HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.

Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…

Mr. Horning

Eric Smith

I heard it from old Sherman, and I prefer the way he tells it because he was there when it happened. You know how he is – old Sherman – unofficial neighbourhood watch. Some folks think they pay him annually. A stipend, they say. But I know otherwise, from when I was secretary for the HOA and saw the books with my own eyes. Paid or not, he drives up and down the road with his bull terrier pup, Mo.
He was driving up the hill past Mr. Mallory’s house when he heard the racket. Said he stopped to talk and heard banging. Reverberating through the hollow, he said. Sounded like it was coming from the hill past the Wills’ house – poor Mr. Wills with his wife dead. Couldn’t pay the HOA fine north of two thousand and was still in jail for contempt of the court disobeying a court order.
Thinking breakin, old Sherman charged up the hill in his Forrester with Mo’s tongue hanging halfway out the window. It was summertime, so you know what Mo was doing, lapping at the dusty air as it flew up from the gravel road. Pulling into the driveway, Sherman half-expected a moving van or box truck. But he saw nothing two empty spaces worn from the brokendown pickup trucks that weren’t there no more – removed from the property on account of the HOA covenants. He saw nothing but heard the banging. It came from the deadend at the top of the hill Mr. Horning’s house.
So up he went and that’s when he saw it, Mr. Horning with a melonsized rock raised above his head staring into the driver side window of his Toyota Camry, the ancient black jalopy which “wouldn’t pass an emissions test in any other state” according to his wife and selfproclaimed knowitall, Mrs. Horning.
The rock descended and then flew from his hand. It travelled four or five feet before bouncing off the window and landing next to the front tyre on the driver’s side. Mr. Horning stood up straight with his hands on his hips and his face scrunched up in the direction of old Sherman’s Forrester.
Mr. Horning wasn’t wearing nothing but a tank top – the wife beater type – and shorts. He must’ve left his teeth inside because he held a hand over his mouth as he called over to Sherman.
“What you want?” he asked.
“Heard banging.”
“It’s me banging.”
“What for?”
“Ain’t no one’s business but my own.”
“Watcha banging up your car for?”
“I ain’t banging up my car.”
“But I saw
“Just leave me be. I’m alright. What I do with my car – ain’t no one’s business but my own.”
Sherman backed up the Forrester while watching Mr. Horning through his rearview mirror. He saw him pick up the melonsized rock and heave it into the window. He did it tentatively at first like someone was watching but then he picked it up a second time and heaved it hard into the glass.
On his way down the hill, Sherman noticed Dolan Mallory’s Tacoma coming up the other way with someone sitting in the passenger seat. He couldn’t see who it was from afar, but it didn’t matter because Mr. Mallory always stopped to talk whenever the men passed on the road.
The trucks stopped and the windows were already open and Sherman could see who was sitting next to Mr. Mallory, Mrs. Horning with sweat dripping down her forehead matted down with thick grey hair.
“That crazy husband of mine,” she shouted. “You see him up there?”
Sherman nodded his head.
“He still at it?”
“I tried talking with him. He won’t talk. Just smashing up the car with a rock.”
Dolan Mallory, the HOA president – the most respected, feared, loved, hated man in the community, a young man thirty years of age with a tight goatee and sawdust in his hair – remained expressionless as Mrs. Horning explained the situation to Sherman. Here’s what she told him:
I was cleaning up the lunch dishes. Made us some tuna salad, the way Sam (Mr. Horning) likes it. And he says he’s going out for cigarettes. Doesn’t bother with his teeth. Leaves the teeth on the table. A bit funny, but I didn’t think of it. And then I hear this thud, thud out in the yard. I’m doing dishes, though, so I don’t think nothing of it. Sounds like a woodpecker. And I’m not thinking about it, so I don’t listen closely enough to consider otherwise. But then I dry my hands and walk into the other room and I says to myself, “Something ain’t right. Something about that woodpecker sounds too loud. And it ain’t consistent like a pecker. It thuds once then stops, once then stops. Not the thud, thud, thud, thud, of a pecker. So I draw back the blinds and sure enough, there’s Sam with a rock in his hand. Next thing I know, he throws the rock right at the car window.
Now I know what you’re thinking. A normal woman might run out screeching at him. And I felt halftempted. Car windows is expensive and with the truck in the shop already, we don’t have the money. Not till the check comes. But anyone who knows Sam, knows he goes through these spells. He’s meek as a lamb three-hundred sixty-four days of the year. But every now and then something creeps up under his skin and he goes out of his head. Like the time he popped his truck tyre on the fill that got thrown down on the road. Remember that? The fill with all the metal. Popped all our tyres before we got it scraped off. You should’ve seen him. Thrashing about. Broke my favourite snow globe and was screaming on the phone. That’s before Mr. Mallory was president. Before things got cleaned up with the HOA.
Well anyway, I stood there at the window paralyzed. Couldn’t move. He threw the rock one more time and didn’t pick it up. I thought he was through. Tired himself out. But then he went over to the flower bed where we have the big rocks bordering the garden, and he goes and picks one up. I can’t believe it. This one’s twice the size of the first. And this time he puts his whole weight into it. Throws it harder than I’ve ever seen him throw. And just like the first, it bounces back at him.
And he keeps at it. He throws the rock a dozen times, and I’m just standing there at the window. I’m trapped. I can’t go nowhere. I can’t call the police not on my own husband. Some women would do it, but not me. And what if he brings the rock inside? What then?
