Baby, This is a High-Priced Country

by Chris Stuck
Baby, This is a High-Priced Country by Chris Stuck

The latest report to cross Jacob’s desk was from a place called White Township, Mississippi. It said a strange group of Black folks was seen roaming the outskirts of the small town, sometimes at night, sometimes in the morning, sending the white folks there into a tizzy. Many assumed the group was a cult, a Black one at that, which scared the white folks even more. But based on Jacob’s limited experience, the report was, at the very least, researchable. How often did you hear about cults in America, especially Black ones? Then again, Jacob was so new at this he couldn’t be sure. He showed the report to his supervisor, Thurgood, expecting a yawn and “try again.” But, to his surprise, the old dude’s eyes brightened. He sat up and started really reading. The next thing Jacob knew, they were on a plane, in Economy Class, about to fly to Mississippi to figure this out.


“So?” Jacob said. “What do we make of the name ‘White Township?’”

They were in a compact rental, which Thurgood insisted on driving, and smoking in, even though it was a non-smoking vehicle. “Youngblood,” he said. “I don’t make shit.” 

“Sounds a bit colonial, though, don’t you think?” Jacob put down his window and fanned smoke out of his face.

“You know what it sounds like to me?” Thurgood turned to him, an American Spirit dangling out of his mouth. “Racist as fuck.” He was burly and boisterous, in his mid-forties and fed up with everything. 

Jacob, on the other hand, was fresh out of law school and greener than a pine tree. He watched the scenery fly by, having never been south of Virginia. “Makes you wonder if there was a Black Township, too.”

Thurgood scanned the carless highway, obviously wishing they hadn’t come. He checked his watch and now seemed resigned to make the best of it. “Youngblood, if there was a Black Township, I’m pretty sure it was wiped off the face of the planet, most likely by White Township.”

Jacob looked back out the window. The way Thurgood talked you’d think he’d bootstrapped himself out of the ghetto, but far from it. He and Jacob came from well-to-do families. They’d both gone to Harvard for criminal justice, another thing linking them, though they were a generation apart, Thurgood, the Gen-Xer, Jacob, the Gen-Zer. Their daddies were friends, Black men with influence and money, so Jacob and Thurgood had been thoroughly ensconced in the backrooms and men’s clubs of White America since they were kids. They could’ve gone off and become hedge fund managers and lobbyists like their white college chums, frolicked in the playgrounds of the Fortune 100. But their families had ties to civil liberties and “the cause.” Duty was expected of them, even if they didn’t feel like doing it. So, here they were, working at The Bureau of Racial Inquiries, like their retired fathers and uncles and grandfathers, like a couple of—they hated to think it—slaves.


White Township lay about one hundred miles southwest of Jackson, so small Thurgood blasted by the exit since he was driving so fast. They were on a deserted stretch of road lined with decaying trees and reedy ditches, swaying grassy fields. The old dude checked his rearview, saw there was no one behind them, and said, “Screw it.” He slammed on the brakes and then threw the car in reverse, driving backward a good half mile to the exit.

It felt like they were going back in time, rewinding something. Jacob watched the scenery go in reverse now. “You been down south much?”

“Here and there. I came to a classmate’s wedding at the end of college, a white classmate. And guess what? It was on a plantation.” Thurgood shook his head.

“Was it weird?”

“A little. But, hey, I got laid.”

Jacob smirked. “A slave fantasy? You and a white woman?”

“Careful, youngblood,” Thurgood said. “That white woman is my wife.”

“Sorry.” Jacob shook his head now and gazed back out the window. “You ever think about that past?”

“What Black person doesn’t?”

“Some don’t.”

“They’re not real Black people, then.”

Jacob glanced at the old dude. “Sometimes, I feel disconnected from it. It was so long ago yet so recent, when you think about it. You ever really reflect on who we come from, what they did here just a hundred years ago to, you know, our ancestors?”

At the exit, Thurgood stopped and put the car in drive. He looked at Jacob. “We work for the ‘Blackest’ section of the DOJ. So, yes. It’s crossed my mind.” The tires squealed a bit as they headed toward Main Street. 

“Just crossed? What, during Black History Month?”

The old dude was about to answer, but then his phone buzzed in the cupholder. It was a sound neither had ever heard. Thurgood picked the phone up and found it hot. As he put it back, the car shut off. “What the hell?” He smacked the dash a few times as they coasted onto the shoulder. Then, the car suddenly came back to life, and they glanced at each other, furrowing their brows, both thinking the same thing: That was weird.


