Fiction Writing

Fiction: Beasts of Union County

Written by Mark McElroy

For Halloween 2023, a fun little tale, set in my adopted hometown.

Original fiction and illustrations by Mark McElroy

Three days before she died, Addie Mae’s doctor warned her it was time to start making big changes. 

Early Tuesday morning, Dr. Flint had frowned, fretted over Addie Mae’s high sugar levels, and warned her to lose weight. “You know what’s going on, and it’s time you did something about it, Addie Mae.” 

So, when she and her husband, Norm, walked into the Tallahatchie Gourmet for dinner, Addie Mae did so with every intention of ordering the four-ounce salmon and a side salad without dressing. But then they ended up at a table with Jackie, Addie Mae’s friend and Norman’s supervisor at the cat litter plant. 

Jackie was a slender slip of a thing who could eat deep-fried chocolate frosting and never gain an ounce. When Norm ordered a cheeseburger and a beer, Jackie just said, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

And then, in front of God and everybody, the skinny little waitress looked right at Addie Mae and said, “How about grilled chicken tenders and a salad?” 

Addie Mae pressed her lips tightly together, then said, “Large fried catfish platter, please, with french fries and an extra-sweet tea.”

“Oh, that sounds good,” Jackie said. “You think I could have one of your catfish fingers? Friends share, you know.”

“What’s mine is yours,” Addie Mae said — but when the platter came, she made a point to eat every fillet as fast as she could, even when it burned the roof of her mouth. 

During dessert, as she polished off a couple of lemon squares, Addie Mae found herself staring at Norman. In high school, Norman had been an athlete: square-jawed, broad-shouldered, and possessed of randy thoughts and roving hands. Thirty years later, he was paunchy, with flecks of gray bristle embedded in his sagging cheeks. Skyrocketing hypertension had him on beta blockers, which lowered pressure by keeping his veins (and other things) flaccid. 

Norman was always a man of few words, but tonight, hypnotized by a replay of the 2022 Ole Miss college baseball national championship, he was silent and disengaged. 

“I hope y’all don’t have a TV at work,” Addie said. “When Ole Miss sports is on, he zones right out.”

“He’s one of our best,” Jackie said. “You should see him, carrying those fifty-pound bags. By the end of the day, he’s covered with clay dust and looks like a statue of Hercules.” 

Addie Mae considered this. “He could use a little toning up.”

Jackie glanced at Addie Mae’s figure. “Couldn’t we all?” 

Addie Mae, suddenly irritated, said, “Watch this.” She sat up straighter and raised her voice. “I’ve been thinking maybe I should change husbands. Get me a younger man. Make myself into what they call a panther.”

Norman didn’t flinch, but Jackie burst out laughing.

Addie Mae reddened. “What? Is that so impossible?”

Jackie snagged one of Norman’s left-over french fries. “I think you mean a cougar.”

Norm, staring up at the t.v., said nothing. 

“The exact animal,” Addie Mae said, “was not my point.”

Back home, Norman parked himself in a recliner with upholstery worn shiny by his own butt and punched up Tucker Carlson Tonight on the DVR. Addie Mae, still peckish, ended up in the kitchen. She waddled to the fridge, slipped out a plate tented with Reynolds Wrap, and plopped down at the kitchen table. 

With skill born of frequent practice, she peeled the foil back without so much as a single rattle and cut herself a paper-thin slice of a Sugaree’s caramel cake. The rest, she promised herself, would go back in the fridge: out of sight, out of mind. 

As she ate, she found herself unable to ignore the ugly florescent light overhead, the crack forming in the ceramic tile countertop, the way the linoleum flooring had begun to peel upwards in the corners. She compensated by cutting herself a wedge of cake half the size of her own head.

“The Democrats want to take away your choices,” Tucker Carlson said. “They want to take away your milkshakes and your hamburgers. They want you sipping watered-down soy milk and eating lab-grown mystery meat. They want to implant chips that shock you when you eat a piece of cake! It’s time to take back control of our lives!”

