The Bog (conclusion)
“I don’t know what it can be,” Dana murmured. But he began to walk, then jog, down the plank way, making for the road.
“We’d better go,” Laurel said. “I don’t see how we can stay.”
He had tended to stick to his mother, a forty-nine-year-old reverted, with his doubts about Laurel, to dependent apron-stringing. But Jeff got over it. He quit mumbling asides to Rachel and found himself able to chat with his sister-in-law. Even to laugh apologetically when his mother said: “Laurel. Did you make this turkey?”
“It came from Mrs. Penfold.”
The news accounts had reminded Harry’s wife—a woman Laurel had met once or twice—of her existence. Their charity might be mutual. This might be the first holiday of her marriage Mrs. Penfold had an excuse to stop the rituals, cancel the heavy preparations.
Laurel had also invited Dana Jenkins and his wife; calling him, getting her. After sitting down to write a note, she had realized she didn’t know if the twenty-seven-year-old dropout was a son or daughter.
“Oh…I’ll have to see…we might stop by…”
“You really don’t have to. I just figured the more the merrier.”
Dana came on. “Laurel! How bout Christmas Eve, our place?”
It was amazing how people who might have a dog shaking clouds of dander into the household air…or conversely, coat every surface with Windex, worried about other people’s kitchens being clean enough. Laurel had scrubbed everything, dusted, vacuumed, boxed books and junk mail, pairs of shoes, research materials. Put everything in the garage. She had bought two pies at the grocery—not for preferring store-bought to homemade, even to spare labor—but to calm nerves, to say that she had.
“I didn’t bake these, sorry.”
“Seriously, don’t bring anything”, she had told her sister, and Rachel had brought stuffing, a sweet potato casserole, a big tin of mac and cheese. Jeff’s mother loaded her plate with these, maybe for her daughter-in-law’s sake. But she relaxed into turkey and gravy, and in the course of taking over the conversation, noshed through pie and sandwich cookies.
Harry Penfold, lit like a sparkler, staggering among the Free Landers, had found a crony, a man named Bill Krantz, with whom he shared a violent fantasy.
“Nah, I thought he was blowing off steam. Whenever he’d go get drunk, he’d talk like that, how we’d burn those Boggies out.”
“You mean,” the WRUS reporter asked, “Mr. Duffet?”
“He didn’t say that, any name, no.”
He might have said it. Duffet, eco-warrior, was practiced at evading authority. He lived in a pop-up camper, towed with his truck up a different back road every night. The tent and truck sported camouflage. The headlights of a passing vehicle might easily miss Duffet’s bivouac. But he stalked the bog close, sticking to the same few spots, getting into Jenkins Woods, using night-vision binoculars to spy on his enemies.
The Free Landers had circled back.
Bill Krantz told the reporters he hadn’t known it was missing. “I kept the can in the truck bed. It was for the cook stove.”
Duffet was working on emails, sheltered in double darkness. His siege mentality required that he drape a blanket over his head to blackout the light of the screen. For once in his life, the intruder had been real, creeping in stealth from the trees.
The sound came of kerosene glugging from a can, Duffet alert at once to the implications. Harry also, though he denied it, had muttered, going about his work, and when he struck the match, startled himself. Duffet heard a shriek, a curse, and a crashing retreat.
Flames leapt. He was trapped in a cloth-covered enclosure, in a ring of burning fuel.
But, for this attack (and a variety of others), Duffet was long prepared. The blanket was wool, organic and fire-resistant both. He wrapped himself in it, poured the contents of his canteen over his head, unzipped and burst, hitting the ground, rolling himself over and over, scuttling on his belly into cover, and crouching, waiting, until he heard the sheriff’s deputy say, “Is he in there? I can’t smell anything…like, you know…”
As far as Duffet knew, and as he explained it, the woods might have been swarming with Free Landers, waiting to finish the job.
The Free Landers took this indignantly.
“Nobody gave a goddamn about Duffet. Harry was just fool drunk. But he’s gotta answer for himself.”
“Now, I’ve got something for you.”
She wasn’t hurt seeing both faces, Rachel’s and Jeff’s, reflect some inner coaching. They were making tentative moves as a family. The vibes might weaken and die. Probably, they would.
“Don’t worry, it isn’t Boggie-prop.” She needed only to reach behind, to the little painted cabinet, Debbie’s legacy. “Maybe you don’t want it. Just a kind of souvenir.”
Not repelled, or faking it, Rachel said again, “Jeff, look at this!”
Laurel had gone back, the day after the fire, to dismantle the campsite…and seeing no reason not, she had stayed a few hours working. Rachel’s butterfly, pinned and framed, was not a Frazey’s checkerspot. They were too rare.
But it had spent its short life and would not mate again.
The Bog (part one)
(2017, Stephanie Foster)