Jason Purdy's story 'Turpentine' won third place in January 2013's short fiction contest.
Turpentine by Jason Purdy
Her father had many hobbies, but was especially fond of wood carving. The house forever reeked of fresh shavings, turpentine, and varnish. When there was no wood to hand, no time to carve or work the lathe, the house stank of other fluids. The sort you’d more readily associate with a middle aged, recently divorced, overweight and bald man.
Things were better than there was wood around. He used to buy it, but when he was laid off it was hard enough to put food on the table for the girls, never mind splashing cash on supple oak, firm maple, or fortified wine. After that, he started lifting it off the backs of trucks, or sneaking into the woods in the dead of night and grabbing what he could find. Even when he shot the man and buried him deep in the frozen earth, that didn’t stop him stealing.
His daughter’s left shortly after his wife, and then all he had to do was feed his dying liver and feet his insatiable lust for wood. His friends would have made a joke about that, but they were all long gone. He’d taken to carving extravagant figures out of the wood. Towering figures, resplendent, solid bodies, masterfully crafted and smoothed to perfection. Strong faces, long, hard oaken beards, and deep set, polished eyes that seemed to followed you around the room.
People had always told him his craft was good enough to sell, but he had been brought up well, and he knew never to sell out your friends, never to rat on them. They were the two ground rules, the core tenants that any and every friendship should, and must, be built on. So he’d never sell them and he wasted away, carving figures of splendour, wooden gods, unsullied and untouched effigies. A testament to the sense of humour that God obviously has when he hands out talents, picking and choosing, deciding that the sperm cell that runs down the leg was the one that could have been the doctor, while he makes the winner a certain Jeremy Weed. An unhinged alcoholic with the temper of an inferno and the hands of a savant.
Jeremy Weed lived in his workshop with his friends, his friends who never asked him if he really needed another bottle.
It only took his neighbours three days to smell it. They were used to the strange smells, wood shavings, booze, varnish, a heady mix if there was one, the smell of old bars and dirty barns, but the smell of rotting flesh was unmistakable. Even if you’d never smelt it before, it’s there, a spiritual stink, an ancestral odour, a reeking that you know on every level of your being.
The police found Jeremy Weed covered in blood and puckered with so many stab wounds that he looked like a pin cushion. Each of the wooden warriors held a knife. Each of the officers would swear that the eyes followed them as they left.