For a full thirty seconds, Addie Mae sat there, paralyzed by an internal debate. But five minutes later, with the entire cake consumed, she stood at the sink, scraping crumbs into the disposal. She caught her own reflection in the tiny window: an overstuffed woman in an undersized dress. A wave of revulsion crashed down over her sugar high, and she flung a meager handful of uneaten icing at the double-paned glass. 

Over the years, the rental house next door had attracted an endless parade of unfortunates: the single mother with four mixed-race children … a group of scraggly Mexicans who came and went at all hours … a man from Ripley who stole neighborhood dogs to sell at First Monday. 

The past six months of vacancy had been a blessing. But when Addie Mae got up on Wednesday morning, she saw an orange and white U-Haul van parked in the overgrown driveway. Two black men in caps walked back and forth, ferrying boxes and lamps and dining chairs inside.

Addie Mae watched their progress, divining details from their belongings. When they carried in several rifles, she worried they might be domestic terrorists. When they carried in a mower and weed eater, she wondered if they ran a lawn service. When they carried in only one box springs and mattress, she decided they must be gay.

At one point — frustrated by how the men’s caps rendered their dark faces unreadable — she pried herself away from the spectacle long enough to rummage in Norman’s hunting satchel. She returned to the window with two foil packets of freeze-dried ice cream and a pair of binoculars. She adjusted the eyepieces, fiddled with the focusing knob, put the field glasses up to her face … and gasped out loud. 

The two men emerged from the truck carrying what looked, at first, to be a large metal grate: a solid black frame punctuated with five vertical black bars. Looking through the binoculars, Addie Mae could also make out a paperback-sized metal panel with a built-in lock and a set of hinges running along one edge of the frame. 

The door from a jail cell?!?

Though the pair staggered a bit under the weight of their load, they moved it inside quickly — so quickly, in fact, Addie Mae wondered if she’d seen one thing and imagined another. But what else could it have been? A heavy-duty headboard? A wrought iron garden trellis? Some kind of art?

As she mused over this, absently crunching freeze-dried ice cream, the two men reappeared, removing their caps and wiping their brows. They paused on the front stoop, chatting and gazing up at the sky.

Could they be escaped convicts? Addie Mae wondered. But why would convicts bring the door to their cell with them?

And then, unexpectedly, a third man emerged. He was white, lanky, and younger — no older than thirty or thirty-five — and dressed in a simple white cotton t-shirt and blue jeans. He fished in his back pocket, produced a wallet, and handed each of the men a wad of bills. The two Black men tipped their caps to him, climbed into the U-Haul, and drove away.

Movers! Addie Mae realized. And this guy is the new neighbor!

The new arrival disappeared for a moment, then emerged from the garage pushing a battered lawn mower. He cranked it up with vigorous pulls on the start cord, slipped off his t-shirt, and began mowing the front lawn. 

Addie Mae, who had just peeled open the second bag of strawberry ice cream, dropped the foil pouch on her bed, At first, she concentrated on the man’s square jaw and tanned face. But then, growing bolder, she zoomed in as far as the binoculars would allow, noting the play of muscles on the new neighbor’s back and the spray of thick fur on his flat belly that narrowed down to a single strip before plunging beneath the waistline of his jeans. 

As she watched, he began sweating … and so did Addie Mae. In fact, she had just unbuttoned her housecoat to cool down a bit when the young man cut off the mower, wiped his forehead with his hands, and looked straight at her. 

Addie Mae squeaked aloud and clambered backward over her bed, sending chunks of freeze-dried ice cream skittering across the unkempt sheets. She lingered in the gloom for a full minute, her bosom heaving, before creeping back to the window, binoculars at the ready. 

Now the young man stood on his front stoop, hands on hips, joined by a blonde woman in a peppermint-striped halter top and cut-off denim shorts. Her hair was trimmed like a boy’s, and her arms and legs struck Addie Mae as too thin and too pale. The woman had painted her finger- and toenails red — and, as Addie Mae could see once the binoculars were pressed against her eyes again — she wore a lacy red thong to match. 