So I did the only sensible thing. I looked up the number for Mr. Mallory on the website. He always said to call him, call him if we need something – anything. And he’s so handy running his business through his garage like he does. I figured he’d be the best one to call. So that’s what I did.
And now, I know what you’re wondering. How’d I get out from the house? Well, here’s what happened. I told Mallory he better stay at home and I’d meet him at his porch step. Sam might come to senses if we approached him together. You know how Sam thinks. Just like all the other men around here – mountain men too proud for help or a favour. And I figured, I ain’t no spring chicken going on sixtythree this year but I can still make a break for it when push comes to shove. So I was standing there at my door looking at Sam through the window. I’d start running just after the rock bounced. And Sam wouldn’t catch me neither not with his leg. And I was just about to swing the door open when something funny happened. Sam didn’t throw the rock. He turned away from the car and I could see where he was going. He wasn’t looking in my direction, but it made no difference. I can see his wheels spinning from any angle I happen to see him from. The rocks from the garden they weren’t big enough for him. He was heading down the hill towards Barrel Creek at the bottom of our property line. So I stood there with my hand on the doorknob, his body vanishing beneath the slope of the hill. And then he was gone and I ran for it all the way to Mr. Mallory’s doorstep.
It took five minutes for Mrs. Horning to tell her story, speaking so fast she could barely catch her breath. All the while, they heard the thud of rock striking glass as Dolan Mallory maintained a fixed glare on the road ahead.
“We’re going up,” Mr. Mallory said. “I’m not worried. You can come up if you like.”
“Yeah,” Sherman told him. “I’ll come up.”
So old Sherman flipped the Forrester around in Mr. Wills’ driveway and followed Dolan Mallory up the hill.
Mr. Horning had climbed the hill with a boulder-sized rock held up at his shoulder, an ancient savage limping with every other step. As Mr. Mallory pulled into the driveway, the boulder struck the door of the car. It missed the glass and dented the black metal. He didn’t cuss or spit until he heard the truck doors slam with Mr. Mallory standing with a long, thin strip of metal and Mrs. Horning pleading with her hands held out in front of her, “He said he’ll fix it. He’s got the tools. He’s done it. Just let him do it, honey. Just let him.”
Mr. Horning picked up the boulder.
“What I need his help for? What does he know?”
“I’ll pop the lock for you,” Mr. Mallory answered soberly. “Your wife told me you have manual locks. With older cars, it won’t hurt it. I’ll slide this down and pop the lock.”
“Like I told you before, Mr. President, you ain’t welcome here. Not with what you did to Lionel Wills. He’s a friend of mine and it’s you who got him sent to prison. I’m warning you, pal, if you come any closer, it’ll be you I’m crackin’ open with this rock.”
As he said it, he heaved the boulder at the window. From his vantage point standing beside his Forrester, Sherman could see the glass. It was already cracked and needed replacing. The boulder struck, but the glass didn’t break any further. As Mr. Horning bent over for the boulder, he bent at the knees. He tried to straighten up, but he couldn’t. He held his back, panting, and Sherman could see the tears in his eyes.
“It ain’t your business,” he shouted. “Why’d you bring him here?”
The sound escaping Mrs. Horning’s lips wasn’t a cry or a gasp or a grunt. It was the combination of all three. She remained speechless as her husband’s tongue kept snarling, his rotten teeth uncovered by his hand, his words indecent and cutting.
Dolan Mallory was unshaken. As we all know, he’s seen this response before. He sees it at the HOA meetings whenever he proposes a new idea. He sees it whenever he suggests something to modernise the HOA: the website, road paving, new road signs, the enforcement of covenants through legal means when necessary, the slightly increased dues to pay for the cost of plowing in the winter. The majority of residents agrees with him on these measures. Ninety percent, I’d guess. And yet, the minority speaks the loudest. The minority resorts to anger and namecalling and brute force. And with previous presidents, it worked. But not Dolan Mallory.
“I’m going to open the car for your wife,” Mr. Mallory said. “She asked me to open it. I’ve done this before.”
Mr. Horning tried to lift the rock. He couldn’t. He fell down beside it as Mr. Mallory approached.
“What? You think I need some boy to fix my car for me? Huh? Like I’m some dog. Can’t fix my own car!”
Mr. Mallory didn’t take the bait. He could’ve said something like, “No. You can’t fix it. That’s why I’m fixing it for you.” But if he had said something like that, Mr. Horning would’ve stood back up. He would’ve picked up the rock or threw a punch. Instead, Mr. Mallory said nothing. He reached the car. He slid the thin piece of metal through the gap between the window and door. He popped the lock. And then he walked away without saying anything at all. He didn’t ask to be thanked. He fixed it and walked away.
And that’s how old Sherman tells the story. I might’ve added a few notes of my own all the stuff about the HOA.  But’s it’s essentially the same. After the incident, we saw them driving the car around with the busted window for a week or two. The window got fixed, but they never bothered to knock out the dent in the door. And Sam Horning never forgave Mr. Mallory for popping the lock. To this day, he still talks about it. And when he’s with friends, the loud and proud ten percent, they all agree: Mr. Mallory should mind his own damn business.

ERIC SMITH’S work has been published or is forthcoming in The Cossack Review, Apocrypha and Abstractions and Ink in Thirds. Eric is an English teacher from Hedgesville, West Virginia. As an MFA student with the Bluegrass Writers Studio, he is serving as a reader for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for the Jelly Bucket Literary Journal. He holds an English degree from St. Mary’s College of Maryland as well as a Masters in the Art of Teaching. In 2016, Eric was a participant in Disquiet International.