“Eh, I guess it don’t matter if they believe me or not, ever,” he said, looking at his creation. He pulled his sleeves down each arm, unfolding, unrolling them, till both were straight. Something of a heatwave had fallen on Hickory. Every week before that one had been cooler and cooler. Now it was sunny weather, with some lost clouds, and warm enough for shorts. He buttoned each cuff and went to his back porch for the lunch he’d set out for himself.
On the table on his porch was his meal. Turkey sandwich. Lemonade. Potato chips. An apple that looked more orange than red. And his memorandum book. His record. Writ of fine tipped pen and curling edges on every letter. People said what they wanted about Hoyle Quall. They said it often and frequently. They all agreed he was silly in the head. But he had the penmanship of a duke. It came naturally to him, the way he formed his letters. Nothing much else had come naturally to him in life. But his writing would have caused the finest calligrapher to retire on the spot. Hoyle thought nothing of it. It wasn’t the way he wrote his letters, it was what the letters said that mattered. He reviewed the most recently inked page while he ate. Spritz of apple flecked the paper.
Ten rubber hoses. Lace them around the border. Put a nail between every space that the rubber does not obscure.
His eyes glanced from the page to his creation, which sat off in his back yard near the beginning of the pine woods. He had no back fence, only side fences. They ran from the walls of his house and went back, back—back until they stopped, and the forest began. The city manager of Hickory didn’t know. Likely wouldn’t care. It was Hoyle Quall’s yard. Who cared what Hoyle Quall did, ever? He was worth the gossip, the joke, the wince, but he wasn’t worth anyone’s time.
His eyes bounced from his creation to his page. He didn’t look at any part of the meal. He knew where each item sat, and he reached and consumed systematically. Soon lunch was done. He swigged the lemonade stiffly. He put his glass down, dropping it onto the table top, not really setting it with any care. Luckily it didn’t fall over.
Hoyle stomped back into the recesses of his boundless yard. You could say the woods were his, since he had no fence marking where his property stopped. The woods were his, which would make the woods beyond them his, and the hills they populated. But Hoyle didn’t think like that. How did Hoyle think? Who knew. Who knew why he did what he did.
He stood surmising his creation. Everything was up to date and in its place, just as they had dictated. Everything, so far as they had prescribed. He awaited the next instruction. He was often waiting.
“Cousin Hoyle?” A little voice behind him spoke. A little person was standing on his back porch.
“Who let you in my house?” Hoyle asked.
“I’m not in your house, Cousin Hoyle,” said the boy. “I’m on your porch.”
“Guess that’s right,” said Hoyle. He walked over to his porch. He hadn’t had a visitor in weeks.
It was Rusty Quall, his second cousin. Just a kid.
“Ain’t it a school day?” asked Hoyle.
“Yeah,” said Rusty. “It’s five o’ clock.”
“Ain’t your dad say not to come see me ever?” asked Hoyle. He stood with his hands on his hips, looking up at his porch where the boy stood.
“So? He’s just my dad,” said Rusty. The kid walked down the steps of the porch into the grass. He was dressed for the warmer weather. Sneakers, shorts, striped t-shirt. His hair was buzzed like a fighter pilot’s. “And he never said I couldn’t. That was Mom. Dad knows you’re all right.”
“I bet he does,” said Hoyle. “Whatcha want?”
“Is that it?” Rusty pointed past the man. He pointed at the structure, the creation built at the back of the yard.
Hoyle nodded, “What’s it look like?”
“Nothing,” said Rusty. He looked from his cousin to the creation. “Nothing.” He shrugged. “Junk-pile.”
“I thought you’d see it,” said Hoyle. “Guess I really am the only one. You can go home then. I got work to do.”
“What work?” asked Rusty. “More instructions from your book?”
“What you mean?” asked Hoyle. “You read from my record?”
“It was on the table,” said Rusty.
“On my table, on my porch, at my house,” said Hoyle. “You walk into people’s homes and eat their food and say it was in the fridgerator? And then you ain’t a thief?”
“Looks like you’ve finished building it though,” said Rusty. He wanted to walk across the yard, all the way up to the structure, and yet he didn’t at the same time. The creation was too weird, too crazy-looking.