The woman offered the bare-chested man a glass of iced tea. He laughed, drained it in three thirsty gulps, and handed it back. The woman pecked him lightly on the cheek, and the young man responded by goosing the girl’s left buttock. 

Back downstairs, finishing off some left-over pieces of George’s fried chicken, Addie Mae daydreamed about the possibilities. Two new, young friends could change her life. She imagined the three of them shopping for garden supplies at the Wal-Mart, buying dinner at the food trucks on Bankhead Street during Shop the Block, walking the Tanglefoot Trail on cool evenings. 

This would mean less time for her current friends — Jackie and Hazel and Marjorie — but all they did these days was play bridge and complain about their sex lives. 

“I hear that new couple is all sexed up,” Hazel said. 

Addie Mae, who’d been eyeing the little plate of Danish wedding cookies Jackie had dropped off at Addie Mae’s elbow, forced herself to take only three. Sometimes she suspected the others kept her around because having a fat one in the group made the rest look thinner. “What could you possibly know about them, Hazel?”

Hazel — who had wispy gray hair she used a red rinse on, with results that weren’t fooling anybody — lowered her voice as though divulging a secret. “They’re Mormons.”

Jackie rolled her eyes. “So what makes you think he’s a Mormon?”

“They came into town with a U-Haul with a picture of the Escalante Canyons on the side,” Hazel said. “I googled it. That’s in Utah.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean they’re Mormons!” Jackie said. “Those trucks come from all over. Besides … they don’t … dress like Mormons.”

Marjorie, the Methodist preacher’s wife, frowned. “How do Mormons dress, exactly?”

“They wear them little caps,” Hazel said. “And long skirts. And ride in buggies.”

Marjorie shook her head. “That’s the Amish, I think.”

“They’re unashamed of their bodies, like Adam and Eve,” Addie Mae said. When this earned a stare from everyone, she helped herself to another wedding cookie. “It’s admirable.”

Hazel, lowering her voice again: “Jenny’s daughter, Wendy, works at the Lowe’s. And she said another check-out girl — you know, Cassie, the one with that little mustache?”

Everyone nodded sympathetically.  

“Cassie told Wendy the man came in this morning, and he bought two by fours and chains and padlocks.” Hazel gave them all a knowing look. “If that’s not sexed up, I don’t know what is.”

“It could just be home improvements,” Addie Mae said — but, unbidden and unwelcome, the image of the jail cell door popped into her head. 

Hazel snorted. “A sex dungeon!”

“You should introduce yourself,” Marjorie said. “Take them a pie. When me and Jim got moved here, every woman in the congregation stopped by with a pie and every single one of them expected to be asked in to see what we’d done with the parsonage.”

“I’ve already introduced myself,” Addie Mae said. “And I … helped them unload their truck. And I gave him some iced tea when he was mowing the lawn.”

The other ladies balked, giving each other doubtful looks.

Jackie took another cookie, just to show she could. “Now, Addie Mae, are you sure this isn’t like that time you told us you’d started exercising, when all you’d really done was bought a black sweat suit from the Muddy Mallard?”

Addie Mae blushed. Sometimes, she knew, the others in bridge club accused her of exaggeration. “If I said I met them, I met them!”

Jackie smiled a smile that didn’t touch her eyes. “Then what are their names?”

“I like them both,” Addie Mae said. “They are changing my life, and we’re going to be the very best of friends.”

“Friends with benefits,” Hazel muttered. 

In fact, Addie Mae hadn’t introduced herself, helped with the unloading, or delivered any iced tea. But she had imagined doing all these things, and, having done so, felt closer to the couple, despite not having met them. 

But that afternoon, after bridge, she decided to make herself less of a liar and, with Marjorie’s advice in mind, take a pie next door. On the way home, she stopped at Sugaree’s, where the girl behind the counter boxed one of the crazy-tall chocolate meringue pies and decorated the box with a ribbon. Addie Mae also asked for a bag of six walnut chocolate chip cookies, which she munched on as she drove back to her neighborhood.

