Friday, October 12, 2018

Scapegoat: A Rural Noir

Eli Gunn doesn't run. He didn't run from his broken childhood, he didn't run from his teenaged mistakes, and he didn't run from the cops on that blazing summer night ten years ago.
Now, faced with a backwoods religious cult that has a tendency to kill off its flock in the name of God...well, Eli's still not running, but now he wants revenge.

How 'bout an excerpt?

The fire burned bright in the darkness, throwing sparks and turning any unlucky fall leaves into ash. They crackled and curled and crumbled within the heat of the flames. Eli Gunn could smell them from his seat on the low wooden bench, about twenty feet back. He smiled.
Beyond the fire, in the dark, there was empty hay field. Beyond that, surrounding them completely, stood tall, jagged Appalachian peaks. A sort of Stonehenge, stained with a century of coal dust and scratched with a hundred dirt roads, all leading to somebody’s house or pot field or meth lab. The mountains were darker than the slightly bluer midnight sky above, but Eli wasn’t paying attention to any of that. There was fire, and it spoke to something deep down inside him. Like a moth to a flame, he thought.
A group of buildings stood squat and white behind him. That was the compound, a place for all the Christians to do whatever it was they did out here in the middle of nowhere. Every three months, like clockwork. Eli didn’t know much about it, and he didn’t really care. He was just the caretaker.
He’d been turned out of Waynesboro Federal Penitentiary without ceremony, and he’d spent the three months since trying to get his footing. But right here, washed in shaky orange light, with heat soaking through his clothes, he was happy enough. He felt all right.
He’d always liked the way fire soothed the tension inside his chest. That tension had always been there, long as he could remember, and the sight of a fire was the only thing that ever loosened it. In prison, where he couldn’t have one, he’d used a lighter. Used to go to the commissary and ask ole Preston for a flick. Preston’d laugh, pull out his Zippo, and let Eli watch the flame for a minute. Holding his arm out like Hitler’s soldier. It hadn’t been much, nothing like a real blaze, but it had been a taste of what he needed.
It wasn’t as good as a nice big bonfire like this one. Barely corralled within heavy stones, some kind of slab standing shoulder high behind it. The slab was stained dark with weather and smoke, mottled with moss. It made him think of a headstone in a Civil War cemetery he’d seen once.

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