baking out of the man, but either one meant it was probably time to go.
He’d begun to turn when the man asked, “What’s a big ox like you doing going door to door, especially on a day like this?”
Horace shrugged. “A man’s got to eat.”
“Don’t you have money?”
Horace caressed the brim of the hat held before him. “Not since I left my people.”
“Your people?” the man asked. “What are you, a Quaker?”
The man’s teeth were very white, very small.
Staring at them, Horace said, “No, sir. My people live up Camden way.”
“Camden,” the man said, his voice losing some of its hardness. “Don’t tell me you’re an Amish.”
Horace nodded humbly. “Old Order, sir.”
A change came over the man. “Old Order? Well, why the hell didn’t you say so?” Stepping aside. “Come on in and let me take that hat. You look like you should be giving the Gettysburg Address.”
Horace surrendered his hat and entered a handsome farmhouse, far nicer than the exterior indicated. He’d put the building at turn of the century, but looking around at the antique finery—the hand-hewn rafters, the wainscoting—he changed his estimate to the mid-1800s. The décor, too, was well preserved. Brocade chairs. A dining table polished so bright you could barely look at it. Near the back of the dining room he could see a grandfather clock with an ornate full bonnet. The clock, Horace estimated, would probably fetch over five grand at auction, but it was worth far more than that in an antique store.
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