As she turned onto Apple Street, Addie Mae planned what she would say. “I’m your neighbor, Addie Mae Daily,” she said aloud. “My husband, Norm, and I have lived next door for twenty-five years. I saw you moving in, so I brought you a pie to welcome you to the neighborhood.”

“Why, thank you, Miss Daily!” Addie Mae said, dropping her voice a register to play the role of the lanky young man. “You don’t look old enough to have lived anywhere for twenty-five years!”

“You flirt!” Addie Mae cackled. “You’re a married man!” 

“Married … but not blind,” Addie Mae imagined the boy saying. He winked. “Won’t you come in?”

By the time Addie Mae parked her car in her own driveway, she had eaten every last cookie. She realized this only when she reached for the grease-spotted white paper bag and found it empty. Looking down, she saw she was covered with crumbs. 

Tittering with disgust, she opened the car door, stood, and began brushing herself off. She had been doing this for several seconds when she realized she felt observed — and, glancing up, she saw the new neighbor girl. She sat idly on the front stoop of the rental house, eating from a paper plate and wearing same red and white striped halter top and short shorts she’d worn the other day. 

Addie Mae gave the other woman a lame wave. 

The girl, instead of waving back, scraped her plate with her fingers, put a gob of food in her mouth, and looked away. 

Feeling a bit put off but determined to make contact, Addie Mae carefully withdrew the pie box, bumped the car door shut with her rear end, and picked her way across the lawn to the neighbor’s yard. She walked up to the young woman, held the pie box a little higher, and flashed her best smile. “You look like you could use some dessert!”

The girl looked at the box, then at Addie Mae. She stood, swiping at the seat of her shorts. “Damien’s got the money, and he’s not here.”

Addie Mae needed a few seconds to process the implications of that. “Oh, no. I’m not selling pies. I’m welcoming you to the neighborhood! I just saw you sitting here and thought, ‘No time like the present … for a present!'” 

The other woman held out her paper plate, showing Addie Mae what looked like a glistening pile of rare steak. “I don’t eat cake.”

Addie Mae looked the girl up and down. This close, she looked less skinny than wiry, with thick cords of muscle under her pale skin … but she still struck Addie Mae as dirty or sickly, mostly due to the dark circles under her eyes and the angry rash encircling her ankles. 

“Oh,” Addie Mae said. “Well, that’s why you’re so thin. You’re keto, or low-carb, I guess.” She put the box down on the stoop and extended her hand. “I’m Addie May Daily. Live right next door.”

The young woman stared at Addie Mae’s hand, then slowly extended her own. “I’m Channi.” The girl’s grip was weak, and her fingers were warm and sticky. Glancing down, Addie Mae noticed she also had that nasty rash around her wrists: fine blisters, perhaps, or some kind of abrasion. 

A picture flashed in Addie Mae’s mind: this young woman, her wrists and ankles shackled to a jail cell door. 

“Channi! What a pretty name.”

They stood there, in uncomfortable silence, for what felt like eternity. This was normally where Addie Mae would ask where Channi went to church, but somehow, that didn’t seem right.

Addie Mae cleared her throat. “Channi? I don’t mean to pry, but is everything … okay?”

“Damien don’t like me talking to strangers.” Channi turned, opened the door, and then hesitated, turning back to face Addie Mae. “Please don’t come back.” 

With that, she slipped inside and clicked the deadbolt lock into place.

“I think he’s beating her,” Addie Mae said. “And keeping her prisoner.”

Norman stabbed at a piece of bacon, nudged some fluffy yellow eggs onto his fork. “A prisoner.”

“Tied at the ankles and wrists like some kind of animal,” Addie Mae said, pausing for a big bite of cinnamon roll. “It’s not consensual, I’m sure of it.”

More eggs for Norm. “Hmmm.” 

Addie Mae spread more icing on the stump of cinnamon roll that remained in her hand, then, after a moment of reflection, licked the knife. “I been watching things closely, you know. I know what’s going on, Norman.”

Norm, snagging the last of the bacon, paused suddenly and gave her a look. “What’s going on?”

