Pens - Underground “He knows about us, Wray. He knows what we’ve been doin’,” said Marlene. “Who does? Earl? How? How do you know? How can you be so sure?” Wray stuttered. “Last night when I came home I heard him from outside, hollerin’ things like, ‘that no-good son-of-a’ and ‘that two-timin’ such-and-such. When he started quietin’ down, I put my ear to the door, and I heard him say he was gonna get you, Wray. He said your name, for cryin’ out loud! I waited until I didn’t hear him no more before I went inside. He wouldn’t hardly look at me,” said Marlene. “Well, you’ve got to say somethin’ to ‘im, Marlene. The man’ll kill me!” Wray shrieked. “Look, since we know what he’s up to. We just gotta get him first is all. Then me and you can be together, and we’ll be rid of that crazy bastard, too,” said Marlene. “But I don’t wanna get rid of Earl,” said Wray. “Well he’s gonna get rid of you, dummy. You wanna die, Wray? He’ll prob’ly kill me after, too. You want him to kill me, Wray?” “No, course not,” Wray said, shaking his head. “…Course not.” “Tomorrow, if he asks you to come on over to the house, you just do it,” said Marlene. “Tomorrow? How do you know if he’ll…” Wray started to ask. “Just listen, would ya?!” Marlene interrupted, “If he asks you to come by the house after work, you just come on over. Preten’ ain’t nothin’ the matter, and ya’ll just best friends as ya’ll ever been. He said he was gonna take you out to the woods and shoot ya…” said Marlene. “You heard ‘im say that?! You heard ‘im say he was gonna do that to me? ” asked Wray, unbelieving. “Yes, now will you stop interruptin’? I swear you can be such a damn pain in the ass... Look, I’mma follow you boys out there, real quiet like - ya’ll ain’t even gonna know I’m there. I’mma shoot that son-of-a-bitch and bury him out there before he can lay a finger on you, Wray,” said Marlene. “Oh, I don’t know, Marlene… I don’t like this at all.” “Quit bein’ so yella’! What’re you a coward, Wray?” asked Marlene. She paused, took a breath, and softened her tone, “Just think how happy we’re gonna be when it’s all done and over with. Just me and you, Wray.” Wray was neither a brave nor a bright man, but he mustered the courage to nod in agreement. Inside, though, he was very afraid. The following afternoon as the day’s work drew to a close, the two men cleaned up the job-site, stowing all their equipment in tool boxes and packing up for the day. Wray hadn’t been able to speak much all day. “Wray, you busy tonight?" asked Earl. "Whuddya’ say to a few beers on me, my place?” “Um…” Wray’s stomach knotted. He considered saying he had plans, but with the plan in mind he said reluctantly, “No, I'm not busy.” “Then hop in,” said Earl coldly as he climbed into the driver's seat and slammed his door. Wray breathed and nodded to the sky. The men loaded into Earl’s creaky pickup truck and rode together down the bumpy dirt road that led to his house deep in the country, uncomfortably deep for Wray. Sitting in silence on the couch in the living room, the two men drank with unquenchable thirst, each man for his own reason. No murderer under normal circumstances, Earl drank to become one. Wray drank, unsuccessfully, to calm his nerves, having no faith in Marlene’s plan. Earl left the couch to use the restroom and returned with two more beers and a full bottle of whiskey. “Wray, I gotta talk to you ‘bout somethin’,” said Earl, finally breaking the silence. He handed a beer to Wray, kept a beer for himself, and placed the bottle of whiskey on the floor. Wray tried to steady his voice. “Sure, what’s up?” When Earl turned to speak, his eyes stared through Wray's, miles beyond. “Look, I don’t want you sayin’ nothin’ to nobody, though,” said Earl, his voice eerily monotonous. “It’s embarrassin’, and I’m not even real sure ‘bout it anyhow.” “Alright, Earl,” said Wray, “You know me, man. I ain’t got nobody to tell, even!” He was trying to joke, but in truth he really didn’t have anyone he could tell. Earl didn’t laugh. He picked up the bottle of whiskey and threw back several long gulps, and then handed the bottle to Wray. “I think Marlene’s sleepin’ aroun’ on me,” Earl said, bluntly. Wray took several long pulls of liquor then set it on the floor. As he set the bottle down Earl grabbed it and took a couple more huge swigs. Wray could barely keep from shaking. Despite the cool night air circulating from the open windows into the room, he was beginning to sweat profusely. “No way, Earl. No way, man. What’s even got you thinkin’ somethin’ like that?” asked Wray. He saw Earl's face twitch. “I think it’s somebody from work,” Earl said, ignoring the question. “From work?” said Wray who was fighting back tears. His heart felt ready to pop. “Yeah. I’m tellin’ you, this guy knows my schedule too good. It’s