Luckily, White Township wasn’t far off the highway. Its main drag was a two-block stretch of the essentials, a post office, gas station, small grocer, and a tavern and diner. At City Hall, the oldest building in town, Jacob and Thurgood parked and headed inside to see the mayor. “What’s his name again?”

Jacob read the notes on his phone. “Charlie Backwater.”

“Backwater? Jesus. Guess we’re in the south now, my G.” He took a last puff and flicked his cigarette to the street.

When they told the assistant, a genial woman named Connie, that they were there to see Backwater, she said, “Oh, but he’s dead. God rest his soul.”

“Ah.” Jacob looked at Thurgood and made a note on his phone.

Connie cheered up. “The new mayor will see you, though.” She went in this new mayor’s office and told him they were there. Jacob and Thurgood heard the guy say, “The Bureau of Racial What? Aww hell.”

Connie read from Thurgood’s business card. “Inquiries is what it says here.” Under her breath, she added, “They’re with the damn government, Willie.”

Jacob looked at Thurgood, who just stared straight ahead, twiddling his thumbs, jonesing for his next cigarette.

“Well, shit, send em in.”

Thurgood and Jacob eased into the small wood-paneled office, and there a wizened white man sat behind a desk, like an old leather chair. A lump protruded on his jaw, chewing tobacco. As the mayor watched them come in, he deposited a dribble of dark juice into an empty soda bottle and screwed the top back on. “Name’s Wilford. Guess I’m the mayor of this godforsaken town.” He sighed and picked up one of the many papers littering the desk. He didn’t know what to do with it, didn’t look like he even knew what it said, so he just set it back down. “What can I do you for?”

This was supposed to be on-the-job training for Jacob. He’d be running point. Thurgood gave him a reminding look, and Jacob said, “Right.” He turned to the mayor and cleared his throat. Finally, he said, “Willie, I think we should be asking you the same thing.”

Jacob smiled at everyone in the room, even Thurgood. No one smiled back. Connie cleared her throat and said, “Actually, he prefers Wilford. I’m the only one allowed to call him Willie.” She then giggled and said she was his wife.

“I see,” Jacob said. “Wilford, then. My bad.” He took out his phone again and noted that, too.

The mayor grunted and made a bothered sweeping motion with his hand, brushing Connie out the room. When she closed the door, he eased up off an inflatable hemorrhoid pillow and said, “All I wanna know is can you fellers make them go away.”

Thurgood broke his silence. “Who exactly?”
“You know who. You’re here, aren’t ya?”

“Your supposed Black cult?”

“They ain’t mine, mister. I don’t know who or what they are. But they’re out there.” His eyes widened like he was talking about aliens and outer space. He turned to Jacob, hoping he was the more reasonable one. “You’re from the government, ain’t ya?”

“We are,” Jacob said.

“Well, govern up some shit, then. Those people are scaring the poop out of everyone in this town.” 

“Those people?” Thurgood said.

The mayor thinned his eyes at him and then summoned up some indignation. “We don’t deserve this.” He rapped his knuckles on the desk. “I’m not even supposed to be the goddamn mayor, just the deputy. Charlie promised me that. Now, look. The old fart up and died last week. And I’m here, dealing with this bullpucky.” Wilford spit into his bottle again. He tipped his trucker cap back, revealing a brutal tan line over his brow and a very white forehead above that. “It probably doesn’t look like it to you, but things are on an upswing around here.”

Jacob and Thurgood shared a look, both thinking, Yeah, it doesn’t look like it. 

“We’re trying to keep things going,” Wilford said. “You understand? One of those superstores is coming soon. Big doing for us.”

“Right,” Thurgood said. “Big doing.”

The mayor thinned his eyes again.

Jacob said, “Well, how about we stick around for a bit and see what we can find out? Sound like a plan?”

It was obvious the mayor was expecting a swat team and tear gas, maybe some paddy wagons. Since that wasn’t happening, he now swiveled away and looked out the window. 

“The weekend,” Jacob said. “Or as long as it takes, let’s say.”

The mayor still glared outside. “Suit yourself, sonny.”

Thurgood exhaled tiredly and asked if there was a place to stay around there.

Wilford blinked. “There’s Aunt Harriet’s place. She runs a bed and breakfast type of deal outside of town.” He looked Jacob and Thurgood up and down and said, “That’ll probably be the best place for you, considering what’s transpired.”