“All right Rusty,” said Hoyle folding his arms. “Whatchu want? An ice cream? A sodey-pop? Go to Grover’s, or Yarborough’s. I don’t got sweets here.”
“Just wanted to see what you were making, is all,” said Rusty.
“You know what the people say about me,” said Hoyle, towering over the boy.
“You’re a sketchophoenix,” said Rusty.
“Schizophrenic,” said Hoyle. “So?”
“So? What do people know?” said Rusty. “Can I look at it?”
“I better go with you,” said Hoyle. The pair scraped along in the grass. They passed all the stone peoples of Hoyle’s yard. All the citizens of his landscape. A bull, the size of a fat piglet, as dark as tar. A gnome with a pointy hat, whose eyes had worn away flat, while the rest of it was still shaped and chiseled as before. A rock ostrich, no taller than Rusty. A tree, like a lollipop topiary, but made of stone too.
They reached the creation.
“Do you know what schizophrenic means?” asked Hoyle.
“Aw, jee, Cousin,” said Rusty. “I told you school’s out. I don’t care.” He admired the bizarre structure. It was a jumble of objects, all put together very deliberately, very precise. The main shape was a triangle made of three wooden beams; anchored in the ground, and the two legs rising up to meet at a point, higher than Hoyle’s head. They were painted red. Rubber hose was wrapped around the beams. Nails lined the wooden spaces between each coil of rubber. Fishhooks wiggled in the breeze, tied by strings to the edges of the triangle. Fishing spoons, too. A single thread of copper wire ran along the face of the bottom beam of the shape, one thin slit of copper on the wood.
“That’s all it is?” asked the boy. “You’ve been working on this for months, I thought.”
“The instructions come slowly,” said Hoyle.
“Who’s giving the instructions?” asked Rusty.
“That’s why they call me schizo,” said Hoyle. “Voices are telling me the instructions.”
“I don’t know.”
“Just from the air?” asked Rusty.
“Yeah,” said Hoyle. “So I’m a schizo. I tried telling your dad about it. He told everyone else in town, I guess. So I’m a loon. I’m a madman. A monkey escaped from the zoo. Hickory knows it. You know it too. So go on home to your dad before he comes and chews me out.”
“He won’t,” said Rusty. “He says he wish you’d come over for dinner. Says you used to be like brothers.”
“Well he told the whole town,” said Hoyle folding his arms.
“The voices really just talk from the air?” asked Rusty.
Hoyle sighed. He scratched his widow’s peak and wiped some sweat from his forehead. “Got me fired too, because he told everyone I was a nutter. You really wanna hear about my voices?”
“I came over here, didn’t I?” said Rusty.
“Come on back to the porch,” said Hoyle. “I shouldn’t be away from my book too long.”
“Promise you’ll tell me?”
“Yeah. On the porch.”
Soon Rusty was sitting at the table, knees and ankles together. Hoyle got another glass of lemonade for the boy, and filled up his glass for himself. Then he set to sweeping the porch. He hadn’t noticed how dusty it was until just then. The air was getting grey. Night wasn’t too far off, but it was warm as ever. In the woods, in the pine trees, bluejays were bickering. Their voices were dry.
“Listen,” said Hoyle while he swept. “I never read magical books. I never read stories about space buses, or time machines. I studied in school like every other kid, I joined the army, I worked hard, I came back home to Hickory and I became a postman, like I always knew I would. So you need to know I was never out there looking for buried treasure, or thinking monsters lived in the wood, all right?”
“Okay,” said Rusty, nodding. He slurped at his lemonade.
“But a few months back, I was out here in my yard. I just cut the grass and was looking around at my work. So, then one of the voices started talking to me.”
“What’d he say?”
“He said, ‘Can anyone hear me?’”
“Yeah, at first. He didn’t know if anyone would hear him right away. And I was raised to be polite, so I said, ‘Yes, I can hear you, loud and clear.”
Rusty leaned back in his chair, holding his glass of lemonade, looking out at the backyard.
“So he kept talking to me. He said he needed help. I said I could help him, maybe, depending on what the job was. But then, he didn’t say anything else. I waited for a few minutes, but the voice was gone. So I went on with my day. A couple weeks later, I was out here looking at the paper. Another voice started talking. This time it was a lady’s voice. Said, ‘Hello? Are you still there, sir?’ I said yes, and what did she need? She said if I could help them, I needed to start building something. So that’s when the instructions started. The voices come irregular, but they been clear in their instructions. They describe what to get, and how to assemble it. So that’s what I been doing. Your dad saw it one day and asked all about it, and I told him, and now I’m schizophrenic, I guess.”
