The Secret of Hunter's Bog

By: Ally Blue


“There it is, in all its dubious glory.” Koichi McNab surveyed the brand-new space where he and his twin sister, Kimmy, were getting ready to reopen the family business. The place was bland as custard, but it was four walls and a roof. A big display window, even, with the shop’s name already painted on it. He wrinkled his nose. “It’ll do, I guess.”

Kimmy waved one hand in a dismissive gesture. “Stop being such a grump. It’s fine.”

He cut her an oh, please look, which she ignored. They both knew the strip mall wasn’t an ideal spot for McNab’s Organic Home Goods. But it was newly built and clean, and the rent was cheap. Besides, after their old place in downtown Duchene had burned down, this was the only space available—unless they wanted to run their business out of Koichi’s house, or move the shop ten miles north to the next closest town, Bay Minette.

Koichi sidestepped away from thinking of the fire. He’d escaped by the skin of his teeth with nothing worse than a small burn on his arm, but the real scars were the invisible ones.

“Yeah. Fine.” Koichi patted the cowlick at the back of his head, where his hair always stuck straight up no matter how hard he tried to make it lie down. “Well, like Mama said, it’s a place, right? It’ll grow on me.” I seriously fucking hope.

Laughing, Kimmy hooked her delicate little hand through Koichi’s elbow. “She told you to quit bitching and be grateful we had the old building insured enough to replace our stock and rent this new place.”

Guilt stabbed Koichi in the gut, like it did pretty much all the time. The whole family kept telling him he had nothing to prove—that the fire was an accident, and no one blamed him—but he knew better. He saw how they all gave him the side eye when they thought he wasn’t looking.

“Right.” With a deep sigh, he peered into her upturned face. “Shall we, sister of mine?”

She tossed her long black ponytail over her narrow shoulder. “Oh, let’s.”

Together, as they’d been their whole lives, they sauntered into their new shop.



It took another couple of weeks to get everything in order for their opening. They were lucky. Lots of the tenants of the new Hunter’s Bog Mall took much longer to get ready, mostly because they were newbies. New to Alabama, particularly to the rapidly developing countryside north of Fairhope and south of Bay Minette.

“I don’t think any of these guys have the slightest idea how to run a business,” Koichi observed as he and Kimmy arranged homemade soaps, detergents, and other products on their locally sourced wooden shelves.

Kimmy shook her head. “I don’t know what makes you think so. I was talking with Margie Sullivan yesterday. You know, the lady who’s opening the nail salon? She’s got a solid business plan.”

“She’s an exception, then.” He placed the last bar of handmade goat’s milk soap on the display and stepped back to examine his work. “These people are way too excited to be in a stupid strip mall next to a swamp. We’re not gonna do as well here as we did in town.”

“You don’t know that. It’s not like we ever got anything other than local trade in downtown Duchene.” She studied the display of beeswax-and-honey lip balms beside the register and started rearranging them for at least the third time. “Hell, we might do better here. At least we’re on the main road. That means tourists, Chichi.”

He cast her a sharp look. Her face revealed nothing. He couldn’t tell if she was just trying to make him feel better about the fire or not. She’d done a lot of that ever since it had happened. Which was sweet and annoying at the same time.

In any case, she had a point. Anyone who visited the tiny town of Duchene had to do it on purpose, since it was off the beaten path. Hunter’s Bog Mall, on the other hand, sat on the main highway running along the Eastern Shore from the Gulf of Mexico all the way into the Alabama interior. Which meant the new mall had good business potential. Historically, the Gulf and the quaint little towns along Mobile Bay’s Eastern Shore had always been the big draw for tourists and transplants alike. But lately people had started to discover the excellent kayaking and fishing available along Alabama’s southeastern rivers, which meant more tourist dollars in the Duchene area.

On the other hand, they’d had a steady stream of customers at their old shop; locals who’d been buying from their family store for decades, ever since Grammy McNab opened it fifty years ago. Koichi worried over how much trade they might lose with this forced move. Tourist dollars were great, but that money wasn’t as dependable as local business.

A soft thump startled him out of his thoughts. He turned in a circle, but saw nothing out of place. Frowning, he crossed the shop and stuck his head into the storeroom in the back. All the boxes still seemed to be where he and Kimmy had put them.

“Hey, Kimmy?” he called.

“Yeah?”

“Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“That thump. A few seconds ago.” Outside, beyond the open back door and the employee parking lot, Hunter’s Bog stretched out as far as he could see. The mist that shrouded the swamp every morning was gone, and the afternoon sun drenched the dreary place in a warm golden light. It was pretty in a sad, bedraggled sort of way. “I thought it came from in the shop, or maybe the storeroom, but I don’t see anything out of order.”

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