Inquisitively, Jacob said, “Why’s that?”

“Well, because she’s like you. You’re like her. You won’t scare her.” He motioned his hand in front of his face, which meant she was Black, Jacob and Thurgood realized. They glanced at each other yet again.


The old woman stood at her stove, tending a trio of pots. She cupped her hand to her ear. “The Bureau of Racial What, now, baby?”

Jacob used a biscuit to sop up the last puddle of gravy from the smothered chicken she’d served them for dinner. “Inquiries. We investigate things.”

“Crimes and such.”

“Yeah, sometimes. Mysterious ones, too.”

“Well, what do race and mysteries got to do with each other?”

Thurgood stood on the porch, smoking a cigarette, working a toothpick between his teeth. “Remember Medgar Evers, ma’am?”

“Of course, I do. I knew him. Wasn’t no mystery who killed him neither.”

“At one time, it was, at least to the government.” 

“Child, everything’s a mystery to y’all.” She drank from a gold can of beer.

“What can you tell us about what’s happening in town?” Jacob said. “This cult business.”

“Baby, I’ve never seen a cult or any Black folks here other than me. They got run out a long time ago.”

“Okay, so you’re saying there isn’t a cult.”

She leaned in close, as though someone might hear. “What I’m saying is these White Township people are crazier than a four-dollar bill, boy.”

“Ah.” Jacob flipped open his laptop and began to type. “Can you elaborate?”

“They’re paranoid. If you ask me, they’re all smoking that ditch weed. You know they be growing it up in the woods.”

“Okay.” Jacob typed. He looked over at Thurgood who was sitting in the living room now, rocking in an easy chair, about to fall asleep. “Have they always been like this?” the old dude said, without opening his eyes.

“Long as I can remember. Ain’t white people always been crazy?” She sipped her beer. “I shouldn’t say that. But it’s true.”

Jacob typed everything out. Aunt Harriet got up and poured him more sweet tea. She lit a tobacco pipe and puffed on it, humming to herself, and Jacob studied her. She was the most southern Black person he’d ever met. When she sat again, it was as if she heard his thought. She smiled. “Boy, what you looking at?” 

“Nothing.” He finished his notes and saved them. He thought of uploading them to the Bureau’s server, but his laptop didn’t detect any Wi-Fi networks. He asked what hers was, but she just looked at him for a long time, cupping her hand to her ear. “My why-what, baby?”

He shook his head and smiled, too. “Never mind.”


Unbelievably, the town diner had Wi-Fi. The password was biscuitsandgravy. Jacob uploaded his notes that next morning while Thurgood, and with everyone else in the diner, drank coffee and smoked cigarettes. A few old white guys in overalls sat at the counter, looking at Jacob and Thurgood over their shoulders and then mumbling to each other. Thurgood paid them no mind. All things considered, he seemed to at least be taking pleasure in being somewhere so old and backward that it was legal for him to smoke indoors. Jacob fanned his hand in front of his face. “It’s no wonder my generation smokes at a lower rate than yours.”

“Because y’all don’t have balls.”

“No, I think you mean it’s because we’ve e-volved,” Jacob said.

“Yeah, e-volved without balls.” The old dude stabbed out his butt and stood. “Shall we?”

They drove around the outskirts of town, doing their due diligence. They cruised past one dense stand of trees after another. Jacob whipped out some binoculars and, from the passenger seat, scanned the landscape. There were beavers and foxes. Then, they encountered a big turtle slowly crossing the road. They stood at the edge of a creek and watched a whiskered catfish meander along the murky bottom. But that was it. They didn’t see any evidence of a cult or an encampment, not even a tent or campfire. All they found was a cabin that looked like it’d been burned down a century ago. That and a large construction site nearby, where ground for the superstore had been broken. It was just a cleared runway of graveled land with earth movers and excavators sitting idle. A sign said, “Coming Soon” but the “Soon” had fallen and was dangling from one nail. As Jacob and Thurgood walked around, they heard an animal approaching from behind. They turned, thinking it was a mountain lion or something, but it was just the mayor clopping up the gravel drive on a horse.

“He’s riding a goddamn horse,” Thurgood said.

The mayor heard him and thinned his eyes again.

Jacob, the peacekeeper, said, “Nice animal, mayor.”

Wilford nodded. “Thank ya. Name’s Rufus.”

Jacob wasn’t sure what else to say so he asked to pet him.

The mayor scrunched up his face. “He ain’t a cat.”

