You knew you should’ve called for back up when Little Don and Eugene Everett asked you to stop by their place around one in the morning. At least you’d thought enough about the situation to strap a backup .22 in one boot and a switchblade in the other. Neither helped you though when Eugene pointed at a computer monitor and asked you to watch grainy security video footage of yourself putting a tracking device under one of their mobile meth lab trailers, and Little Don snuck up from behind, conking you on the head with an aluminum bat.
You wake up, lying in the bed of a Eugene’s bouncing F-150. Your hands and legs are duct taped tight, and your throbbing head screams out in pain. The shocks on this truck are out, and Eugene seems to intentionally hit every pothole and rock on a dirt road. Looking up at the cold stars above, you have a lonesome, sinking feeling this is your last night on earth.
After they haul you out of the truck bed and drop you on the hard ground, the two brothers start kicking you with their pointy toe boots and shouting that you’re worse than a pile of crap.
“Nothin’ I hate more than a narc,” Eugene says.
“If I had my way I’d just shoot you dead, but daddy don’t want it that way,” Little Don says.
“Regardless, it sucks for you. Big time, bro,” Eugene adds with a malignant smile. Even in the blue moonlight, you can see the yellow film on his tobacco stained teeth.
Their daddy is Big Don Everett, son of a long line of moonshiners. Over the years the family business expanded into weed and now meth. The Everett clan is infamous in the region, and not a single member in the history of the family has ever been known to have a high IQ. Yet after decades of trying, the law has never been able to bust any of them on a significant charge.
You’re an undercover cop who volunteered to infiltrate this notorious family enterprise and find out what happened to a deputy who went missing more than a year ago. Now you’re up for a quick, unwanted retirement.
The brothers pick up your bruised and bleeding body and haul you over to an old stone well. You kick and buck as hard as you can, but both of those boys are big and have strong, unyielding grips. You’d rather take a bullet to the brain than drown in darkness. At this point you’d compromise anything and everything not to die this way. Who’s in charge of the investigation, the intel that has been reported on the family, your social security number, email and ATM passwords. Just name it. But you can’t, because duct tape had been slapped across your mouth when they first tossed you in the truck.
“Look at ‘im kick like a mule,” Little Don says.
“Dumbshit thinks he’s gonna drown.”
You pause for a millisecond’s worth of confusion and they fling you into the hole. Falling into pitch-blackness, the tumble seems infinite until you smack with a thud into soft, wet mud. The breath is knocked out of your lungs and your shoulder aches something horrible, but the rest of you seems to be okay. You had worse beatings when you went undercover as a bouncer a few years back. Best of all, you realize, there isn’t enough water to drown. Flopping on your back, you look up to the weak moonlight above – maybe twenty-five, thirty feet up – and see the black silhouettes of the two boys. Their laughter echoes.
“See you later, narc,” Eugene says.
Seconds later you hear his truck rumble to life and leave. Total darkness surrounds you and the cold damp air smells putrid. You struggle to get the boot off your foot as your ankles are taped. Finally the right one comes free. With your hands behind your back you feel inside the boot, finding the inner sleeve with the hidden switchblade. Thank God the brothers hadn’t frisked you very well, only taking your cell phone and the Glock you had tucked into the back of your jeans. Working the blade on the tape, you get it to tear enough so that you can break it apart in spite of your sore shoulder. Hands free, you take the tape off your mouth and shout for help. From the extremity of the road, you know you’re nowhere near civilization, but you can’t help shouting until your voice hurts.
After the tape is stripped off your ankles and the little .22 back-up pistol from your other boot is shoved into your back pocket, you crawl around in slimy mud, touching what has to be a body, twice in separate directions. Freaked out you reach up for the ceiling of the well. Your hands wave in the air touching nothing. The thick, suctioning mud doesn’t allow you to jump an inch. There is nothing you can do, so you decide to sit in the moonlight rays, listening to the gentle sway of the oaks. Just conserve your energy for now and wait for the light of day.
You wake with a start hearing truck doors slam shut. Crawling out of the sunlight you wait for them, pistol aimed at the top of the stone lined well. The pistol’s not accurate at long distances and there are only five rounds in the magazine, but nothing would make you feel better than to pop one of those sons of bitches before you die down here.
