Mostly exposition; flexing the setting description muscles and playing around with some purple prose.
Wind chimes muttered dullness and crackled, flaked with rust and silent age. The barn door slammed shut after creaking with the suspense of an old Hitchcock, and the screen that had once been prim, proper, and clean-cut flapped in rebuke on the front of the little white house. The old yard was the paragon of death, but in essence alive—the breezes stirred the stringy weed-stalks and sent them cavorting in pagan ritual before a masterful oak tree.
The road stretched on to oblivion, bisecting the Burke’s decrepit lot and reaching far behind Martin as though it would slice straight through the horizon. Fallow, yellow land that bordered it gave way to tended fields of corn and beans, green leaves and bushy heads in perfect, parallel lines of slumber.
The sunlight caught in Martin’s passenger-side mirror and blinded his eyes as he scanned the landscape. He reached down and adjusted the mirror for the hundredth time. For the past half-hour he had watched for Roy and Arnold, repositioning his mirrors if he suspected, even for a moment, that he lacked a sufficient view of the dirt road and the empty intersection behind him.
With its whitewashed walls and quaint porch, the house in front of which he had parked bore so much resemblance to American Gothic that Grant Wood could have been inspired where Martin waited. The sun, low as it was in the west, beat dry heat on the semi-air conditioned rental and a consistent sputtering was beginning to jolt the car. Martin flipped down the visor and stared in the mirror at the red face that returned a glare, wiping away the gritty pockmarks of dirt left splattered on his cheeks.
He glanced back and to the side again to look down the road, never trusting the side mirrors, in time to see the liquid shimmer of mirage, and beyond it, a speck of light.
The green Corolla finally pulled up to the intersection with the rigid and studied figure of Arnold in its driver’s seat. Roy sat stiffly beside him. Within a few moments both of the cars were panting one beside the other. Both cars shut off and three doors hammered closed in the molten stillness of the deep country.
Martin glanced at Arnold, who nodded, then at Roy, who shrugged and lifted his chin, and they all meandered over the bramble-conquered path to the porch. The stoop was made of wooden planks, but the erosion of decades and the stirring of prairie dust from the nearby cornfields had turned it solid henna. The men’s steps sounded dusty and tentative on the floorboards as they trotted up the stairs and marched to the door, which swung almost off its hinge and opened access to the secrets of 813 Patriot Road, Claydale, Missouri.
Martin followed the other two into the little house, which was bedecked in gaudy tones of saffron and scarlet. Figures of roosters chased along curtains, kitchen cabinets, and couch fabric. Scattered scores and dimples from daily use interrupted the smoothness of the countertop wood, and the honey oak flooring was stippled with foot-worn paths.
By the dim light blazing on the floating cinders, Martin took in the beaten dining room table, homemade and hand-built from old wooden crates, nicked and scraped, crippled with age. He glanced about—to the old fireplace with its rusted poker, to the moth-eaten curtains that clung awry to the rods and failed to diminish the heat—and sighed.
A striped tabby startled all three of the men when it leapt onto the table next to a half-dead plant. It purred with curiosity, then bounded into the kitchen, which overlooked the rest of the lower floor; there was a low-ceilinged living room, a closed door that appeared to lead into a bathroom, and the dining room was almost as big as the kitchen. Strewn beneath the couches were Navajo-design carpets worn with traffic and aged with the ruggedness of the Old West—a west that had disappeared into the paintings of the imagination.
Martin had expected something a little more heartening than the cracked walls and sunken ceiling, the kitchen of country chickens and the living room that was for anything but the living, at least compared with that with which he was familiar. One glance at his fellows revealed they had harbored similar expectations, but none of them said a word.