Addie Mae paused, lifting her chin dramatically. “Last night, I got out your binoculars and watched the neighbor’s house. I could see plain as day because the moon was almost full. And you know what? That Damien fellow — that’s a name from those devil movies, you know — was outside, by himself, late at night.”

Norm seemed to relax. “So?”

“You know what he was doing?” Addie Mae lowered her voice to a whisper. “He was padlocking those storm cellar doors! Chaining them up and padlocking them with the hardware he bought from the Lowe’s!”

Norm considered this. “Need some things from Lowe’s myself.”

“He locked them up and yanked at them, like he was testing to see if even he could get out. And you know what else? He’s boarded up all the cellar windows, Norm. Can you imagine how dark that dank old cellar is now? How utterly trapped a young girl in there would be?” Addie Mae waited — and, receiving no reply, banged on the breakfast table with one tight, pink fist. “A woman’s life is at stake!”

Norm jumped but recovered quickly. He took a deep breath, started to speak, hesitated. Then, in a low and even voice: “What are you gonna do about it?” 

Addie Mae sniffed. “What do you mean?”

“You say you’re gonna put yourself back on the market, but you never do. You’re gonna get fit, but then you eat a whole cake. You’re gonna get new friends, but all you do is watch people through binoculars.” Norman shook his head. “You’re all talk and no do, Addie Mae.”

Addie Mae found herself stricken by a craving for more icing, but she steeled herself against it. “I’ve got faith I can change things, Norman. And faith is the evidence of things as yet unseen. That’s Scripture.”

Norman stood, opened the back door, and waved. “Not home for lunch today,” he said. “Kiwanis Club at El Agave. And no dinner. Jackie says we gotta work late to get a special order out.”

Addie Mae sat back in her chair and ate the rest of the cinnamon rolls without even tasting them. “Evidence,” she said, licking a finger. “Evidence of things unseen.”

Just before pushing her way through the hedges to the rental house property, Addie Mae launched the recorder app on her iPhone and brought the device up to her lips. “It’s Saturday, June 3rd, 7:42 PM,” she whispered. “Evidence gathering session number one is under way.” 

After counting to three, she shoved past the tangle of honeysuckle and boxwood and emerged in the neighbor’s backyard. Her black sweat suit camouflaged her progress across the open yard well enough, but in the June heat, the suit was living up to its name. 

Half-crouched, she traversed the freshly-cut grass faster than she thought she could. Even so, by the time Addie Mae was stationed beneath the rental home’s kitchen window, she was completely out of breath. Once again, she lifted the iPhone to her lips. “I’m — I’m in place.” She stopped the recording and took three deep breaths before starting it again. “I’m in place and preparing to—”

“Channi, we ain’t talking about this again!” 

The voice — coming from the open kitchen window — was loud enough to make Addie Mae jump. After crouching down lower, she raised her left arm as high as she could, holding the iPhone just beneath the window sill. 

“Please,” Channi implored. “I don’t wanna go down there, Damien. It’s all dark and wet and it smells so bad.”

Addie Mae dropped her arm to make sure the Voice Recorder app was still running, then stretched her arm up even higher than before, trying to get the microphone as close to the window as possible. Evidence!

“We’ve been through this,” Damien said. “We go through it every month. You remember that last place, and the place before that. We got sloppy, and folks started asking questions. I can’t afford to move us again. If we’re going to stay together, this is something you have to do for me.” Damien opened a series of locks, and a door creaked open on squealing hinges. “You know what happens if you don’t go down there. Now let’s get this part over with.”

Addie Mae’s arm ached, but she didn’t dare move.

“It really hurts,” Channi said. “Baby, it hurts me so bad. And I need to eat.”

“I know,” Damien said. “But, Channi, I ain’t asking. At this point, we’re too late to shackle up. So you just get down there.”

Addie Mae’s arm cramped, but she maintained her awkward position, sacrificing for the cause. She heard slow steps cross the kitchen floor, followed by heavy footsteps going down the cellar stairs. A door slammed shut; locks clicked into place. 