“Here piggy-piggy-piggy,” Little Don says with his deep voice, followed by a cruel laugh.
Both of their heads peer over the edge of the well. Setting the sites on Eugene, you see him holding something in his hand. A stick.
“We thought you might like to know that you ain’t down there all alone.” Eugene’s ears look big enough to cover the well.
“Take a look at your neighbors,” Little Don says, wearing his filthy, faded orange Volunteer hat backwards as he always does.
Eugene strikes the stick against the rock wall and a bright red flame sparks. He drops the road flare into the hole, falling three feet in front of you. You are blinded for half a second, but as soon as your vision returns you take the shot. A mortared stone bursts in front of Eugene as he jerks back, screaming. You aim at Little Don’s fat head, but he’s vanished.
You pick up the flare and sweep it around the well. To your surprise it’s a wide, open cavern. Probably eight feet tall with a diameter of… and that’s when you see them. All of them. Bodies. Some skeletons, some still decomposing. Seven or eight at least. You are frozen, shocked with horror. Then a bullet rips the air past your ear. You run from the opening of the hole while Little Don curses your name and blasts gunfire from above. You dash out the flare into the mud, hoping you can reignite it another time.
You creep back to the edge of the hole with your little pistol raised, but Little Don is no longer there. You hear him shout from above, “We’ll be back for you… you fuckin’ narc! And we’re gonna make you pay big time.” As if they had been easy on you and weren’t making you pay enough already. A smile creases your lips as you realize you must have harmed Eugene pretty good. While it’s not equal justice for their slow murder of you, it’s better than nothing.
You don’t want to, but you search the bodies for a lighter. It is disgusting work, but you tell yourself this is about survival. Most of the corpses still have their arms taped behind their backs. What a horrible way to die.
Eventually you find a Zippo stamped with a rebel flag in one of the corpse’s pockets and relight the flare. You count ten bodies. Hovering over each of them, they all have indentifying human characteristics even in rotting decomposition. You don’t recognize anybody. None of them are the missing deputy. The bodies no longer bother you as much now that you’ve been up close and personal with them. What bothers you are the things moving in the shadows. Creepy crawlies like spiders and salamanders.
Unfortunately, the man-made rock lining the well is too far out of reach for you to grab a handhold and climb out of this deathtrap. You suppose the well had been dug at least a century back, if not two. You wonder if the diggers had abandoned the project after coming upon this foul, muddy water or if they threw in a pail and started drinking. Mission accomplished. We got water! Drinking this foul stuff would explain why the Everett clan is so screwed up.
You trudge through ankle deep mud towards a dark corner. There is a crack in the limestone wall. A slim crevice you might be able to squeeze through. It’ll be a tight a fit and you could easily get stuck in there, trapped for the rest of your life or maybe, impossibly, you might slither through and find an escape.
Salamanders dart away as you crawl through, following a path zigging left and then right. The blinding red flare spits painful molten flames on your hand. The space above opens up to at least a twenty-foot ceiling, allowing you to stand and walk through the crevice. Upon turning another corner you find a solid, slick limestone wall dead-ending the path.
And there is another disturbing discovery. At the base of the rock is a mummified corpse wearing a sheriff’s uniform.
You know who it is without checking his ID. Deputy Nick Rogers. You were the best man at his wedding. When he told you about the drug trafficking happening in his county, you told the brave officer to contact the Nashville DEA. Then a few weeks later he disappeared from sight. His wife, Lori, was pregnant and worried out of her skull. You were determined to go undercover and find out what happened to your best friend. Resting your hand on his shoulder, you say a prayer and wish Nick peace in the afterlife.
You search every angle of this cavernous well until the neon red flames of the flare shrinks dangerously close to your fingers. You reckon the width is about the size of a baseball diamond. Sitting under the well’s opening where daylight penetrates and warms a circular spot in the vast damp darkness, you know you will need to conserve your energy. The Everett boys will come back. They have to. Their pride dictates that they must have the final word on everything.
