Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Stir with a Knife ~ Part Four
They were an odd thing, those golden needles. You wouldn’t think gold, as soft as it was, would make a good sewing needle. But these needles pierced true and sharp and with deadly accuracy.
But when Bessie took out her special golden needles, they said an eerie green glow could be seen around her house. The few people who saw the glow could swear they heard the sounds of laughter and music. They also said they saw shadows moving in the house behind the lace curtains. But everyone knew that Bessie kept to herself after the “accident”. She never had anything to do with the folk in the community anymore. So who could possibly be visiting her?
No one really connected Bessie with the untimely deaths that occurred on the mountain. Well, not at first, anyway. Life is cheap where life is that hard. It was not out of the ordinary when Bart Roach died in a sawmill accident. It was out of the ordinary that the three friends who left Bessie out in the woods all bled to death during childbirth within months of each other. Everyone commented how the three had been so looking forward to having their babies.
Stella, the last of the three who delivered, kept saying over and over in her delirium, “She’s coming to get me…she’s coming. She’s stitched my name, just like she got Cora and June…she’s coming to get me.”
No one really knew what she was talking about. They named her daughter, Lucille.
But it was in the nature of the community to revel in gossip. They gossiped about the good and the bad and often made things up just to spread around. And Bessie became something of a legend on the mountain. They called her “The Sew Witch”. And many a naughty child had been admonished with the words, “You better watch out or The Sew Witch’ll git you!”
Children often crept up to her house and then ran away screaming when she opened her door. Many a young boy had been dared to set foot on her porch. Few attempted it.
Bessie didn’t leave her house often. When she did, people tended to talk.
It was just such a day, many years later that the boy first saw her.
He huddled closer to his mother when she came inside the dusty confines of Timman's store. He'd been a good child and his mommy had bought him a Payday candy bar. He grasped it protectively when the woman came in and stood with the door open.
The rain was blowing in but no one said anything.
The child's mother picked up a knife and stirred her cup of coffee, averting her eyes from the newcomer.
The woman's one good eye took in the farmers and folk in the store. Her bad eye rolled around at nothing in particular. She did something that might have been a smile. It might have been a grimace. It was real hard to tell. There was dreadful scarring on her face, just visible from the knitted scarf that hid part of her face.
Everyone was silent.
She moved awkwardly around the store, her left foot dragging ever so slightly. One of her shoes had one heel that was two inches taller to account for the shorter leg. The rain still blew in the front door, but no one said anything.
She brought her purchases up to the counter. Everyone parted to give her a wide berth. There was a packet of no. 7 sharps, several spools of Coats white cotton thread and a thimble. Timman rang them up and took her money for the purchases. Her bad eye wandered around looking at no one. A few people made surreptitious hand signs.
She wrapped her purchases and put them in her tapestry bag and hobbled to the door. She turned before exiting and looked back, focusing her good eye on the young mother. She made that thing with her face again. Could have been a smile, could have been a grimace. She giggled and it made a sound like a crow eating poisoned corn.
"Stir with a knife....trouble and strife." Her voice croaked out with the sound of a barn latch not used often.
The young mother started and pulled her child closer as the woman left. She left the door open and the rain blew in.
Timman came out from behind his counter, wiping his hands on his apron. He shut the door behind the woman and looked at his customers.
"Well, that were right interestin'." He said and moved back behind the counter.
The young mother looked up from her coffee and whispered, "What do you suppose she meant?"
"Don't you worry none, Lucille," said one of the farmers. "All that stuff you hear 'bout that crazy old bat cain't be true. She's just a sad, sad old woman."
One of the young teens in the store said with wide eyes, "My momma said she got like that when the rats tried to eat her face whilst she were sleepin'!"
Timman snorted. "Nah, she got mauled by a bear. Ain't been right since."
Lester, whose farm was just up the road, chimed in, "She sure do sew purty, though. Heard she sold one of them baby quilts fer 50 dollar to some outsiders."
The young teen said, "My momma said them people, their baby died after they got that quilt. She says she sews hate into them there blankets. She says she wouldn't have one of them in the house fer love or money."
The young mother said again, "But what did she mean....trouble an' strife? She was looking right at me."
Lester laughed, "How can you tell? I sure can't tell what she's lookin' at!"
"The evil eye...that's what she's got." Said another patron.
"Pshaw!" Timmon said, wiping down the counter. "Ain't no such thing. It's just something she's always a'muttering."
One of the boys scuffed his boot in the sawdust on the plank flooring of the store. "Well, I heared that she keeps a big ole quilt that she never finishes. Every square got a hex on somebody on it. She sews a body's name on it and then you die."
"My Mamaw said she drownded her own baby in the creek and then ate it!" Said the boy's companion, in a fit of oneupsmanship. The boy looked peeved at his companion. He would have liked to reveal this detail.
Some of the patrons nodded grimly. They had heard all of this before.
"Awright, now! That's enough!" Timmon said. "She's just a hateful old woman. Don't you boys got chores to do? Get on out of here, you're takin' up air!"
The boys filed out into the rain, unhappy to leave the gossip in the warm dry store.
