Friday, January 3, 2014

Chapter 147: Final Draft

As long as he could remember, Peter had hated hikers. Smelly, dirty, and hopelessly uncivilized, they descended every summer like locusts—or ravenous, rampaging hyenas—threatening to eat him out of house and home, endangering his family and livelihood, clogging his toilets, and leaving naught but the stench of death, destruction, and decay in their wake. Peter silently seethed at their stupid smiling faces; the way, like the piteous oinking pigs Peter used to mercifully slaughter as a child, they seemed to revel in their own slop; the preening, pretentious way they attempted to mask the naked pointlessness of their pathetic little lives with this foolish sense of "camaraderie." They called it "fun." They called it "participating in a spiritual communion with whatever." Peter called it a crime against nature. Or humanity, rather. Nature could go to hell.

Peter had inherited White House Landing from his father, Richard. Once upon a time it had been the family's summer home, conveniently located, as Peter had oft lamented, in the middle of nowhere. Peter's father had always been quick to lavish effusive praise on the property, pointedly mentioning its close proximity to the picturesque shores of Lake Pemadumbcock-or-something to anyone with two ears and a brain. And to many without one. But then again, Peter's father had always been an embarrassment, an insufferable know-it-all even as he was slowly and willfully wasting the family's waning but hard-won "fortune." If one could call it that. Lake Pemadumbcock-or-something might not have been the right name for it, either, come to think of it; to this day Peter pretended not to know. There were so many lakes in Maine, after all. It was easy to forget which one was which.

Unlike his father—and, to his continuing dismay, his dear old mother, and his ever pestiferous sisters—Peter found rural life impossibly boring, sorely lacking the culture and worldliness that he had come to love and expect of the big city. Bangor. With its diverse population of nearly forty thousand; its voluminous public library, with over half a million titles in its collection; its many and varied museums, one of which with actual art; its four accredited universities; and that one truck-stop by the highway that sold devilishly delicious, and thus deservedly famous, blueberry pies. How Peter longed to go back there.

But no, his father had loved the lake house so much, he quit his eminently respectable and relatively high-paying job at the paper mill and spurred the family to move out there year-round. Richard had been content to spend his remaining days—and Peter's rapidly dwindling inheritance—dawdling on the porch swing, smoking pipe tobacco, fishing with his grandchildren, playing cards, and occasionally taking in the random lost soul, making sure they were well fed and rested before inevitably, invariably, setting them back on the right course. Peter loathed every minute of it, and dreamt only of escape.

After Richard had passed, Peter wasted no time monetizing the family's few remaining assets. If he couldn't go back to the city, Peter thought, he would bring the city to him. He mortgaged everything and converted the house into a Bed & Breakfast, hoping to lure those polite city folk to spend a few nights away from the hustle and bustle with a quick flight up on his Cessna 185 floatplane.

And for a while, business boomed. Fat suburban families, their wallets and bellies swollen from the successes of American industry, would pay Peter hundreds of dollars for a week-long trip. Which, naturally, included room and board, free access to the lakefront beach and complimentary use of the on-site game room. Flying scenic tours of the surrounding countryside, however, cost quite a bit extra, but overeager parents could often be enticed by the promised educational value for their children. Which was, if truth be told, actually quite dubious; Peter honestly didn't know or care which lake or mountain was which, or what Pemadumbcock meant in the native tongue of the local Penobscot Indians, but he was more than happy to make it up as he went along for two hundred dollars an hour. Guided fishing trips were similarly expensive. Canoe and kayak rentals, on the other hand, were a more modest forty dollars a day. Peter considered charging adults an additional ten dollars for life vests until his wife unhelpfully pointed out this tactic's dubious legality. Properly dissuaded but undaunted, Peter settled upon an equally audacious alternative: a non-negotiable hundred dollar fee for anyone that required him to use his powerboat to save them from capsizing.

There were still a few proverbial deer ticks in his aloe vera salve, however. For one, as the years went on, the emergence of Bangor International Airport as a hub for connecting flights to Europe and elsewhere around the country—not to mention the invention of the personal computer, the internet, and Netflix, amongst other distractions—meant increased competition for an already dwindling customer base. Why spend a thousand dollars to see your own backyard, no matter how gorgeous, after all, when you could jet off to exotic locales like Sofia, Bulgaria, or Cleveland, Ohio for a comparable rate? And then, of course, there were the hikers. The veritable onslaught of voracious, stumbling hikers, sallow cheeked, mouths agape, eyes vacant, like an army of soulless zombie hippies, never seemed to stop.

As with seemingly all other peoples of Northern European descent, Peter lived in a constant, irrational fear of starvation. While Peter had never known the struggles of war or impoverishment—and thus had never been forced to improvise a meal out of the recycled grist of the scraps of the leftovers ordinarily given to horses, or terminally ill stray dogs—Peter's first instinct was still to covet and protect his own food above all else, disregarding all notions of charity, propriety, or common table manners. Growing up, he had never known a mealtime when he hadn't felt compelled to choke down his food in as short a time as possible, all whilst keeping hawkish watch on his presumably equally voracious and duplicitous sisters. When the hikers arrived every summer, unbidden, stomachs growling, palms pointing skyward, it was thus all Peter could do not to run at them with a loaded shotgun. Peter earnestly entertained the thought of killing one, just to set an example, "to scare the others off," he rationalized, until his wife—again—pointed out this tactic's rather dubious legality. Peter sighed wistfully, remembering it.  If it only weren't for pesky things like "morality." And "laws." And "marriage."

So Peter tried a different strategy. Instead of leaving a path open for hikers to approach the house directly, Peter had them hike an extra mile and a half out of their way, to a dock on the opposite side of the lake. There, they would be forced to blast an air horn to get his attention, and thereupon wait for him to pick them up in his boat. At his convenience. And if they got impatient, and blew that air horn more than once? Peter might not deign to collect them at all, but would let them linger there, on the fog-enshrouded dock, unknowing whether salvation lay ahead, or whether they were doomed to die of exhaustion, and starvation, while still awaiting the approaching purr of his outboard motor. Peter even added some aggressively passive-aggressive signage alerting hikers of such a policy, hoping that the cumulative effect of all these arbitrary, seemingly draconian punishments would dissuade at least some of them from trying to engage his services at all. Yet still they came.

Richard had once sold hikers supplies for a pittance, just slightly more than what he was paying for them wholesale. Peter initially charged them two fifty for a box of PopTarts. Then, over the seasons, the price slowly went up, till they were paying the same price for just a single pastry. And yet still they came! Peter promised them half-pound burgers, undercooked and dripping with salmonella, for six, then eight, then ten dollars a pop. All the beef and imminent diarrhea a grown man could handle. And still they came!

Ironically, through all his attempts to gouge them, to squeeze from them their last penny, their last ounce of dignity, Peter failed to see that they had slowly become his lifeblood, how their continued patronage of his services did more to feed Peter's family—and refill its coffers—than the plump urbanites he had long coveted. They came because he was, quite literally, the only game in town. They came because of the strong, if fading, legacy of his father. But how far could they be pushed, before all bonds of loyalty and compassion were broken?

What is a man's breaking point?

Just then the airhorn blew. Though the trees, across the misty waves, atop the decaying boards of the derelict dock, M.C., Fredo, Buckeye, and Hot Sauce waited.

Good. Let them wait, Peter thought, looking up from the breakfast table. They sure picked the wrong time to blow that airhorn. In fact, maybe I'll tell them that when I pick them up later.

The airhorn blew again.

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