Thurgood turned to the construction site. “The upswing you were talking about. Doesn’t look too up to me.”

It was obvious Wilford didn’t like Thurgood one bit. The word “uppity” shone on his face every time Thurgood spoke. Wilford tipped his trucker hat back, exposing his pale forehead again. “Well, it’s been on hold, ruined by your people in the woods.”

Thurgood laughed and nodded indignantly. “Sure. Our people.”

“Yeah, construction folks just called. They don’t want to continue till we get this settled. Not till we get the squatters out.”

“You know, you keep talking about people, squatters.” Thurgood turned in a circle. “Which woods are they in exactly? We haven’t seen a squatter at all.”

“These woods.” He pointed to the ones to the left and then the right. “Those woods. All the woods. It’s nothing but woods here, mister. Have a look. They’ve been seen in all of them.” 

“Have you seen them, though?” Thurgood said. “With your own two eyes?”

Instead of answering, the mayor fell into a trance of reminiscence. “You know, that actually used to be the town name,” he said, as though he’d just remembered. 

“What?” Jacob said. 

“The Woods. Well, before…when things were good around here.” He stopped, as though he didn’t want to explain, or something was preventing him. Without a word, he turned his horse around and rode off.

“Before,” Jacob said. “What the hell did that mean?”

Thurgood flicked his cigarette butt. “Before our kind showed up, obviously.”


Thurgood was certain there wasn’t a damn thing going on in this town. “These crackers are just out of their minds. Like Harriet said.” But he and Jacob continued their investigation, speaking with any willing person about whatever the hell they thought was going on. Outside the local garage, two old grease monkeys said at least five of “them” were out there in the woods, hiding out, doing who-knows-what. “Ghetto types,” they said. At the beauty shop, the blue-hairs said there were ten, singing and carrying on late at night. At the barber shop, the white-haired men corroborated the story, but they had the number as high as thirty. 

“Maybe forty,” one said. “A pack of them. A tribe. Clothes was all ripped up. Shaka Zulus.”

Thurgood couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Shaka Zulus? Where did you learn that?”

“Mister, you can snigger all you want, but we for damn sure ain’t.”

Thurgood perched an eyebrow up on his forehead upon hearing the word “snigger.” 

A spindly old codger stood and said, “They’re up to no good. You fellers ought to do something about it before someone here does.” He pointed to the gun hanging over the register. The shop owner, a man named, funnily enough, Whitey, said, “Oh, Clarence, shut your old ass up.” At Jacob and Thurgood, he said, “But you know, they are your kind.” Like the mayor, Whitey waved his hand over his face to signify the darkness of their skin and how it was the same shade as Jacob’s. He motioned to Thurgood, too, but only slightly since he was lighter. “Don’t you think you can talk some sense into them? Get them to move on?” Upon hearing that, Thurgood’s face tightened and he said, “I’m out of here.” He stood in the doorway, waiting for Jacob to come. Everyone in the shop was still watching him. Jacob said he and Thurgood would see what they could do.


“See what we can do.” Thurgood shook his head. “Youngblood, I’m not seeing if I can do shit.”

Jacob closed his eyes. “What else was I supposed to say? We’re government agents. Don’t we have to be helpful?”

“No. What part of ‘government agent’ do you not understand? You were supposed to leave like I did. That was some racist shit. I’m embarrassed right now. For you. We’re here to investigate, not be on their side.”

“Whose side are we on, then?”

“No one’s.” He raised his voice. “We’re. Government. Agents!”

They were driving out in the sticks again. There was no other name for it. The whole place was the sticks. They were looking around, but they had no idea what they were even looking for. “Cult, my ass.” Thurgood had his window down as he drove. His lit cigarette sent ashes swirling inside the car.

“You’re ridiculous,” Jacob said.

Thurgood looked over at him. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re just as privileged as I am. Probably more. Stop acting like you have a chip on your shoulder. Your father was a senator.”

Thurgood’s phone lit up in the cupholder, a text from his wife. Her face appeared on the screen, her hair so blonde it was white, whiter than her skin, which was actually quite tan. Ironically, she was darker than Thurgood. The text went away, and the background photo on his phone showed a light-skinned Thurgood and his tan wife and his two kids, who could pass for white. They had straight hair. He saw Jacob looking at it, at them, and quickly put the phone to sleep.

“How much racism do you think you’ve experienced in your life?”

“Are you actually asking me that?” Thurgood said. 