There is a churning in your stomach that you try to ignore. Although you’re starving, you’re not ready to turn cannibal. At least not yet. Then you hear the rumble of a truck approaching. Diesel powered. Three cab doors slam shut. Backing up into the dark shadows you aim your pistol at the bright round sky.
Three men peek quickly into the hole and pull their heads back, much like prairie dogs or Whack-A-Mole. The three are Little Don, Eugene with a bandage over his eye, and a bearded hillbilly named Rexford Everett. His mangy salt and pepper beard hangs at least two feet below his chin, covering the bib on his overalls. The boys call him Uncle Rex.
“Hey, Nathan, or whatever your real name is,” the uncle says. “You think you can just take out my nephew’s eye and not get payback from us, you got another thing comin’.”
“It’s payback time, you… you son of a bitch,” Eugene says, spitting out his anger.
None of them keep their heads over the hole long enough to get a good shot.
“Burn ‘im, Uncle Rex,” Little Don says.
“Fire in the hole!” the uncle yells and a gasoline filled Jack Daniels bottle with a burning rag on top falls from the opening. You jump back, but the Molotov cocktail lands with a thud in the muck, right side up, and very much intact with the rag still burning.
“What happened, Uncle Rex?” Eugene asks.
“Dunno,” Rex says.
Adrenaline surges through your body as you rush towards the cocktail and hurl it up at the opening with all your might. At that exact moment, all three men crane their necks over the edge of the well. The bottle smashes against the upper, rock lined edge and explodes into a mighty fireball. The men holler in surprise and pain. Flames engulf Rex’s long beard.
“Get it out! Get it out!” he shouts.
The boys are screaming in agony too. You saw Eugene’s bandages catch fire as well as Little Don’s ratty Volunteer hat. Balls of fire and pieces of glass fall down at your feet.
There are multiple curses and shouts before the truck engine turns over and hurries away.
You wait for two days for them to come back again. You’ve lived on a diet of spiders, salamanders, and pale insects you don’t want to think about too much. The good thing is that those critters are high in protein. Enough to keep you alive and alert. You now know the well’s cavern intimately, having mapped in your mind all the nooks and crannies by touch. You spend most of your time, however, by the hole waiting. The Everetts will come back. They have to. Revenge is ingrained in their inbred DNA. They neither forgive nor forget the slightest slights they’ve ever received going back for generations.
When you finally hear an approaching vehicle, you identify at least two rumbling engines, one having the deep bass of Big Don’s Ram half-ton dually. Big Don is the operator of the family enterprise, an empire that keeps all their neighbors impoverished, addicted, and frightened.
In a kneeling position, you steady your aim, ready to take out the head of this corrupt organization with the popgun. Instead a pair of Uzis appear on opposite sides of the well and begin rapid firing. You roll away as mud flies everywhere. A burst of bullets pummel the soft earth, puncturing it relentlessly, creating a crater in the well’s light. A defined no man’s land that you cannot enter. There is no way you’ll get a shot at Big Don. Finally, the barrage stops.
“Hey, Nathan the Narc, down there,” Big Don says in his twangy baritone voice. “I want you to know right here, right now, that these are your last few minutes on earth. Hear me? My son lost an eye ‘cause of you. My brother’s in ICU sufferin’ from first degree burns all over his face ‘cause of you. And Little Don’s suffered some major burns too.”
“I’m fine, Dad,” Little Don says.
“You’re never gonna grow hair on the top of your head again, son.”
You can’t help but smile.
“You’re gonna burn in hell you son of a bitch,” a woman shouts from above. It’s Mary-Jo Everett. Big Don’s wife and treasurer of this family-run drug empire. She’s also his cousin. Didn’t even have to change her name when they wed. You had looked at their family tree and a lot of branches kept looping back around.
You want to get close to the opening just to get a peek at Little Don’s bandaged head, but you know Uzis are trained on the hole, ready to strike. Still, it might be worth it.
“If there’s one thing I hate most, it’s a traitor. The way you came in all smooth and snake-like, doin’ us favors, tradin’ cigarettes for hooch and meth. That’s wrong to trick a man like that, you duplee-tish-us son of a bitch. I guess it don’t matter much now, anyway. Your time on this earth ends today.”
