Monday, October 08, 2007


Sugar and Brimstone ~ Part One

They said they named him “Tarnation” because his mother almost died carrying him. She had to lay-in at Granny Wilson’s for a month and a half before he was born. And when he did enter the world, kicking and screaming, she bled to death. And he seemed to live up to his naming. It was as if he carried a curse of violence around with him like a badge of honor.

He was a small man in most ways. But there was something very square about him as well. He was short of stature with a boxy frame, but everything else about him was small. He had delicate little feet and hands and small facial features. His voice was small and soft and you often had to strain to hear what he said. Often, you were sorry that you had. There was something decidedly incongruous about his small mouth, nose and eyes that seemed out of place on his square, boxy head. Perhaps it was this smallness of stature that made him so mean. Or perhaps it was his smallness of spirit.

His one great vanity was his flowing mane of silver hair. It fell in curling waves down his shoulders like Samson’s tresses. It was a crown of glory that any woman would be proud to have flowing down her back. His other great asset was his lovely singing voice. Perhaps it was his voice that Tulah loved, or perhaps it was his beautiful hair.

He was thirteen when he killed his first man. Some said it was an accident. Some said it wasn’t Tarn’s fault. Some said Tarn’s daddy shouldn’t have been cleaning his gun drunk. But Tarn was found standing over his father’s corpse and all he said was, “He sorta deserved it, didn’t he?”

But no one wanted to believe a kid would kill his daddy. Some now thought, maybe they should have.

Tulah, of course, knew all this. Hers was a very small mountain community where there were no real secrets. Everyone knew everyone’s business and sometimes more. But in the way of young girls, his dangerousness only seemed to fascinate her more.

She tried to put herself in places where she knew Tarn might pass by. She tried to find herself in situations that she thought he might likely find himself. Once she balanced in the middle of the Deep Hole footbridge waiting for him to pass by for three hours with the plan of throwing herself in the creek so he could rescue her.

He never came that day. Her pa whipped her when he found out.

But today she came across him at that same spot. Tarn was out in the creek washing blood out of a shirt. She briefly considered throwing herself from the footbridge as she had planned that day, but decided a subtler approach was in order.

“Hey, Tarn,” Tulah called down to him. “Whatcha’ doin’?”

Tarn looked up from his laundry. The water flowing away from the shirt was tinged with blood. His pretty hands looked skinned and wounded, or maybe it was just the blood coming off of the shirt.

He said something in his soft, snake-like voice and brushed a wet steel-colored curl from his shoulders.

“What did you say?” Tulah called down.

“Ah said, I killed a coon last night and it bled all over me.” He said, marginally louder but with a rasp.

“Oh. What did you do with it? I cook up a real good coon stew.” She coyly smiled at him.

Tarn looked up at her and cocked his head a bit. He looked at her like she was a new kind of bug he’d never seen before.

“I gave that coon to the dogs. They ripped it to pieces.” He hissed. “You should go on home, little girl. I’m sure your mommy has told you I’m not to be tarried with.”

“Pshaw! I don’t care about that! I just wanted to see how you was doin’.”

“Well, you’ve seen. Now git.”

Tarn came out of the creek with rusty water flowing off of his clothes. Tulah took a long heartsick look and danced off home. She played the meeting over and over in her head on the way and imagined deep searching looks Tarn surely threw her and how his voice might have sounded fond of her at one point.

Running into him there had made her day, that’s for sure. But her heart sank when she got home and saw her parents and brothers gathered in a worried knot on the porch with the local lawman.

She slowed her skip to a walk and saw everyone’s heads bowed in conversation. Her mother looked up and saw her.

“Tulah! Thank God!” Cinnie said. “You’re safe!”

“What’s going on?”

“Ned Frank’s been found murdered. It’s terrible.”

“What happened?”

Ned Franks had been found dead that morning floating in Staines Creek. He’d last been seen at Johnsay’s Market that evening where he bought a tin of Red Man and an RC Cola. As far as anyone knew, he was on his way home. He usually took a short-cut through Staines Creek to get to his house.

The law didn’t know exactly what to call it. Frank’s head was almost separated from his body and the murder weapon, a chainsaw chain, was just barely hanging around his neck. It looked like something between strangulation and decapitation. But one thing they did know. Ned Franks had been alive when it happened.

Sugar and Brimstone ~ Part Three

1 Comment:

  1. Cubby said...
    Uh-oh. Not looking good for Tarn...

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