Addie Mae, pain shooting down her arm and into her chest, finally broke, dropping to her hands and knees, huffing and puffing with exertion. That recording ought to be enough to get anyone — even Norman — to admit that something unhealthy was going on. 

As she caught her breath, she imagined the property ringed by New Albany police cars and television news trucks from WTVA. In her mind’s eye, Matt Laubhan — she knew he did the weather, but he was so handsome, and this was her fantasy, after all — asked her, “What tipped you off, Mrs. Daily, to the monstrous abuse happening next door?”

“It’s the new Golden Rule,” Addie Mae replied. “When you see something, say something.”

From deep inside the cellar, a woman screamed. 

In all her years, Addie Mae had never heard a scream like it: a heart-breaking, horrified wail, a compressed howl of unbearable anguish from the darkest depths of the human soul. 

Despite the stabbing pain beneath her left breast, Addie Mae leaped to her feet and ran full tilt back toward her yard. She was almost to the hedges when she heard the scream again, followed by a series of thuds and crashes.

What is he doing to that poor girl?

And then, just behind her, someone inside the cellar began pounding on the padlocked cellar doors. In the silvery glare of the rising moon, Addie Mae could see the flimsy wooden doors flexing upward and see the thick chain across them jumping with every impact. 

Addie Mae felt she had no choice. Clutching her chest and grimacing, she barreled back toward the rental house. She was on autopilot now, all thought giving way to pure reaction. “I’m here!” she yelled, raising her voice so she could be heard over the pounding on the doors. “I’ll get you out, Channi!”

Above her, a man’s voice: “Lady! What are you doing? Get away from there!” 

Addie Mae looked up. Framed in the window, that handsome Damien, shirtless, screaming down at her. His eyes were wild with fear or grief … and in his right hand, he brandished a rifle. 

Thinking she should put herself between the gun and the girl, Addie Mae flung herself forward, landing on the cellar doors. Beneath her, something splintered. A large crack formed in the left-hand door, and then both doors gave way under the burden of Addie Mae’s weight. 

Riding the doors like a child sprawled on a sled, Addie Mae crashed down a flight of broad wooden steps, her flesh jiggling and her jaws clacking together. When she hit the concrete floor, she skidded forward several feet before lurching to a halt in total darkness. 

Agony pulsed in her chest, and her heart flip-flopped like a dying fish. Even so, she dragged herself to her feet, fearing any minute that Damien would come down the stairs from the kitchen with his gun. “Ch – ch – channi!” She groped around in the darkness, found a wooden column of some kind, propped heavily against it. “It’s me! Addie Mae Daily! I’m here!” She swallowed, her throat clicking. “I know what’s going on, and I’m doing something about it.”

For several seconds, she stood in silence, gasping. She could see or hear nothing. A moment later, though, she sucked in a lungful of a foul, animal smell: the reek of a long-neglected kennel. The odor made her feel nauseous, but it also lit up a set of neurons buried deep in her brain: a panicked voice whispering Run, run, run!

She realized, then, that she still had her iPhone in her left hand, gripped so tightly that the metal edges were cutting into the flesh of her fingers. She raised it, pawing at the lock screen and jabbing at the flashlight icon. 

In the resulting cone of harsh white light, she could see the dusty wooden floor. Panning up, she saw what she thought, as first, was a cage: an iron jailhouse door, sagging open on broken hinges. Beyond that, in an empty earthen cell, a pair of shackles on long chains, fastened solidly to the cellar’s concrete wall. 

Her heart, her heart. Addie Mae felt herself drop to her knees. Where the iPhone’s light couldn’t penetrate the darkness, she could see flashes of red: her increasingly irregular heartbeat pounding in the capillaries of her eyes.

And then, from that dark and pulsing space, something beyond even Addie Mae’s imagination stepped into view. It was impossibly tall, with a shock of short, blonde hair that scraped the ceiling. Beneath that, though, the canine face, the pendulous breasts, the flat belly, the naked thighs, and even the feet were covered with thick grey fur. 

Stretched across its massive chest: shreds of a peppermint-striped halter top. In tatters around its waist: a ruined pair of denim shorts. Glinting on its claws: bits of red polish. Around its raw left wrist: a manacle, dangling three links of chain.