gotta be somebody from the site,” said Earl. “It’s gotta be.” “Awe, come on, Earl. That don’t mean nothin’. What’s even got you thinkin’ this mess to start with?” Wray asked again. He drank once more from the bottle which was now nearly empty. “I’mma find out who it is, Wray,” said Earl, “Will you help me?” “If you’re sure…” Wray started to say. “I’mma kill that motherfucker, Wray.” Earl’s eyes were unfocused and Wray could see that his friend had transformed into something new, something guiltless and detached. He wanted to convince Earl that his concerns were misplaced, but as he started to speak Earl heaved himself from the couch and stumbled out of the room. He bumped around in the hallway like a pinball, and a picture hanging in the hall crashed to the floor. In his moment alone, Wray panicked. He decided if he waited any longer, he was going to die. He had to get the hell out of the house then leave town forever. He didn't care about Marlene anymore, or her terrible plan. He made his move. He rose to his feet slowly, struggling against gravity and too many drinks. He took one step when his cheek met flush with the double-barrel of a shotgun. A barely recognizable wild-man stood at the other end of the weapon. “You’re the kinda’ man… the world… can do without,” Earl managed. Wray almost fainted as his fear became reality. “The hell you doin’, Earl? What’re you talkin’ ‘bout brother?” “You know goddamn well what I’m talkin’ about,” Earl slurred, “and you sure as hell ain’t my brother! Turn your ass aroun’ and walk.” “Earl, please, why you doin’ this?” asked Wray. Earl struck Wray in the face with the butt of his weapon, shattering his nose. “Outside! Now!” Earl screamed. The two men exiting the house walked one behind the other down the steps of the back porch and out into the yard. Wray hesitated. “Go!” said Earl. He belched beer and whiskey into his mouth and spit it on the ground. “I don’t like surprises. Any surprises, an’ you die like a dog.” “Please, Earl!” “Go!” he screamed again, slamming the butt of the shotgun into the back of Wray’s head, splitting open his scalp. Earl was shaking in a drunken rage. Wray complied. He stumbled aimlessly, knowing only which direction he was not allowed to go. The pair crossed the backyard and entered the woods at the edge of the property. They continued for several minutes before Earl commanded Wray to stop. They arrived at a clearing in the trees where speared into the earth was a shovel. “Start diggin’,” Earl said, shoving Wray between the shoulder blades with the shotgun. “Say one word, Wray… Say one word, and you’ll rot grave-less like an animal.” Losing control, Wray vomited. His terror was becoming overwhelming, having seen no signs of Marlene. He prayed she had been following unnoticed. Silently, he began to dig. Earl sat perched above his former friend, keeping the barrel trained on him the entire time, motionless. Hours passed and the sun began to rise before a hole of sufficient size had been dug, the depth of which Wray could no longer escape unassisted. “Lay your ass down, home-wrecker,” ordered Earl at last. Wray urinated on himself. He lay down in his grave, speechless and exhausted. Wray waited for his savior in vain as Earl began scooping and replacing the soil. Wray’s body had been covered considerably he began to confess. “Earl, I’m sorry! I’m sorry damn it! Listen to me, please! Marlene's gonna kill you! Please, Earl, don’t do this, brother! Marlene's gonna kill you! I don’t want nothin’ to do with that harlot! She’s an evil woman, Earl! This is all her doin’!” said Wray. “Shut your goddamn mouth, coward! She told me all abou…” There was a loud crack as Earl’s stomach exploded. His bowels sprayed into the hole and covered Wray. He toppled into the grave and crushed Wray, breaking one of his ribs. His already troubled breathing became desperate. “Marlene?” Wray tried to yell, but he could hardly make a sound. “’I don’t want nothin’ to do with that harlot!’ huh, Wray? You think I’m an ‘evil woman’, do ya?” came Marlene’s voice, sounding wicked and harsh. “You got no idea, baby.” Marlene stepped into Wray’s vision and leaned on the hunting-rifle like a cane. “Woo-hoo!” she cheered, “Some fine huntin’ this mornin'!” Wray cursed the woman, whispering and suffocating now, “You… bit…” Marlene threw her head back and laughed until she was breathless. Setting the rifle down, she inhaled the crisp morning air through her nose and then exhaled from her mouth with a loud, “Ahh…” She popped her neck to each side, stretched her limbs, and then grabbed the shovel. She sang as she labored, “Two birds, one stone, both deep undergroun’ now! Got each other, won’t be alone, ‘cause they’re both deep undergroun’ now!” Wray heard her laugh, and then his face vanished beneath the earth.