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Story by Gary V. Powell (Read author interview) June 1, 2015

Art by Karen Prosen

Cari awoke deep in the night to a low buzz that reminded her of a chainsaw. Dennis slept beside her, his snoring steady, the hair on the back of his neck a tickle on her nose. She rolled onto her back, listening. When the buzzing continued, she swung out of bed, unable to sleep.

She’d grown up in the country, on a farm outside of a small town, her father and older brothers slinging chainsaws to fend off trespass of the thicket surrounding their farm. She could hear them from the house where she read, watched TV and sometimes made out with a neighbor boy her brothers called homely.

After working all day, the men came stomping in with dirt under their nails and reeking of rotted leaves and cow shit. Once, Cari’s older brother caught a splinter in his eye, blinding him. While still in high school, the homely neighbor boy lost his arm to a corn picker.

Another neighbor, an older man who lived alone in a ramshackle house, his barn sagging like an old drunk, she caught spying on her. Glimpsed through her window, his face pressed against the glass, one hand tugged at his crotch. Her father and brothers confronted the man, and when he refused to own up, her younger brother struck him, breaking his jaw and sending him to the hospital.

Not long thereafter, a Mennonite girl living on the same country road, a girl no more than twelve, was raped in her home by an unidentified assailant. He attacked before dawn while the girl’s parents milked and fed their dairy cattle. Although suspicion centered on the Peeping Tom, no arrests were made. The girl’s father threatened reprisal, but when someone burned the ramshackle house to the ground, the owner inside, the police refused to investigate. Folks in those parts accepted that accidents happened.

Now, Cari lived in a gated community, sealed off from intruders and devoid of farm equipment that could blind an eye or sever a limb. Two young sons slept down the hall, accompanied in their room by a big, fluffy golden retriever. Their five-bedroom home backed up to a man-made lake, and trees, Southern pine and white oak, protected on two sides. Out front, beyond the circular drive, a well-manicured lawn stretched to the street. Her husband, a handsome physician, kept his hands clean and soft, his shoes polished to a shine.

Cari padded down the hall and entered Dennis’s home office. The buzzing persisted, overhead and toward the street. Sometimes, when air traffic was heavy, jets and small aircraft bound for the airport flew overhead, but this sounded closer, higher pitched. The dew-covered lawn offered no clue. The trees stood unmoving and silent in the pre-dawn stillness.

Now, she could have sworn the buzzing came from the back of the house.

Cari made her way downstairs and onto their deck overlooking the summer-still water. A lone cruiser, outlined by its running lights, stood sentry at the entrance to her cove. The darkened shapes of homes on the other side of the lake lumbered through the night like great herbivores of the plain. Above, and to her left, abrupt movement drew her attention. Something hovered in the night sky—neither the shape of an airplane nor a helicopter, and much smaller than both, no larger than a child’s toy, really—a drone, she supposed. Her older son had shown her one on the Internet, using his iPad. A video camera clung to the underside of the device, studying her.

Cari picked up a nearby broom. She leaned into the railing, swatting at the thing and missing. That quick, the drone buzzed away. She watched its ascent over the lake until the sound faded. Her heart pounding, she re-entered the house. She rechecked the locks on the doors and, tip-toeing room to room, closed the blinds on all the windows.

She stood at the doorway to her own bedroom, listening to her husband’s snore. A kind man, a patient man, he’d never punched anyone, never suffered a serious wound. He wouldn’t know what to do about the drone. Maybe call the police. Maybe raise a concern with the HOA. Cari knew how it would play out. The police would talk to her neighbors. The HOA would hem and haw, maybe add a restriction, maybe not. In the end, nothing would be done.

Agitated and unable to sleep, she lay down on the sofa in the family room, her mind clear and calculating. She imagined weapons and destruction, death and dismemberment. She wouldn’t share this with anyone.


Notes from Guest Reader Steve Himmer

There’s something so powerfully understated in this story—the gendered violence and brutality, the secret nighttime lives of Cari and whoever flies the drone. This story has stuck with me.

About the Author

Gary V. Powell’s stories and flash fiction have been widely-published in both print and online literary magazines including most recently Blue Fifth Review, MadHat Lit, Gravel Literary Magazine, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2015 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, his work has placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press. His first collection of previously published short stories, Beyond Redemption, is available at http://www.authorgaryvpowell.com/beyond-redemption/.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight

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