Big Don talks with so much bluster you wonder what he could have in store for you. Edging just a little closer, machine gun fire blasts from above with all the fury of mechanized hell. You dive backwards into the muck. Turning you see a large bundle of sticks – red sticks taped together like flares, but bigger – fall into the crater. A couple of wires hang from the top of the hole to the package of sticks. Your breath catches as you realize it’s not a bundle of flares. It’s dynamite. A lot of dynamite. More than what’s needed to kill you. It’s enough to take out the side of a mountain.
Heart pounding, you scramble for the crevice. It’s dark, but you know where it is as you step over the bodies. Inside the fissure, you turn left, then right, working your way through the zigzag maze. When you reach the dead end with Nick’s corpse, you huddle in the corner, pulling your friend and fallen hero on top of you for protection.
The explosion is tremendous. It shakes the world above, below, to the side of you. The heat from the dynamite singes your clothes and then dirt and debris rains on top of you from the cavernous ceiling above. Piles of it, nearly crushing you to death.
Gasping for air, you push up with your legs like you’re doing squats at the gym with too many weights. Nick’s body slides off your shoulders and heavy chunks of dirt fall in his place. You thrust your arms up, pushing them through the soil. Grasping dirt, you pull and kick, wiggling your body upwards through the dirt as debris fills in under your feet. You keep doing this. It’s like swimming a complicated breaststroke through a thick soup filled with ball bearings. It feels like you are making progress. The weight of the dirt lightens, but you need air real bad.
Your right hand reaches out and touches a limestone wall. The edge of it. You kick the soil madly, working your body towards it. Pushing up on the ledge and putting your foot on the wall, you use your last bit of energy to shove up. Dirty sunlight comes into view as you gasp, sucking in dirt and oxygen.
Hacking up dirt, you pull your body half out of the baking hot ground. You wheeze, coughing and inhaling air. Sunlight pierces your eyes, blinding you. You can’t see anything, but you don’t care. You just need air. All of it, right now, in your lungs.
When you finally open your eyes, even through a smoky haze of dust floating in air, the light blue sky is most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Then you glance around and what you see doesn’t register, at least not at first. The scene before you looks nothing like Tennessee, but more like a warzone featured on the news or the History Channel.
The well is totally obliterated. A huge cavernous hole in the ground looks like a bomb had been dropped from a B-52 thousands of feet in the air. Black twisting smoke still wafts in the air around it. Following the radius of the blast, it looks like the crevice and the twisting limestone maze tempered the explosion’s impact, saving you from complete obliteration.
Then you wonder about the Everetts. Did they have enough common sense to run for the hills and survive or were they swallowed up in the destruction too? Searching the area you don’t see them anywhere, although Mary-Jo’s pink Escort has flipped over, resting on its side like a sleeping piglet. Besides blown out windows, Big Don’s heavy-duty dually seems to be in tact. Then you look up at the scorched oaks and find them. Parts of them anyway.
Hanging in the branches with the toasted acorns sways a random leg here, an arm there. Bits and pieces of Everetts everywhere. You identify one of the oversized gold rings that Big Don used to wear from a severed hand as well as a spider web tattoo Eugene had inked on his right calf.
Crawling the rest of the way out of the hole and onto seared grass, you limp over to Big Don’s truck. It’s not in as good shape as you believed. It looks as if it has rolled over once or twice, but somehow managed to land back on its wheels. It takes a few pulls, but you get the door open. Keys dangle from the ignition. A dirt caked smile spreads across your lips. Man, you’re going to have one crazy, messed up story to tell your law enforcement buddies and the brass back in Nashville.
For several generations, nobody could stop the Everett clan. Anybody who tried either hit a dead end or disappeared. (Although you know where the bodies went, you’re pretty certain they have now been vaporized.) In all honesty, you can’t even take credit for wiping them out. The only people on earth capable of ending the Everett reign of terror were the Everetts themselves. And they did it with one big bang.
Travis Richardson has been nominated for Anthony and Macavity awards. His first novella, LOST IN CLOVER, is a coming of age story set in Kansas. He has published stories in several publications including Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter Ransom Notes, reviews Anton Chekhov short stories at www.chekhovshorts.com and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. www.tsrichardson.com