Three hours later we joined a half dozen other cars in a campground turned shantytown. If I had been a photographer for Newsweek I could have composed a photo essay about the working poor. The people roaming through the grounds couldn’t have been much older than their mid-thirties, but the tired and weathered looks upon their faces told a different tale. Callused hands and leathery skin spoke of untold hours engaged in manual labor.
I still didn’t know much about why we were here, other than Georgie’s comment that morning about needing to see someone. I wasn’t real happy about it either, but Georgie wasn’t the kind of guy you complained to, let alone about. So I shut my mouth and followed him out of the car.
It was late afternoon and the sun had begun its journey to the other side of the world but somehow no matter which direction we walked I was squinting. I tripped over a pile of empty beer bottles and found myself face down in the dirt. Among other company this might have generated a laugh or two; with Georgie it earned a look of derision and a muttered curse.
In the distance someone was singing along with Springsteen’s Born in the USA. To the right of me a woman was trying to mediate a fight between her children, it can’t be easy when threatening to send your child to their room means the back seat of the car. More sounds drifted in, laughter, a dog barking and something that sounded like the pop pop pop of a pistol being fired.
Georgie finally stopped in front of a beat up Toyota Camry and motioned for me to wait where I was. I couldn’t hear the conversation but judging from the wild gestures and curses coming from Georgie he was not happy. If I knew Georgie we were moments away from one of his violent outbursts. It might have been warm for everyone else, but I felt a definite chill in the air.
The man in the Camry got out of the car and walked off into the forest. I waited as Georgie followed him. Seconds turned into minutes and I became very conscious of just how long I had been waiting for Georgie. It wasn’t unusual for him to just leave me somewhere with no instruction on how long to wait so I kept waiting.
It was sunset and now there was no question about a drop in the temperature, it was getting colder. Georgie had driven up here and taken the keys with him. I began to grow concerned about how I was going to get back. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have found out that Georgie had gotten back in the car and left me here. There was only one person that he cared about and it wasn’t me.
But running off into the woods to find him had its own problems. To begin with I had no idea which way to walk and for how long and then there was Georgie. With his paranoia issues there was no way to tell how he would react. But I feared a beating less than I feared being stuck out here so I began to follow the trail that he and the other guy had taken.
It didn’t take me long to find them. I had seen Georgie do some horrific things, but this one surprised me. Georgie had tied the guy from the Camry to a tree. His head was hanging and I could see him take a shallow breath. Georgie was talking into his hand, whispering something that I couldn’t quite make out.
That was when I realized that Georgie was not talking into his hand, he was talking into the ear of the man tied to the tree, except the ear was no longer attached to him. Neither were his thumbs or the middle fingers on both hands. They were lying on a rock in front of the man.
But that wasn’t the worst part of it. Next to the fingers and thumbs was a slice of bread, ketchup and his tongue. Suddenly Georgie’s mumbling started to make more sense, he was promising to reunite the man with the “pieces of flesh he had liberated.”
I must have coughed or gagged because until that point he hadn’t been aware of my presence. And then there he was, standing in front of me, prodding me to take a turn, pushing me to show him that I had learned something. I felt sick inside, but I let him press the knife into my hand.