Me and my kid brother Connor had been hauling off carcasses for the past two weeks. In the morning we’d drive south over Cherokee Lake to Hamblen County. Loading up whatever the farmers had called in—tossing the cows into the back of the flat bed, then sometimes quartering up the behemoths with Dad’s old Husqvarna—then making the trek back north towards Bean Station at night.
We dropped everything off behind Dad’s warehouse, a couple hundred yards north of the family cemetery, where we’d let the calves slop down onto the ever-growing pile of stench. The ass end of the truck a trail of blood, flies, and occasional maggots.
Dad was selling the meat discounted to the local butcher shop, and he was cutting us fifteen percent of the profit. He’d said it’d make honest men out of us, and we’d get the benefit of some gas and booze money for the weekend.
He told us, Friday after the game, we didn’t have to come back at midnight if we could stay out of the DUI check points.
I shrugged my shoulders, nodded sure, we can do that—as long as Mom wasn’t waiting up and riding our ass the next morning about what we’d been up to.
He shook my hand, said, yeah, Momma ain’t gonna hear about it. “She thinks you’re off with the church group, anyways.”
So, that’s how the summer of ’92 was going to be. Me and Connor hauling around dead cows and our wallets full of cash. Trying to figure out a way to steal Mom’s cousin’s boat out of the slip, bring out the rods, and fish for channel cat.
Not that if Old Davey caught us he would have been that pissed anyways, knowing we were just living up the last summer before I became a senior, left Bean Station forever, and moved out to Knoxville.
So we busted our asses, Connor never saying much, going over his football routes in his head. He mentioned maybe Coach would let him try out for quarterback if he could get his spiral down.
“Maybe,” I said, “I’ll even help you practice if you can help put five hundred back, no questions asked.”
He’d just nodded yes and we kept slinging meat between Morristown and Bean Station.
After the third week, I’d managed to save up double that, and Connor said he’s match me half of whatever I managed to save up. I pulled out a wad of twenties, fanned them out, and told him maybe he could go ahead and just cut his losses, pay up now, and I wouldn’t hold him to the rest.
He sort of chuckled, grabbed the football out of the front seat.
“Go long, big brother,” he said.
I jogged out behind Dad’s warehouse, letting the pile of carcasses sit between us, and threw up my hands. He lobbed a perfect spiral and hit me right in the chest. I threw a thumbs up, then the ball back toward him, making sure it floated long enough to drop down into the middle of dead cows.
Connor smiled, mouthed “you son of a bitch,” and walked towards the pile of dead meat, trying to tiptoe around the slick muddy patches of dirt and blood.
He stopped, raised his eyes at me, and yelled. “You gotta come see this, Bobby!”
“What?” I stayed where I was, waiting for whatever bullshit trick he was trying to play on me. Just let it build up to backfiring on him.
“Seriously, you need to take a look at this!”
“Fuck is it?”
“It’s goddamn freaky is what. Just get your ass over here.”
I looked around, waiting for someone to come out of the woods, maybe Old Davey trying to play along with Connor, and when nothing happened, I jogged back. Watching the ground with every step.
I slowed to a walk and kept watching Connor as he bent over, found a stick and started stabbing at whatever it was I couldn’t see yet.
Connor pointed with the stick he’d found and said would you look at that. “It’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Then the smell hit me. I bent over and blasted a stream of stomach bile and whatever it was we’d eaten for lunch.
Connor patted me on the back, called me a pussy, and started poking at whatever it was I couldn’t make out yet. I wiped my face, rubbed the tears out of my eyes, tried to focus on the end of Connor’s stick.
Someone’s right hand was coming out from underneath the stomach of one of the carcasses—a three month calf, at best—and was reaching for the stick.
“The fuck is that, Connor?” I grabbed the stick and poked the palm of the hand.
Connor looked at me. “Looks like a body’s down in there, like it got dropped off last night.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“They must of stumbled out here, figured they could drop off a dead body in these cows, and no one would notice. You know, with the smell and everything being so bad.”
“Yeah, but he’s alive, dumbass.”
“No, it’s probably like a frog leg. Keeps moving after it’s dead, like in Biology last year.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said.
The fist slowly opening and closing. I told Connor maybe we should call Dad, get him down here and see what he thinks.
I stepped back, the smell making me dry heave again, and then I remembered the chain saw in the front of the truck. I told Connor maybe he should go get that–we could these carcasses up, get the body out of there, before Dad got here and thought we killed some poor son of a bitch.
“I don’t know Bobby, maybe we should just get Dad out here. Let him deal with this.”
“Now who’s being a pussy?” I finished it off with a fist to his shoulder, and headed toward the truck.
I could hear Connor behind me kicking something around. I reached the truck and pulled the handle, the door creaking open, and reached for the chain saw.
Then Connor screamed, “Jesus Christ, Bobby!”
I jerked back, forgot to duck down, and it was the oh-shit handle on the back of my skull. My eyes teared up and I dropped the chain saw.
“This motherfucker—he’s alive—Jesus Christ!”
I reached down, looked over my shoulder, and Connor was walking backwards, one foot behind the other like a he was watching a ghost.
I grabbed the Husqvarna, primed it three times with my thumb, and cranked the rope, hard.
Connor was still walking backward, the body following, reaching foreword with both arms, a guttural moan coming out of the caved-in diaphragm.
The body was gaining momentum, each footfall faster than the one before.
I kept pulling and pulling, trying to get the saw to roar to life, just this one last time. I looked up: Connor’s turning around, looking at me, screaming to hurry up.
And then this thing—or person, whatever it is—is coughing up calf entrails, miles of it.
Connor’s running toward me, all the reds and pinks drained from his. His eyes wide and scared, he says, “He’s not alive Bobby, that son of a bitch is dead, but he’s walking somehow.”
The sweat is dripping down my forehead and the lactic buildup in my arms is getting worse, more and more with each crank of the chain saw.
I look up and ask Connor how he knows this fucking thing is dead.
“Because, I swear on Momma’s life—that’s Grandaddy. He’s come up out of his grave. The same scar’s there, the one above his left eye.”
I stopped and stared at this walking dead man picking up speed. The caved-in chest and face made sense now—if Connor was right.
Connor yanked the Husqvarna out of my hand, pulled back on the rope, and it roared to life, the teeth spinning around at too many rotations per minute.
The scar, the sunken in face, everything: it was Grandaddy. The man we’d buried so many years ago, at the funeral where I tried so hard not to cry.
And me, I’m kneeling there, unable to stand, my breaths coming in panic-attack stops and goes. Connor, he’s charging this fucking dead man, chain saw in tow. And Grandaddy is David compared to Goliath.
Then one giant arc and Grandaddy’s head is rolling around at Connor’s feet, no blood, just the gurgle of a dead man that shouldn’t have ever come back from the grave. Should have never have popped two arms through the dirt and made his way towards the cows.
Then it’s me and my kid brother Connor, watching Grandaddy fall over, dead for the second time in our life.
And then tomorrow, more of them down in Hamblen County, waiting to get hauled off.