Fiction by Danny Anderson

The Ogre of Cascading Acres

On the side of a mountain, at the southern edge of town, we built a shopping plaza, knowing damn well that an ogre lived in those hills.

If, years from now, anyone ever finds this letter, they might think I hitched my wagon to a clumsy metaphor. Please know that this is not the case. What I’m calling an ogre is just that, a literal monster. I’m not looking for poetic distance to make grand statements about toxic rivers, lead poisoning, or human traffickers. This thing has ash-colored skin, thick and scaly. Matted tufts of coal-black hair jut out from the top of its head and out of its scarred knuckles. The ogre has hard, sharp nails that might as well be claws. And he is huge; nine feet by the accounts of the few who saw him and lived. And the teeth. Well, no one has had the chance to describe the ogre’s dentistry, but based on the piles of bones we regularly collect, they must be long, sharp, and thick.

Maybe you think I’m mad. Maybe not. Perhaps by the time this is discovered by a future civilization, ogres will be scientifically verified and admired as an example of nature’s varied wonders. If this is the case, I will have to wonder if evolution produced the ogre in the hill as a defense against us, despicable humans, for our many sins. Will history understand the ogre as a hero that rose up against the evil we waged against nature?

I’ll leave that to the philosophers.

As I said, we built the plaza with full knowledge that there was an ogre hovering in the dark wood above its paved parking lots and bright lights. But what could we do? The town was dying. Not by the claw and tooth of the ogre (not in great numbers anyway). But by death itself, attrition. Everything that made us had withered and died.

First the coal became too expensive to pry from the hills. Then the trains had nothing to carry to or from our fine town. And it was a fine town, with fine homes and fine shops lining the streets of a fine downtown.

Then a developer came, a man with a vision. He had made himself rich by making towns like ours rich. The bright future he designed for us was a grand shopping destination that would suck money from other towns like a salve that draws venom from a snake bite.

How could we say no? Why would we say no? The stores in our fine downtown had closed up, their escalators frozen. And then the sidewalks emptied. The motion of life had gone deathly still.

We needed the shopping center. When the developer revealed the name, Cascading Acres, we cried with joy. And I mean we here. Not a person or two. The entire town cried at the mythological beauty of Cascading Acres. We could see it. Acres and acres of restaurants and retail cascading across the landscape of our fine town, erasing the blight of plywood no trespassing” signs and replacing them with the Utopia of a pastoral idyll.

Our dreams died when the developer, Randy Rierson, who no doubt built the shopping paradise of your town as well, told us to build it on the mountain. How could we tell him no? Cop to the truth and say But there’s an ogre in those hills, Mr. Rierson!” No one could say the words so no one did. Randy Rierson would have taken his plaza and our bright future up the road to the next town on the highway.

And when we thought of it, when we were really honest about it, there was no place else to build Cascading Acres. The downtown was not built for cars. The rails cut vast chunks of the landscape to real estate ribbons. And the only other open spaces, where the steel had been made and the coal had been dug, were impossible. The ground in those places was cursed poison and it was all surrounded by high fences topped with razor wire.

So we lowered our heads and said yes.” The southern mountain, where the highway passed across the edge of town, would be perfect. Randy Rierson could build Cascading Acres and the town would build two new exits off the highway, one at each end of our new, crystalline shopping destination. We were dreaming, so we thought perhaps the ogre would leave.

But the ogre had deep roots in that mountain. No one ever really knew where he came from, but we all figured he arrived with a purpose.

A story was passed down and history bent under its weight.

The ogre was a beast of hatred and vengeance. He was born from pure agony, the bitter deaths of eighteen miners who died in a collapse in the 20s. There were no surviving witnesses to the catastrophe, but the town believed that, as they sucked in the final gulps of poison air in the black darkness of the Hell we prepared for them, the lost eighteen conjured a being from their fury.

Up on the surface, they must have known that the town would make them heroes of myth, maybe build a statue that school children would visit one day a year and pigeons would shit on the rest. As their lives were ripped from them, they rejected the honor. In a collective act of hatred, they willed the ogre into existence. Forevermore it would stalk the mountain above them and grind anyone it found to bloody, greasy meat, leaving just twisted and splintered bones as the miners’ response to the town’s hollow thoughts and prayers.

