Nothing much ever happened in Daluse.
It was a small town – tiny really – with two bars, a laundromat, a grocery, and a post office. One of the two bars was owned by the town’s mayor who was a stout man with a round greasy bald head and ornery looking whiskers and a constant supply of mucous in his throat which he coughed up in a handkerchief while giving speeches in the town center. The town center consisted of a modest circle of crabgrass and a few dark spindly trees with a cracked cement walkway running through the circle and a green wooden bench. Almost no one ever sat on the bench.
There was also a five and dime in town where one could buy a can of chili or green beans or a household sponge or nails to hang up pictures.
But no one ever hung up a picture in Daluse – in their homes that is – because the townspeople who lived in Daluse were not artistic-minded. They fished and hunted and farmed the land, etc. Grew vegetables. Chopped down trees to burn in their wood burning stoves. Genuine out-doorsy, “live off the land” type stuff. They were survivors.
They had survived the great war indeed. The war had occurred right outside of Daluse quite a long time ago. Only one person who lived in Daluse was old enough to remember the war. His name was Eddie and most people called him “ancient Eddie” for obvious reasons. Eddie had wispy white hair sprouting in odd spots from the top and sides of his shriveled noggin. His hair was soft and looked like feathers. He could no longer walk so his son Jasper pushed him along in a flimsy wheelchair up and down Main Street, Daluse where the two bars and laundromat and five and dime were and Eddie would bark out orders to his son as to where he wanted to go next. He was near completely deaf so when someone was in one of the two bars, and even when Eddie was a block away, that person could hear where Eddie wanted to go next. “Laundromat!” or “Five and Dime!” and so on.
Ancient Eddie did not fight in the war but rather he hid. All of the townspeople of Daluse hid which may very well have saved them from the slaughter that took place in the nearby city of Wanessa. A large percentage of Wanessa’s population were decimated during the war. “It was unpleasant to say the least,” Eddie would tell people in Daluse. “We could hear their cries clear across the woods – hideous blood curdling screams. At night.” Daluse was then (and still is) surrounded by woods that were thick with an assortment of oak and hickory and cottonwood trees stretching up to the sky amidst their own kindly branches. On a windy afternoon one could hear the branches shaking to and fro, the thinner branches knocking into each other with their waxy leaves shimmering. On these afternoons it seemed all of Daluse was surrounded by a soothing chorus of woodsy knock-abouts.
Which is why the wholesale bloody massacre that took place just one town over in the city of Wanessa was such a contradiction to what was happening in the tiny hamlet of Daluse. There were homes in Daluse situated on the outer rim of the town limits whose backyards ended right where the woods began and these people would sometimes sit on their back porches at night after dinner to enjoy a cup of coffee and sweet roll and feel the breeze and listen to the branches. But then sometimes they would also hear the distant shrieking of those in Wanessa being butchered. When that happened they would grab their coffee cups and run into their homes and lock their doors and windows. It was as if they lived down the road from a drive-in movie theater that was showing a horror movie every night and you could not hear any of the dialogue or the soundtrack or anything else but the screaming during the murder scenes. And mostly those screams that were high pitched like when woman or children were being killed.
Each resident of Daluse (five hundred and eleven give or take on any one day) had double and triple padlocked every means of entry into their homes. Even the ones who lived in the apartments above the stores in the town center blocks away from the woods. The ones who lived at the very edge of town up against the woods would then stand watch on their roofs with their rifles and their rifle scopes and look out over the tops of the oak and hickory trees and struggle to see who or what was causing the slaughter. There were glimpses of horrific huge figures not of human form with no apparent limbs yet they moved along and overtook the blighted townsfolk of Wanessa with ease and while the victims would struggle and shriek the forms would make no sound at all. They would simply devour one Wanessia and then roll along to the next one and devour that one.
“We knew they were being beheaded,” ancient Eddie would tell his friends at the bar owned by Daluse’s mayor, referring to the poor people of Wanessa. “Because we found their bloody heads in the woods.” The bar was called “Mayor’s Tavern” and it was always dark inside because the bar’s windows that fronted Daluse’s Main Street were small and there were only three light fixtures hanging over the bar each with a dusty green and yellow tiffany light shade. On the outside of the bar at the entrance there was an old blue and red neon sign positioned right above the bar’s heavy oak door that read “Mayor’s Taver” because the “N” had long since burned out. The sign was lit night and day and it made a constant soft electrical humming noise.
No one knew why the heads of the poor decapitated people of Wanessa were being discarded into the woods of Daluse. “And we were not about to stroll into Wanessa from those woods to inquire,” is what Eddie would say, “I’ll tell you what!”
The crows would pick the flesh from the heads. This is how the people from Daluse would find the heads – they would simply watch to see where the crows descended. They were superstitious folk (and still are to this very day) and they did not want to leave the decomposing heads in the woods. “Bad karma” is how they would have explained themselves had they appreciated art and lived in the city of Wanessa which housed an art museum, two mom and pop bookstores and a small amphitheater where people played their brass and stringed instruments. But Dalusians did not use these types of words. They just said things like “it ain’t natural to leave ‘em sittin’ there” or “sign of the devil” and then kissed a piece of garlic or a gem that hung from a chord around their necks.
“The mayor back then made a speech in the town center about what to do with the heads,” Eddie explained after a hearty swallow of domestic draft beer. Daluse’s present mayor who was tending bar that day then spit up some phlem into his handkerchief as if queued by the mention of “mayor.” “We then took a vote on what to do with the heads. And by God . . .” and here Eddie’s entire skeletal-like frame shook and he gripped the arms of his wheelchair and became choked up and the tears rolled down his hollowed cheeks.
“I voted to throw ‘em back!!”
And he wept and wept like a baby and his buddies tried to comfort him by patting him on the back and rubbing his bald head. They had heard the story hundreds of times before so they were prepared with a hot toddy that the mayor handed to Eddie when he had composed himself enough to hold it. The mug warmed his gnarled hands and he sipped the syrupy mixture graciously and allowed the fearsome memories of those horrific times fade away and then he fell asleep and his son wheeled him out of the bar.
It was true Eddie had voted to throw the heads back to Wanessa. But in fact what happened was the townsfolk of Daluse voted to bury them out of respect for the dead. Being superstitious they also felt that the act itself of burying might appease whatever things were devouring the bodies of the Wanessian city folk and leaving their heads in the woods. (And here they thought of a knight or even a king eating a whole baked chicken while tossing the bones one by one off the dining room table leaving them for the servants to pick up and discard in the trash.) Nor have the Dalusians ever told a single soul outside of Daluse about the terrible war that was so profoundly lost by the Wanessians (although the people of Wanessa waged a brave defense against the unlimbed murderers of their population). Many of them would explain their silence by saying something like “so as not to stir up trouble.” They were known by those living outside of Daluse to be kind, uncomplicated folk, albeit generally uneducated.
Which is why it comes as a surprise to all those living outside Daluse that while Dalusians are known to be a humble people who live simply and do not much appreciate art and generally ignore the humanities, etc., to this day the tiny hamlet of Daluse produces some of the most widely renowned and respected arborists in the world.
While Dalusians are humble they are not stupid. Rolling killers need space to roll. Simple.
Rob Plunkett lives in New Jersey and works as a lawyer in Manhattan. His hobbies include writing short fiction and playing drums in a three-member indie rock band.