The Property Line

Amy Ballard


That morning it was cloning. She had read him the article in the newspaper and they had discussed it, so heatedly he wondered if it would be their last straw. Cloning had nothing to do with their lives. Why should they argue about it?

He hated the idea of it, though. Clearly it was wrong. Rachel took devil’s advocate and asked for reasons, which he struggled to produce. Cloning was wrong. It just was.

She could have come with him to scout the land. The walk would have been more pleasant with her along. Could have brought her Walkman if she wanted. Buying this land was her decision, too.

He breathed hard, tramping the property line marked by fluorescent plastic tape tied around the tree trunks. Was he so out of shape? He found a suitable walking stick in a pile of brush and pressed on. The sun rose higher, intensifying the aromas of the woods. Spicy pines and ferns, herbal undergrowth. Then came a new smell, pungent, skunk-like. Not animal, though. Marijuana? He knew the smell. His uncle, the cop, had let him sniff a confiscated plant after a ride-along.

If some hippie was growing weed nearby, he wouldn’t stand for it. Then he realized why he cared so much. He wanted this property. With its dense forest and tumble-down rock walls a hundred years old, this was the place. But he wouldn’t have druggies for neighbors.

He and Rachel had argued about the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. To him, marijuana was a gateway drug and should remain illegal. End of story. She didn’t see the danger.

Another of their storms. Their marriage consisted of thirteen months of storms. Anything could set them off. Buying property together was the first major decision they had agreed on. They wanted a slice of wilderness to call their own, to share. They would build a cabin in the woods. Maybe then the storms would blow over for good.

The smell of pot grew stronger until he saw the clearing just beyond the property line, planted with green, fronded marijuana plants. He would deal with it. He would call it in as soon as he got back.

Someone was approaching through the planting. He wielded his walking stick in both hands like a quarterstaff in case the hippie was aggressive. No, if he was aggressive, it would be futile to stand and fight. He would have to run.

A hideous head emerged from among the plants and spoke before its body became visible. “Hey, who’s there?”

The body emerged: a man’s, shirtless, with ratty jeans and sandals. The head was a bull’s, complete with horns.

Their first fight. Rachel had read him the myth of the minotaur, expecting him to like it. He had not. The origin of a creature sordidly conceived by a woman and a bull. The implication that mankind’s sins would be immortalized in the form of some hybrid beast.

The minotaur stepped nearer, its manly torso and shoulders burned red by the sun. “Don’t see a lot of people out this way,” the muzzle said.

He turned, stumbled toward the heart of the forest, the labyrinth, where there were no fluorescent flags to guide him. Two hundred feet from the property line, he fell.

The horned hippie found him impaled on his walking stick. Leaving the man, for whom he could do nothing, he returned to his cabin and settled into the orange upholstered chair. He removed the cap with the horns, which he wore backward because he liked the sun on his face, such an ugly face that he never looked at his reflection in a mirror. It was the reason he lived alone in a shack deep in the woods.

This guy had been scared of him. It made the hippie sick inside. What had he ever done to him? Was it the pot? Was it his face?

He’d have to call the cops. You can’t leave a dead man in the woods. If only they would let him keep his weed.

He sipped a Fanta, clipped his nails, and called the cops.



Amy Ballard writes and teaches in southern Idaho, where her husband, three kids, a naughty corgi, and too many cats keep her company. Her fiction has appeared in Barely South Review and on the Second Hand Stories podcast. Find Amy on her Website,