“I’m allowed. I’m darker than you anyway.” Jacob smirked. 

“Oh, so it’s a tone contest now?” Thurgood sighed. “Enough, youngblood. I’ve experienced enough.”

“A lot?”

Thurgood sighed again. “No, but it’s subjective. Relative. Whatever the fuck.”

“Is it? For some people, it rains. For others, it pours. For us, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten wet.”

“I wasn’t beaten by cops, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve experienced plenty, though. Have you ever heard of ‘microaggressions?’ A hillbilly used the word ‘snigger’ in my presence today. I think that counts.” He turned to Jacob. “What, is this another contest? I’m less Black if I experienced less racism? I’m not allowed to be upset?”

“Have you ever been called the n-word?”

“Yes, once.”

“Really.” Jacob seemed surprised. 

“What about you?”

Jacob didn’t have to think about it. “Never. Not even by another Black person. I’m not sure I’ve ever been discriminated against.” He looked out the window. “I’ve had it pretty easy. I was sheltered, so were you.”

The old dude was getting frustrated. “Boy, what’s your point?”

“I’m not sure.” Outside the car, Jacob briefly locked eyes with a brown doe that had popped its head up above the tall grass. It looked away like Jacob wasn’t even there. Behind it was that old burned cabin again. “I think it’s existential. Blaxistential. How privileged am I? Consequently, how Black am I? How indignant should I be? Is that stupid?”

“Jesus Christ. You Gen-Z motherfuckers, man.” Thurgood shook his head. “These crackers really got in your head, didn’t they?”

“See, you calling them crackers. That little Blaccent you just did. How much of that is put-on? You didn’t grow up calling white people that. Do you call your wife a cracker?”

Thurgood exhaled loudly and lit another cigarette. He tried to start the car, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. “See what you did?” He turned the key again, and the car had a rough time, but it finally started. Thurgood revved the engine. “You’re lucky we’re not walking, youngblood.” He held up a finger. “There would’ve been hell to pay. I swear.”


Sunday night, the mayor called a meeting to discuss whatever was happening in town. No one could really name it anymore. A cult. Squatters. Maybe just some Black folks out camping. Who knew? But something screwy was for damn sure going on. Jacob and Thurgood sat up on a little stage with the mayor and Connie and overheard someone in the crowd say that as the town’s folk bickered and gossiped. Wilford told everyone to pipe down. The volume of the crowd lowered but not for long. He had bad news. The superstore deal was officially belly up. As soon as he said it, everyone in the hall let out a collective “Oh, for cryin out loud.”

“It’s because of the niggers, isn’t it?” someone shouted.

The hall went quiet. A few people giggled. The mayor winced and turned to Jacob and Thurgood, who just shook their heads. 

“Not those niggers,” the person said. “I meant the ones in the woods.”

Wilford said sorry to Jacob and Thurgood and then turned to the crowd. “Now why’d you have to go and say that?” He motioned for someone to kick the person out. “I knew that was you, Clarence. You racist bastard.” The heckler, indeed, turned out to be Clarence from the barbershop, the spindly codger. He shrugged and raised his arms defensively. “Well, ain’t that what they are?”

“Get his ass outta here.” When he was gone, Wilford continued. “Apparently, the store people wanna wait a bit, till all this blows over. As y’all know, the superstore in Buck City had to be demolished after it was half-built because it was accidentally erected on a sacred Native American cemetery. We all know what a mess that was.”

“But there ain’t no injuns in this town, mayor,” a man shouted. “Never was.”

“Ain’t no cemetery here neither.”

The mayor scratched his neck and looked at Jacob and Thurgood. “Well, there is the cabin, or what’s left of it.”

“Aww. No one cares about that damn cabin. That was a long time ago. It’s not sacred.” 

Jacob whispered to Connie, asking what they were talking about. She sheepishly looked away.

Someone shushed everyone. “Shut up about that goddamn cabin. It’s bad luck. You tryin to get us all killed?”

An old woman cried up at the ceiling just then. “Oh, Lord Jesus. They’ve come back to kill us for what our ancestors done. That’s what’s happening here, isn’t it? We’re all gonna die. Killed by a buncha ghosts.”

Jacob couldn’t type fast enough as he added all this to his notes, even though he didn’t know what any of it meant.

“Dolly,” the mayor said. “It was the past. It has nothing to do with us. No ghost is gonna kill ya.” The room erupted, and Wilford patted at the air. “We don’t even know if they’re really out there. These gentlemen don’t think they are.”

