The Man Who Sold Time
by Arthur Davis
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
The next morning, Henry dressed and fixed breakfast early. By the time he was ready to leave, Helen was up and standing at the doorway. “Where are you going?”
“Going to pay Fred Kinney a visit.”
“What do you think he’s going to say?”
“Don’t know, but I’ll get the truth from him.”
“Henry” — she rarely used his first name unless she was scolding him in front of friends or deeply concerned — “maybe he doesn’t know.”
“I’ve already considered that.”
“And what if, you know, he knows?”
“I’ve considered that possibility too.”
Helen didn’t want him to go. She loved him so deeply that the thought of losing him, even for something as important as this, was too painful to bear. “What about the wheelbarrow?”
“I set it on a piece of heavy corrugated metal I’ve been saving from the old Brewster barn. It’s not dangerous,” he said, then looked at her on the staircase. She was in her bathrobe, a present to her on their twentieth anniversary, along with a box of chocolates she never let him live down. She was so pretty. Soft, and with sweetness he clung to.
“You take care of yourself.”
It took Henry just under a half hour to drive to Fred Kinney’s home.
Fred was preparing a piece of shingle for installation. He was wearing blue coveralls. For a man nearly sixty, he was trim and well-muscled with a thick mat of gray hair covering his chest. His eyes were brown and set on a face that wore its openness freely. But that did not assuage the dread that Henry Serling had brought with him. The devil wore many disguises. And there was no real way of telling whom he might compromise.
Henry stood away, not distant, but not comfortably close either and related the evening’s events as they occurred. Fred sipped a ladle of cold spring water. He offered a cup to Henry who was thirsty, but refused.
“Damn thing nearly sparkled after I finished.”
“You wouldn’t recognize it now.”
“If you’re saying what I think you’re saying, then how can you ever be certain?”
“Can’t. But there were no other choices. Either you are not who you say you are or the paint you set to my sign isn’t what it says it is on the label.”
Fred marched Henry into his workshop, so cluttered with tools and equipment you had to be a dancer to move about. The green paint was sitting on top of the worktable. He pried off the lid. A noxious burst of fumes spilled out sending both men out of the garage gasping.
“I guess we found the problem,” Fred said, holding his sides. He had fallen from a ladder several years back and broken two ribs and it hurt to cough or sneeze violently. He caught his breath and stood up.
Henry went back into the garage with his handkerchief pressed over his mouth and nose and examined the can closely. It was made by Benton & Furst over in Columbus. The description read like hundreds he had seen before. He bent down and watched the tiny green drops slip from under the worktable where they had burned through and were accumulating on the ground. “Here, take a look at this.”
He and Fred sawed out a section of the worktable and scooped up the dirt and set it in a large cast iron pot Fred had once used as a planter. “Now we’ve both got the same problem.”
Henry shook his head in despair. “There’s evil here, pure and simple.”
“What are we going to do with that stuff?”
“You got any more around?”
“No. Definitely not.”
Fred Kinney blanched. “A traveling salesman came through here during the winter. Coldest damn day imaginable.”
“I recall a week of terrible cold this past January.”
“He came riding up in a truck crammed with dry goods and tried to sell me some seed. I didn’t need any seed but the green paint was cheap enough.”
“You just got one gallon?”
“He had more, but it was all I wanted.”
“You recall his name? Anything unusual about him?”
Fred pushed back his baseball cap. “Not a thing.”
“I’m sure he wanted it that way.”
“And I was so damn cold standing at the back of his truck, all I wanted was to grab the paint and get warm.”
“We’ll never know who else bought the rest of the paint.”
“Or any of the seed,” Fred added.
“The seed, of course. Lord Almighty.”
* * *
Fred followed behind Henry’s truck. Secured in a web of heavy rope in the center of Fred’s truck bed was the cast iron pot. There had been little discussion as they positioned and roped off the pot. Neither had any interest in speculation. The evidence was as much as they cared to see.
Helen saw the dust trail for two miles out. She watched Henry’s truck and Fred’s truck twist past Grainger’s farm and up the long winding road that led to their home.
By the time they reached the wheelbarrow, the blister on the bottom of the metal was almost burned through. Strapping another paint can under the wheelbarrow and getting the entire rig into Fred’s truck next to the cast iron pot required considerable imagination.
Henry explained their plan to Helen, who simply wished them a safe return. The trip into town was slower than Helen might have walked. They pulled into the empty church parking lot by early afternoon.
“You think this’ll work?”
Henry released the ropes. “Right about now it’s the best thing I can come up with.”
“Thank the Lord the place is deserted.”
“Still, it’s God’s hallowed ground. It’s the only place for this poison.”
“What if it doesn’t work?” Fred asked.
“Then we’re going to need a lot more pots.”
Henry hadn’t been in church for many years and, like his parents, had no belief other than in working hard enough to put the next meal on the table. A young man came around the far side of the rectory with pruning shears in one hand and a bucket filled with dark stones in the other. Henry recognized Madge Pruitt’s boy, Kevin.
The boy was visibly shaken at the sight of both men and began to retreat.
“Kevin, it’s me, Henry Serling.”
Kevin started to say something that, if it would have come out, might have explained the fear that had been dogging the boy. It went to bed with him, followed him around school and would not let him go to church for confessional. It would not let him confess to his parents either. After all, they were the ones who had gotten him the after school job with the new pastor.
“You know the kid?” Fred asked as the boy disappeared around back.
“I thought I did.”
Fred grasped the ropes. “You ready to lift?” he asked Henry.
Henry stood transfixed, experiencing momentary flashes of a bright green sign, his physical despair and almost magical recovery, Helen’s frightened expression as the yellow beam from his flashlight traced the outline of evil, and the terror so obvious on Madge Pruitt’s boy. “Something’s not right here. I just know it.”
“Well, we may be able to get some answers soon enough.”
“Because the guy who sold me the green paint is coming right for us.”
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Arthur Davis