Rusty started looking around the yard from his chair. “Did you check for a radio or a microphone? Maybe someone’s playing a trick.”
“I was in the army for ten years, Russ,” said Hoyle shaking his head and sweeping. “These voices are all clear. Just like yours, sitting there. Sometimes they’re men, sometimes ladies. They’re in trouble though. And they want my help.”
“Okay,” said Rusty. “I got it all, now.”
Hoyle stopped sweeping. “Do you believe me, then?”
“Sure!” said Rusty.
“Really?” said Hoyle.
“I believe you,” said Rusty. “I don’t know if I believe it. But I believe you, Cousin.” Rusty turned his glass up, drinking the last dribbles of the lemonade. The ice hesitated, then swooped down the side of the glass and pelted his face. He set the glass down and wiped his mouth, his nose and cheeks. “You know Mr. Oxx-Orx who lives by the lake? He’s from a different planet, remember? I saw a weird animal in the woods with my friends. It was giant. And everybody knows there’s a ghost living in the Cowboy Cave on the other side of the lake. If you want to help strangers’ voices, I don’t care.”
“That’s polite of you to say,” said Hoyle. “It’s really getting dark. Go on home. Your dad’ll let me hear it, else.”
“Okay,” said Rusty. “But you should come with me. Mom’s making raspberry cobbler for dessert.”
“They don’t want me,” said Hoyle. “I gotta stay around here, you know. Go home, Rusty.”
“Okay, okay,” said Rusty standing up. “Good luck and all.”
Later on, Hoyle was sitting outside. He’d carried a chair from the porch and planted it in the yard, like he did almost every night. He sat, in the dark, with a metallic flashlight as long as his arm. For now, it was not ignited. So he sat in the dark. His memorandum book was on his lap. He could hear an owl off in the woods, fretting about whatever owls fret about. Hoo-hooing, and all. Hoyle clicked on the flashlight, shining it at his stone bull. Then his gnome. Then his ostrich. Then the stone tree. Lastly the creation. It looked normal, or at least, like it always did. The triangle of lumber, the glitter of fishhooks and fishing spoons.
He perked his ears all of a sudden. There came another voice. It sounded calmer than usual, less rushed than other times.
“Hoyle,” he heard. “Hoyle, are you out there?”
“Sure am,” said Hoyle sitting upright. “What now?”
“It’s the last thing you’ll need,” he heard. “Then you will be able to find us. Can you acquire chains of iron?”
“Might have to settle for steel,” said Hoyle. “Sure. But I’ll have to buy them in the morning. The stores are all closed now.”
“Wrap the chains around your waist,” he heard. “And stand under the apex of the device. Then we will locate you, and bring you to us. We will be ready.”
“All right,” said Hoyle. “So will I.”
The next morning, Mr. Quall, Rusty’s dad, drove his son over to their cousin’s house. Rusty was missing the first class of the day, but that was all right by him. Michael, his dad’s first name, would be late for work. But after his son’s report of Cousin Hoyle, and in spite of his wife’s protests, he decided to come over and see what he could accomplish. He’d be a half hour late for work, but the world would spin same as always.
Father and son avoided the front door and went around back to the fence. The gate was unlocked. They walked into the backyard and looked around. There were the statues: bull, gnome, ostrich, and tree. There was the creation at the edge of the wood. The triangle of lumber, the hooks, the copperwire, the rubber hose. To Michael Quall, the structure looked not so much a weird mess as it did to his son. It was junk, sure enough, but elegant junk. Geometric junk. Cousin Hoyle had been very careful in his construction, it appeared. But where was Hoyle?
“Cousin!” said Rusty. “Dad and I came by!”
“Hoyle, where are you?” said Rusty’s father. “Must be inside. I knew we should’ve knocked.” Rather than knocking on the back door, Michael Quall stared at the ludicrous idol at the end of the yard, built near the shade of the pines. He had only seen it once, in its early phase, when it was merely the triangular beams, undecorated.