For generations, the ogre mutilated and devoured anyone it found on the mountain. Hunters, lost children, bird watchers, EPA inspectors, and whoever else stumbled across its wicked path. The ogre took them all, feeding on the flesh of innocents in retribution. One sacrifice requires another; that is what history is. The ogre’s gray skin was flesh of the miners’ suffocated flesh. Its greasy, black hair bore the blackness that ushered them to Hell. Its iron nails formed as the doomed miners clawed at the mountain above their corpses. And its teeth were extensions of the miners’ vengeful will to punish the living.

Every year, someone would vanish and we knew that the ogre had taken them. For a time, a few would doubt. After all, who could believe such a thing? But then the bones would turn up, twisted and gnawed, at the base of the mountain, where Salamander Lane began its serpentine ascent. No one drove on Salamander Lane anymore. The town hadn’t even plowed it for decades of mountain winters. I, myself, saw the bones once. A pile big enough to have once been two men, femurs and ribs snapped in two and deep bite marks at the jagged edges of the breaks; the ogre had sucked their marrow, leaving a heap of dry, empty bones, the retribution of the terrible dead miners.

Randy Rierson knew nothing of any of this, obviously. And we didn’t tell him. There was a grand ceremony on the day Cascading Acres opened for business. Randy Rierson brought his publicity team and they used the same banners, lights, and billowing American flags for the same ribbon cutting that they’d performed in dozens of other towns he’d made his fortune rescuing.

If it’s still around, you should go to the library and find the newspaper from the day. Look closely at the full-spread, color picture on the front page. Rierson is the only one smiling. I’m in that picture too, second to the end on the right. Part of me was happy that day, but the camera couldn’t reach that part. Like everyone else, I knew that the town would be scavenging a million bones where Salamander Lane turns up the mountain, until Cascading Acres was as dead and boarded up as the train yard warehouse.

And we were right.

That very first week, three teenagers from up the highway came to Cascading Acres for some of those fifteen dollar California burritos. We now had the only one of those restaurants for fifty miles. It seemed from the security footage that they enjoyed their meal, which I’m glad about. It was their last. Their parents reported them missing that night, but nobody ever found them. The town knew where to find the bones and hurried them away into a pit we dug in the middle of a fenced-off brownfield where they used to make lead paint. It was the first of many pits. We dug them deep, but never deep enough.

Not every day ends in tragedy, of course. Cascading Acres would have closed by now if death were a daily occurrence, if only out of superstition. And superstition is all that’s left; the putrid evidence of death is piled thick in holes we keep digging in that brownfield, deep, though never as deep as those miners are buried under Cascading Acres.

No, it’s only every month or two that someone drives in for a deal on sweaters, bedding, fancy sneakers, or consumer electronics and ends up a heap of digested ruin on Salamander Lane. The shopping center is right on the highway, like I said, so there’s lots of places folks could have plausibly disappeared between wherever they came from and wherever they were going. And our cops have gotten good at fudging security footage if anybody ever asks, which they do sometimes.

I don’t know if those miners are happy or not. None of the living are. But like I said, what could we do? Randy Rierson gave us a chance to keep existing in the modern world and we took it. There’s a price to pay, and sometimes we still lose one or two of our own. Their bones get buried in the brownfield, along with all those folks from elsewhere who bring their money to our town and leave their bones along with it.

The brownfield keeps filling up, not as slow as we’d like, and soon enough we’ll have to carve some more holes elsewhere. Some folks are suggesting we look into opening up the entrance to the mine under Cascading Hills. The concrete, steel, and wood barrier now crouches, hidden under a thick tangle of angry briars. I suppose it’s worth a shot, though I doubt it will appease the hungry spirits of the eighteen we sent to their deaths at the bottom of that mineshaft. It might even make them more vicious, and who knows what the ogre would do then?

No, my highest hope is a bleak one. I say we hold up our end and keep the peace we’ve killed and died for with these generations of human sacrifice. Let the miners have their vengeance, take the blood money from the devoured dead, and try to sleep at night, far away from Cascading Acres.

Danny Anderson


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