Addie Mae eyes went wide as she put it all together — but by then, Channi was on her, all wiry and eager, clamping canine jaws around Addie Mae’s jiggling neck. 

The sharp crack of a rifle made both Addie Mae and the beast atop her flinch. Channi lunged away, snarling and squealing, then escaped up the stairs and into the night. 

Addie Mae lay on her back, unable to move. Despite the fact the beast had moved on, she still felt a crushing weight on her chest and now found she could draw nothing but the shallowest of breaths.

Damien switched on a flashlight and kneeled beside her. He put his rifle down, checked her pulse, and tilted her chin up, inspecting her throat. “These wounds ain’t deep,” he said. “So they ain’t fatal. You’ll have scars. But don’t worry. Those that live, they don’t turn.” And with that, he collected his rifle and trudged up the stairs after Channi.

Addie May lay there gasping for thirty-seven seconds more, and then her heart, its arteries clogged and straining, stopped forever. 

“They packed up in the dark of night,” Hazel said. “Can you believe that was a month ago today? Somebody said they saw them at the Buckee’s in Leeds, Alabama, but they’s been no leads since.” She chuckled. “Get it, y’all? No leads since Leeds?”

Marjorie frowned at her fan of cards. With only three players now, they’d switched from Bridge to a game called Shanghai, and she could never keep track of whether she was supposed to be making books or runs. “There have been leads, but you know how that goes. People have seen that pair all over.” She tossed her cards on the table. “And while I know you don’t like us saying so, Addie Mae, you’re still something of a heroine. You flushed ’em out. You tried to help that girl. And that’s why they ran. That’s God’s own truth.”

Addie Mae smiled. The other two had noticed — and discussed at length, though not with Addie Mae — that her hair had a luster it had lacked for years. She had dropped pounds, too — and, based on the wiry muscles newly evident in her arms and legs, she really had started working out. And then there was the change in her habits: no alcohol, no snacks, no sweets — not even any of Hazel’s prize-winning pound cake. “I was just being a good neighbor. I saw what was going on, and I did something about it.”

“It shows what a good person you are,” Hazel said. “And that makes Jackie and Norm look even worse. I’m sorry to say that in front of you, but you know it’s true.”

“What was Norman thinking?” Marjorie asked, helping herself to a cheese straw. “Not just having an affair with your very best friend, but then leaving town without so much as leaving you a note?”

Addie Mae imagined something sad — a lost puppy on the side of the road — and conjured up a tear. “It’s like something just swallowed them up.”

“Now that’s enough of that,” Hazel said, glaring at Marjorie before patting Addie Mae’s hand. “Focus on the good things! You’ve completely reinvented yourself! You’re not even fat anymore. What is your secret? Enquiring minds want to know.” 

Addie Mae put her cards down, leaned in, and lowered her voice. “Here’s the truth. As of two months ago, I only eat meat.”

Hazel nodded. “Keto. I knew it.”

“Second, I only eat it raw.”

Marjorie’s expression shifted. “So … like steak tartare?”

Addie Mae nodded. “And finally, once a month, when the moon is full like it will be tonight, I eat whatever doesn’t outrun me.”

Hazel and Marjorie looked shocked at first, then covered their mouths and tittered with laughter.

A bit later, Hazel elbowed Addie Mae in the ribs, then offered her a slice of pound cake. “Given all your progress, you really should have some. You been through a lot. Reward yourself a little.” She winked. “One little bite never hurts.”

Addie Mae smiled broadly, showing all her teeth, and pushed the plate away. “I’ll come back over tonight, and we’ll see.”

About the author

Mark McElroy

I'm a writer and professional facilitator. I'm the author of a dozen or so non-fiction books and hundreds of corporate video scripts. As a professional facilitator, I coach individuals, committees, and teams to change how they meet, make decisions, and plan, so they can get out of their own way and do work that really matters. I use this site to write about writing, adaptive strategy, travel, and spirituality ... and to "learn out loud" by sharing works (and what doesn't).