Jackson pitched another rock through the window of the old sawmill, disappointed that the glass had already been shattered ages ago. He’d busted out all of the windows in fact, not a pane of glass had survived the years of them coming here. This ruin held no more secrets for them and that made him a little sad but more than anything it only added to the boredom.
“You catch what Mrs. Marsh was wearing?” Terry asked from his seat on the worktable.
“Nah, I blew off. Can’t stand Spanish.”
“You missed out man, shortest skirt I ever saw, caught a bit of snatch.”
“Bullshit,” Smith called over. He was laying down on the conveyor belt that once moved logs down the line. His head was dangerously close to the rusted saw blades.
“Swear I did, on God.” In the half gloom, Jackson could make out the smile on Terry’s face.
“You an atheist.” Smith rolled off the belt and started to kick a bunch of old beans-n-weenies cans.
“I saw it man and you know what?” Terry went over and started kicking the cans back at Smith. “She knew too.”
“Dude she’s not even hot. Bet if she spread those legs they’d squeak like the damn tin man.” Jackson teased, just to piss Terry off.
“Haha, Terry would oil her up wouldn’t ya boy?” Smith kicked a can so hard it popped up and nearly hit Jackson in the face.
“I would drink her bath water.” He drove that point home by making loud slurping noises. All three of them laughed like it was their last.
“Ah damn,” Jackson’s voice was a little hoarse as he wiped at his face. The dust was starting to get to him. “We need a new spot, this shit is done.”
“Wanna try the old dairy?” Smith offered. He’d also grown tired of the sawmill. When they’d first started to come here it had been a thrill, now it just played hell on his allergies.
“Hell no! I was pulling ticks off or a week.” Terry shook his head so fiercely it looked like it might fly off.
“We got to come up with something.”
“I got an idea.” Smith sounded a little spaced.
“We’ll lay it out.”
“Drove past a place with my dad a little while back. Lets met up at Churchwood.”
“Where’s that?” Terry was awful with street names, directions, in general, to be honest. He’d got them lost on their outings more than once for that very reason.
“Come on man, right off T-Mart.”
“Hell, that’s not too far at all, nine?” Jackson asked the others. They both nodded and before long the boys headed out back to their homes.
The three of them watched the building from across the street. It certainly looked abandoned. The letters above the chained door read. Bertsons Brewery. The boys had been waiting for the better part of an hour but didn’t want to take any chances. They’d been wrong before.
A few months back Terry had sold them on an empty farmhouse. It was behind his uncle’s place and he swore it was deserted. So, they all went to investigate one night. No sooner had they jumped the old fence and found an open barn door did lights kick on. Turns out the farm was actually very much active. Some guy called out from behind the lights and when a rifle shot rang through the air, the three bugged out of there so fast Jackson lost a shoe in the fence.
“Man come on, it’s dead.” Terry urged them.
“Ten more minutes.” Smith checked his phone. “Better safe than sorry.” Terry continued to grumble. Jackson counted the cars as they drove by. Six in the whole time they’d been waiting, it was quiet. A quite that struck him as odd, they weren’t really far off from one the main streets.
“Been ten damn minutes already. I want to see if they’ve got any hooch left.” Terry ran across the street and was halfway down the back of the building before the others caught up. They all felt alive with a sort of reckless joy at finally seeing something new. This town was a burned out nowhere, a place you might pass through on your way to somewhere bigger.
Failed business, empty buildings, ruins of a better time were the only landmarks they had. They’d explored them all, pillaged forgotten treasures to break up the boredom, all but this one. The brewery was a fresh temple, full of new secrets.
Jackson took a chunk of broken asphalt and shattered the dirty window of the back door next to the loading dock. With a turn of the deadbolt, the three were inside. Two phones and a flashlight lit up the bottling floor. The lights shone across broken brown glass. It spilled from dingy boxes which seemed to be everywhere. Smith shined his light on the tarnished copper vats the stood like two sleeping giants at the back of the room.
Jackson picked up a bottle from one of the boxes. Despite the dirt and dust, the label was still pretty clear. A comical half moon blew the sails of a purple ship, like one of those old Roman ones he’d seen in history class. Out from the moon, it read: Bertsons Odyssey: A Journey Of Flavor.
“Aww man,” He broke the bottle against a shelf. “All empties.”
“Look at ’em all, got to be some full ones.” Smith let out a whistle, “How long this place been down?”
“A while.” Jackson leads the first expedition deeper into the brewery. There was a tasting room in the back, next to the vats. The three of them got excited when they came across three small carboys under a moldy tarp. Their hopes were dashed however when the glass jars ended up being full of a powder that smelled like basement air.
Some further inspection yielded a stairway up to a second-floor office, which turned out to be in a much better state than the rest of the building. There were still notices and brew logs on the tac board, there was even a long stale cigar tucked onto an ashtray on the desk. Smith shined his light behind the office chair and onto a cabinet with glass doors.
“Jackpot.” there in the white LED light was a tall, unopened bottle. This one was different from the others, almost double in size and with a bright red label. Druid’s Dream, private stock.
Terry wasted no time in snatching it up. He gave the bottle a shake and grinned wide when he felt the slosh of liquid inside.
“Dibs.” He said before trying to twist the cap.
