by Soon Jones
When Robert Holt moved from the city into George Brown’s old place after he passed, we explained that there were certain rules that had to be followed if he wanted to live and flourish in our community of Godhollow, so far away from the cities and the small towns that clung like fat parasites around their borders. Simply: wrong no person, harm no land, and never enter God’s Orchard. It was well hidden from the country highways that threaded around our homes like rivers, but nevertheless, if he had any exploring spirit at all, he might well stumble upon the perpetually blooming blood orange trees, their seeds planted by the wind and the birds and the bobcats. He might think it safe to pluck a fruit for his own desire and eat its red meat. We warned him it was not, that such things must be earned.
He thanked us for the warning with a look of amusement city folk often carry in their faces when they leave their steel and concrete forests, thinking we are too stupid to read their intentions and the mockery in their uptilted brows and laughing eyes.
A few among us were ready to call the Twins even then, arguing it was clear he would not follow our rules and why should we wait if we already knew where this was going? Let Thea and Themis take care of him before he caused trouble. But everyone gets at least two warnings, we reminded them.
Two weeks after, Robert Holt sawed down poor old George’s oak trees, tore their roots from the earth. We reminded him again: harm no land. Those trees had been there before his parents’ parents had been born, had survived hurricanes and droughts and pestilence, and should be treated with respect. He told us to fuck off, it was his property now, the deed paid for in cash, and he could do what he wanted with it.
Then our cats began to go missing. Professional rodent killers, whose ancestors had bred with the local bobcats and were still half feral, stopped returning to our homes and barns while Robert Holt chopped up trees, long cuts like bloody ribbons on his arms and face.
We explained there would be consequences if his behavior continued, but he said we had no proof, that the nearest police station was thirty-five miles away and no sheriff was going to come all the way out here just because some cats went missing. They were probably eaten by the local wildlife anyway, he said, and it was our own faults for letting them roam free.
We congregated in the church to discuss what should be done about Robert Holt. Those of us who had said we should have called the Twins at the beginning pointed fingers in the rest of our faces now, saying it was past time. Cats were always the beginning to something darker. Hadn’t we learned better from Harold Dodd? From Marie Emerson?
But we still had to follow our own rules, regardless of others breaking them. He had had his two warnings now and could only be punished when he ignored them a third time. We all agreed, however, we did not want to see what third offense he would create on his own, with his exact knowledge of the closest human authorities, his cocksure assurance we could not prove his guilt.
One of our young daughters slipped away from us into the moonless night during our arguing. We should have known better than to have discussed such things in front of her; it was her own sister who had been found buried under Harold Dodd’s house, who might have been saved if we had acted sooner.
Our daughter walked to old George’s place by herself, knocked on the door, and when Robert Holt answered, asked what he would do for an hour alone with her. When he said, Anything, she said, Bring me a blood orange from God’s Orchard. She even pointed the way, showed him the deer trail on the back of his property that would take him safely through the woods.
He said, “Come with me.”
She said, “I’ll be waiting for you here. Hurry back, before my mother and father know I’m gone.”
When he disappeared into the woods with only the light on his phone, she ran back to her home and called the Twins. There were four rings, then a soft click and a static void. She explained someone new had moved into old George’s place, and he had torn down the trees, killed our cats, and now was going into God’s Orchard. We warned him twice, like we were supposed to, she said.
Another soft click. Disconnected.
She came back to us in the church and confessed what she had done. Her mother held her close to her breast and stroked her hair, whispering she had done the right thing.
We went back to our own homes, locked doors and covered windows, turned off every light and waited in the dark. Soon the howls of coyotes echoed in our yards, our halls, our bones. Over their howls, the Twins laughed and shrieked with the joy of the hunt until dawn.
Robert Holt did not return. We sprinkled the upturned dirt with grass seeds, planted young saplings. We scrubbed new red stains off his floors. We left baskets of our best preserves – strawberries for Thea, tomatoes for Themis – on his front porch.
Four days after Robert Holt did not return, we woke to packages of meat wrapped in thick, white paper placed in our freezers, our sinks, on our tables. Fat, ripe blood oranges waited for us on our nightstands, and we bit into their rinds like apples, tearing out the sweet red pulp with our teeth, scarlet dribbling down our chins and throats.
* * *
Soon Jones is a half-Korean, full-lesbian writer and failed missionary from the rural countryside of the American South. Their work has been published in Moon City Review and Emerge: Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology, and can be found at http://www.soonjones.com.