Chapter Twenty-Eight: Squatters at the Butler House

Editor’s Note: The years after the outbreak were difficult years in Vine. The residents couldn’t know it, but the Great Depression affected them, too. Being cut off from the rest of the world does not mean you don’t exist in the world. We don’t have a lot to go on to understand life in those years, roughly 1929-1945, but Christine told me this story. Laughing the whole time, like it was a long joke. Said one of her friends’ friends actually overheard this conversation as it was happening. “Like they heard these people talking at Gentleman Jim’s?” I asked, and Christine just laughed harder. One time I asked the Bartender if employees used to make house calls, do private events. He said sure, and when I re-told this story, he laughed and said, “I remember when those two—that is, I remember my old boss telling me the story of those two coming in. To Gentleman Jim’s.” Then he added “I never went to the Butler House,” but said it in a way that made my neck twist and shoulders crack. Someone else ordered a beer before I could follow up.  

“It don’t feel right, being here,” she said. “Here feels haunted.”

“Did you procure the whiskey?” he asked. “Bring it thus.”

She took out the bottle. They were occupying one corner of the dining room table. The dust and cobwebs of the house shifted the more they occupied. The books moved from shelves to tables, those that could be spared used for fire.

“Here, if you do not know,” he said. “Is the residence of the only citizen of Vine to hold public office in the United States government. It is not haunted, it is gilded. Yet fading.”

“I heard he weren’t even from Vine,” she said. “Not really.”

“State Rep. Roderick J. Butler was not born in Vine,” he said. “Be that as it may, more in Vine than you might think were either not born here or at barest minimum their grandparents were not born here. There are those in the world whom Vine calls.”

“Being called don’t make him from Vine,” she said. 

The house felt older than the lifespan of the forest. Periodic groaning. Whirlwinds. 

“Vine is holy,” he said. “Vine provides. That’s why it’s okay we’re here.”

She refilled her glass. They were almost out of whiskey. “Where’s the Bartender?”

“Comes and goes these days,” he said. “I’ve heard of him living in the basement of this family, that family—always Captains of Industry, if not Elders themselves. I’ve heard of him keeping a low profile—but if you’re in the know, you’re in the know.”

“I just want Gentleman Jim’s to reopen,” she said. “We shouldn’t be here.”

An owl crashed through a panel window. It somersaulted on the ground before regaining its flight and ripped into the night with a mouse in its talons. The Hoosier cabinet in the ballroom collapsed. The man and woman finished their whiskey and wind crashed the bottle to the floor. In the silence that followed a nest of garter snakes hatched below the front porch before bursting into a tight roll of flames and being subsumed into the soil. 

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