“Oh, what do they know? They ain’t from here.”

Clarence poked his head back in and said, “Y’all ain’t gonna believe this. But they’re out here right now, at the end of the street.”

Everyone stood and rushed out onto the sidewalk. Main Street was barely lit by a few lampposts, and Clarence pointed and said, “There! See em?” Every head turned to the left, searching for movement in the darkness. For a moment, it did look like there was something down there, but no one could be sure.

“Where?” people were saying. “Where?”

“There, goddammit!” Clarence pointed again. “Use your damn eyes. Someone ought to do something.” A moment later, he said, “I guess it’ll be me.” He whipped out a pistol and aimed. Everyone ducked. He fired, and a plate glass window down the street instantly shattered. Someone said, “You done shot the damn post office, you dumb bastard.” An alarm sounded. The mayor clawed through the crowd, saying, “Goddamn you, Clarence.” He slapped the old man on the head with his trucker cap a couple times and wrestled the pistol away from him. “Arrest this fool.”

Thurgood lit a cigarette and let out a sigh. “Finally, youngblood. We can go home.”

“Case closed?”

“No,” the old dude said. “Case never existed. We’re out of here.”


Monday morning, Jacob and Thurgood packed their carry-ons and brought them downstairs. Aunt Harriet made them a big breakfast. While helping with the dishes, Jacob asked if she’d be okay.

“Okay?” She looked puzzled. “Of course, baby. These white folks don’t scare me. Besides, they know I carry Betsy on my hip.” 

“Betsy?” Thurgood said. 

She pulled a revolver out from her waistband. In one smooth motion, she popped out the cylinder, which housed six shiny casings. Then, she spun it with her thumb and clicked it back in place. “Betsy.”

Jacob and Thurgood looked at each other, and the old dude said, “Well, that’s good. Because youngblood thinks they’re gonna burn a cross on your lawn.”

She took a skillet and set it in the sink. “Baby, this is a high-priced country. But they ain’t stupid. They don’t want me puttin a price tag on their ass.” She slid her gun back in her waist. “That would be painful.”

 Jacob closed his laptop. “Can we ask you one more thing? What happened…before? What’s the story with that cabin?”

“Cabin?” Aunt Harriet blew on her instant coffee. As though she’d almost forgotten, she said, “Oh, the Black folks. They got burned up in it a long time ago. I wanna say in the 1910s, the 1920s. White folks corralled them in there and set it on fire. Ten or twelve of em. All ages. At least that’s the story.”

“Jesus,” Jacob said. “Why would they do that?”

Harriet looked at him like the answer was obvious. “Because they could. Because they didn’t like em. They wanted em gone.” After a moment, she smiled and slapped her knee. “Well, don’t let me keep ya.”

Jacob and Thurgood went out to the car.

Harriet said, “Y’all come back. You know the history now. That means you’re family.” 

“Thank you,” they said. “We will.”

Thurgood eased over to the highway and lit a cigarette. Jacob took an American Spirit from the old dude’s pack and smoked, too. Scenery flew by. But then, it began to slow. The car lurched.  Thurgood said, “Not this again.”

He smacked the dash as they coasted onto the shoulder. He was about to pop the hood, but something off in the field next to them caught his eye. It was that cabin off in the distance. Not far from it, what looked like the tops of a few dark heads surfaced above the grass. The old dude’s phone made that weird buzzing again. “When are you coming home?” flashed on the screen. His wife. Thurgood turned it off, and he and Jacob looked at each other and then back at the field. The heads were gone. Jacob and Thurgood didn’t speak of it. After a moment, the old dude just tried the ignition. The car started. They gazed at the field and the cabin, wondering how long it had been there. “A century?” Jacob said. “Maybe more?” They watched the tall grass sway. Then, they got back on the road. 

At the airport, the old dude was driving so fast he blew right past the exit, as usual. Jacob’s mind was so far away he almost didn’t notice. He looked at Thurgood, about to ask if he’d turn around. But the old dude was mesmerized, staring out the window.

“What you looking at?”

Thurgood shrugged. “I don’t know. This beautiful messed-up country?”

Jacob nodded and looked, too, watching it all fly by.

Chris Stuck is the author of Give My Love to the Savages: Stories, published in July 2021 by Amistad/HarperCollins. He was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and the Oregon Book Award, and is a Pushcart Prize winner. His work has been published in various literary journals.