Alexander Nikolai Zolnerovich was watching traffic and arguing with the radio when the Little House on Chicken Feet walked across the north and south bound lanes of I-25. Traffic had stopped for the usual wreck, and the house, about the size of the semi-trailer looming in Alexi’s rearview mirror, picked its way between and over the cars, apparently untroubled by the congestion. Alexi stared, open jawed, then said some of those Russian words he wasn’t supposed to have overheard his parents using. “I didn’t . . . no way . . . it can’t be. Is joke.” He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again. The house stopped by the northbound shoulder, scratched up some of the grass with one of the chicken feet, and continued east-northeast. Alexi saw the shadow under the house, and the scratch-marks in the grass and dirt of the embankment. “Oh no.”
Before he could dig out his cell phone to call his father or grandmother, traffic started moving. Alexi muttered another rude word in Russian and crossed himself, both against Baba Yaga and against the Denver drivers. And here he’d thought people in Wichita had automotive death wishes! The rental car’s four-cylinder engine strained to keep the little shoe-on-wheels moving fast enough to match traffic speed. Apparently everyone and their grandfather had decided to speed in order to make up for time lost to the wreck in the construction zone, and Alexi heaved a sigh of relief when he reached his exit. From there he turned west, into Golden, and began looking for the correct street signs. The last time he’d visited his grandmother, Babushka’s house had been out in the countryside, away from anything but the mountains and the wind. Now Denver, and Denver traffic, encroached on her doorstep.
After a wrong turn, a stop at a package store for some beer, and almost getting rear-ended by a colorblind idiot who thought that stopping for red lights was optional, Alexi reached his grandmother’s house. For reasons known only to her, she’d bought twenty acres of ground. She always kept as large of a garden as his uncle Alexander could plow and let the neighbor graze a few horses on the rest. Alexi got out of the car and unlocked the gate, or started to. Someone had removed the lock, leaving it hanging on the handle inside the white wood and pipe fence. The hair on Alexi’s neck shot straight up, as he heard his parents’ voices whispering about family who had disappeared in the night, never to be seen again. “Oh, stop that,” he told himself. “Babushka probably forgot to re-lock after she went to grocery store.” Alexi pushed the gate open, drove through, and closed the gate, locking it behind him.
The garage stood open. His grandmother’s enormous black Lincoln sat in the garage. Oh good, she was home; that explained the gate being unlocked. Alexi got out of the sub-compact rental, stretched, and strolled up to the front door. He rang the bell. No one answered. After a minute or two he rang again, since (according to his father), Babushka had gotten hard of hearing. Still no answer. “Maybe she’s in the garden.” It was August, after all. Alexi walked around the back of the house, stopped, and blinked.
Weeds had swallowed half the garden, and something had torn out the other half. Alert, wary, Alexi stayed where he was, watching and listening for trouble. He saw a jack-rabbit and birds but no other people. When he got closer to the torn-up area, he noticed tracks, and “No, it can’t be.” He crouched down, peering at what seemed to be brush marks in the dust, as if someone had tried to sweep away their tracks before they got into a car. “Well, if they did, they were stupid.” They’d left the car tracks, tracks that continued around the other side of the house before disappearing in the grass. The car tracks looked old, older than the brush marks, and had been rained on at least once.
Alexi stood up from his crouch. He walked around the little white house with bright red shutters and trim, dug the keys his father had loaned him out of his carry-on bag, and unlocked the front door. Then he waited, just out of the line of sight or shot. Nothing moved inside the house so he entered. Alexi walked as quietly as possible from one small room to another. The house smelled fusty, as if it had been shut up for too long. Then he heard a faint sound from the kitchen.
(C) 2015 Alma T. C. Boykin
Available from Amazon at:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0128EBC20