Rusty was already ahead of him. The boy broke into a run. “Cousin Hoyle! Cousin!” His dad followed, striped necktie flouncing in the air. “Cousin? It’s Rusty! Cousin?”
They looked around the structure, as if he were hiding on the other side of it, despite it being an open eave. They looked into the shadows of the pinewood. “Hoyle?”
They returned to the structure. “Where is he, dad?”
“I don’t know, Rusty,” said Michael Quall. “You saw him last. Did he say he was leaving town?”
“No,” said Rusty. “He only said he was trying to help them.”
“Well, beats me,” said the father. “He might’ve left town after all, the rascal.”
“I wonder if we’ll see him again,” said Rusty.
They stood there quietly, neither wanting to urge the other to work or school. They studied the structure, wondering at its purpose, the meaning of its parts. Wondering where Cousin Hoyle was.
“Hey! What’re you two doing?” They heard a voice. They turned around. There came Hoyle Quall, walking through the yard, carrying a bundle of chains in his arms.
“Hoyle!” said Michael. “Hi there. We were wondering where you were.”
Hoyle walked quickly. “You didn’t touch it didja? You didn’t tamper with it, along with trespassing?”
“Aw, Hoyle,” said Michael shaking his head. “I wasn’t meaning to barge in. Rusty told us about seeing you yesterday, and I thought I could come by and make peace.”
“Did you touch it?” asked Hoyle, his face growing as red as the painted triangle.
“No, no, of course not, Hoyle,” said Michael. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” said Hoyle, relieved. He had reached them. He had reached the creation. “I’m dandy as mud. You shouldn’t wander into my yard unannounced.” He did not set the chains down, but held them in his arms.
“Oh, of course not, Hoyle,” said Michael. “You’re right. I’m sorry. We should’ve knocked. Can we talk a while?”
“No,” said Hoyle. “No, no. You gotta go on. I have a really busy morning.”
“You’re not still mad, are you?” asked Michael. Rusty stood by his father’s side, peering from one man’s face to the other, curious what it looked like for two grownups to forgive each other.
“I ain’t mad, Mike,” said Hoyle. “Just busy. You told the town I was crazy, but I ain’t mad.”
“I never said that,” said Michael. “I didn’t mean for anyone to think that, Cousin.”
“Fine, fine,” said Hoyle. “But I’m busy. Please leave my property, before I get mad.”
“All right, all right,” said Michael. “Just—will you come over for dinner tonight? Or would you meet me for lunch at the sandwich shop? I just would like to talk, Hoyle, like we used to.”
“No promises,” said Hoyle, sweating. “Okay, Mike, okay, if I’m free later on, I’ll stop by. Okay?”
“That’s good, Hoyle!” said Michael holding out his hand and smiling. Rusty smiled too. Hoyle shrugged, but offered his own in response, the chains hanging from his forearm. They shared a jangly handshake.
“Now go on,” said Hoyle. “I’m real busy.”
“All right, Cousin, I can see that,” said Michael. “I’d love to hear all about it.”
“Fine,” said Hoyle. “See you later, if I’m free.”
He guided his cousin and his cousin’s son back halfway to the house and waved them on.
“Good luck, Hoyle!” said Rusty waving his knapsack. Michael waved too, and they went through the gate.
“It’s just impolite, sure enough,” Hoyle muttered to himself as he jogged back to the creation. He continued muttering, and began wrapping the chains around his waist. He bound himself up like an oarsman in a longboat, and then positioned himself right under the pinnacle of the structure. Hoyle stood there, panting from his hurried trip to the hardware store, panting from the peace talks with his cousin, panting at the thought that he had finished what they had told him to make. So he stood there, under the tip of the triangle. Chains around his waist and gut. Hooks tinking together like windchimes over his head. He sighed. He drew in his breath. Hoyle looked at the pines behind him, and then back at his porch on the other side of the yard. His book was on the table. The stone lawn carvings in the grass. He drew in his breath again. It felt like the heat wave might be over. A cooler breeze was touching the back of his neck. The Fall was resuming, he thought. But the sun shone bright over head. Really bright. The sun was so large and bright he didn’t think he could see anymore. And the wind was colder, colder.
Next minute, there was nothing left in that yard but the stone statues—and the creation.