“Like hell, I saw it first!” Smith made for the beer and Terry nearly dropped it in his scramble to keep it away.
“Easy butterfingers.” Jackson flashed both of them in the eyes. They blinked rapidly at him, owl-like. “Nobody’ll be getting a drink without this.” He held up a fish head bottle opener. The other two let out a groan. “Now fork it over.”
With a sullen look, Terry handed the beer to Jackson. There was a hiss in the stillness of the room, the bottle cap fell with a jingle and the boys could smell a faint of spice in the air. Jackson had stolen his dad’s booze before and while he didn’t agree that it tasted like piss, he still didn’t like the bitterness. This, however, tasted nothing like his dad’s cheap cold ones. He let the liquid fill his mouth and roll across his tongue.
There were notes of pepper and coffee but the predominant flavor wasn’t something fruity like the smell had led him to expect, no it was almost meaty. Jackson forced down his drink and gave a shiver.
“How was it?” Terry looked at Smith before he took the bottle.
“Like I just ate a steak.” Jackson smacked his lips. Terry laughed as he took a long swig. A look of confusion crossed his face and he held the light up to the mouth of the bottle. He squinted to peer inside.
“Right?” Jackson was still a bit put off by the taste.
“Kinda milky, like a shake,” Terry said.
“Alright, alright don’t be a hog.” Smith took the drink and upended it. He gagged a bit but choked it down. “Gah! What the fuck?”
“Dude?” The others said in unison.
“Tasted like how my grandma smells, like old fruit and…. well old people.”
“How do you know how old woman taste huh?” Terry made a move to take the hooch but a wave of dizziness hit him and he nearly fell face first.
“Fuck you.” Smith was starting to feel a bit on the light-headed side as well.”Hot damn, what was the proof on this thing?”
“You gotta be kidding me. Bunch of lightweights.” Jackson was only felt nauseous. Terry started to look around, while Smith sat on the desk. There he managed to put the bottle down, after several tries. He picked up an old matchbox which had been next to the old cigar.
“Guys… hey, guys, I think something is wrong.” There was an edge of panic in Terry’s voice. He kept flashing his light from one corner of the room to the other. “The corners aren’t corners.”
“What you talking about?” Jackson watched the two of them. Terry kept looking around, frantic now. Smith was holding a small cardboard box up to his face. He looked entranced by it, eyes unblinking.
“They aren’t fucking corners man!.” Terry shouted. “Doors, goddamn open doors. Lines all wrong, filthy, my god the filth!”
“Terry calm down man, what the hell is going on?”
“Calm, calm motherfucker they’re crawling in! All tindy. They’re not fucking corners.” He devolved into a blubbering mess. Just repeated that over and over, they aren’t fucking corners.
“Smith, you see this shit?” Jackson was more freaked out by Terry’s breakdown than he wanted to admit. Smith had always been good for a laugh and a wink, was more chill but he didn’t answer. “Come on now?”
Smith couldn’t hear him, such was his focus on the scene playing out inside the matchbox. From the moment he’d picked it up, Smith had been completely focused on the light that had started to flare up from the small, cardboard space. First, it had been brilliant but after a few moments, it dimmed and pulsed.
Closer inspection revealed a whole world inside it. A lush field complete with a stream and tiny creatures wandering around. They looked like fat little imps, something close to a child mixed with a rat. He’d watched as they roamed and hunted. Could see them fight and fuck until there were huts of them.
As soon as the village grew things changed. He watched in horror as they strung up some of their own in the town square. They were cut on their hands and feet, their joints beaten with mallets until they could be bent into different shapes, unnatural angles. The rest of them danced and sang while the broken bodies were covered in tar and set ablaze. He was frozen, powerless. The burning corpses were arranged in such a way to spell out Smith.
Try as he might, Jackson couldn’t get through to either of his friends. The sick feeling in his stomach grew worse. His intestines cramped and clinched so bad it felt like he’d swallowed a snake. A snake that was desperate to get out. A sharp cry caused him to spin around. There, in the doorway, just at the edge of his light, he caught a glimpse of someone running away.
A worry crept up his spine. Had they been followed? Another wail, a little further away this time. Jackson felt a tingling behind his eyes, a need to follow, to see what had made that sound. Down the stairs he went, something moved in the darkness in front of him. A pitiful whimper, this time by the brew vats. Behind the left one, he found a small door. It was cracked, just a little.
As soon as he touched the handle, Jackson doubled over in pain. That serpent in his guts uncoiled and he felt a burn in his bowels. He clenched his asscheeks tight, a cold sweat covered him before the sickness passed. The door was open, he’d pulled it without realizing it.
Jackson staggered into the little room behind the vat and froze after only a few steps inside. If instinct could have moved him at all, he’d have dropped his light and ran out of there. But shock and fear were too great for him to even blink.
In the middle of the room was a bottling machine. It was small and grime covered. Attached at the top was another glass carboy, this one much larger than the others they had found in the tasting room. Inside it was a corpse.
A woman’s torso and head floated in a deep red liquid. The skin was drawn, pickled by the fluid she’d been rotting in. A hose ran out of the machine and into a tall bottle with a bright red label. That strange meaty taste filled his mouth again as the door behind him closed with a thud.
# # #
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