Later that night, Bessie stitched another square onto an impossibly huge quilt on her frame. Her deft needlework embroidered "Lucille" into the details of hand-sewn panel. She sat back and surveyed her handiwork with much satisfaction. The quilt stretched over the frame and spilled over the edge.
She cackled to herself softly. "Yes, indeedy. Stir with a knife, trouble and strife."
And her sisters laughed with her, as one spun the thread and another held the skein and the third cut it.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Sugar and Brimstone ~ Part Four
Tulah wanted to scream. She wanted to bolt out of her bed and run as fast as she could, but in that moment she was in the strange paralysis that happens between waking and sleeping. She stared through wide, fear-stricken eyes at Tarn.
His skin seemed to bubble in the phantom flames as the slowly consumed him. His hair floated around him like a silver halo with a flame edge. His lips were drawn back from his teeth in a grimace of horror. He reached out his hands to her and she saw that the flesh on the tips of his fingers had burned off leaving blackened bone. Yet, still they moved.
“Come with me, little girl.” He said, his voice croaking out through his destroyed lips. “You promised you’d follow me anywhere, didn’t you?”
Tulah stared in shock at his hideous form and realized she smelled the odor of cooking pork. It took her a moment to realize it was Tarn’s skin and flesh burning in the ghastly fire.
“No!” She screamed, finally finding her voice. “You’re wrong. I thought that but I never said that to you. I didn’t!”
The burning man grinned in a rictus of bubbling skin, his nose nearly gone.
“Oh, but that don’t matter none…you wished it in your heart of hearts. It was your soul’s desire, and now you are mine! Follow me into the flames of eternity, little girl. Follow me like you promised!”
Tulah bounded out of bed, finding that she now could finally move, and ran screaming, “No, no, no!”
She ran out of the house and into the darkness of the wood. She ran, blindly, and as fast as her feet could take her. She felt the hem of her long gown catching on briers and tearing. She barely noticed the branches whipping past her face as she ran or the mud of the wet spring she crossed squishing between her toes.
She ran for a long time, and when she stopped she realized she was in a part of the wood she did not recognize. There, tucked away in the woods was a small abandoned church. It was in a lonely spot and she didn’t remember seeing it before. It had a bell tower and dark swathes of vines grew up the walls in unruly tangles. Tulah looked and saw a glow coming from the door that was inset into a small hallway. A dim glow came from the windows that were barely visible beneath the matted vegetation. It seemed as if the church was occupied at this odd hour.
She drew closer and tentatively climbed the steps that went up to the small vestibule. She heard fiddle music that kept playing the same odd few bars over and over. It wasn’t a tune or hymn she’d ever heard before. Light streamed through the keyhole and the crack in the door. Tulah slowly pressed her eye to the narrow bar of light where the two doors met and peered inside.
A man with golden hair dressed in a white suit was inside. He rested a silver fiddle on his shoulder and played intently. Around him danced small figures that Tulah tried to see, but for some reason she couldn’t make out who or what they were. She thought he was the most handsome man she’d ever seen ever. Light seemed to glow out of him and she could make out the strong line of his jaw as he held it firmly on the fiddle with his eyes cast down on the strings. She wondered if he was the preacher here at this little church and she wondered why she had never seen him. Surely, she would remember such a beautiful man.
Suddenly, a ring of fire rose up around the golden haired man and his playing became more frenzied. The figures dancing around the edge of the circle began to take form and Tulah saw that they were strange combinations of animals. There was a sow with a possum’s head that gaped her sharp teeth and instead of a regular pig’s tail, she had the possum’s slick scaly rat’s tail. There was a weasel with a viper’s head. A bear with the body of a raccoon. Tulah recoiled at the unnatural beasts. She seemed to recognize that there was something evil about them.
Into the ring of fire appeared the ghostly form of Tarn Rickson. He stood with his head down, shaking.
The golden haired man put down his fiddle and said, “ Did you not bring me anyone? That was the deal, wasn’t it?”
Tulah heard his voice as a soft musical sound. It was sweet, but sweet like something you knew would make you sick if you ate it.
“I need more time!” Pleaded Tarn. “Just give me a day or too. I can bring you someone…I knows I can. Just please…more time!”
The beautiful man said coldly, “There is no more time for you, Tarn.”
He snapped his fingers and a chainsaw chain with rusty edges appeared around Tarn’s neck. Tarn screamed as the beast imps leapt upon him. One began sawing Tarn’s neck with the chainsaw chain and while blood ran freely from his neck and he screamed most pitifully, the saw chain never seemed to cut through his neck. The Sow/Possum cackled with laughter. The Viper/Weasel produced a length of barbed wire and began beating Tarn with it, shredding his flesh down to the bone. The screams were dreadful and even more horrible than the scrams he had made earlier that night while he was burning to death. These were the screams of eternal torment.
The beautiful man snapped his fingers again and the ring of flame closed in and flared up, consuming the imps and Tarn Rickson. They seemed to disappear into the floor.
The man with the golden hair dusted his hands off on each other then picked up his fiddle and bow. Then he turned to where Tulah stood watching behind the door. It was the first time she had seen his face full on. His eyes glowed red.
And he said in his beautiful, sweet voice, “You aren’t mine yet, little girl.”
He grinned a wolfish grin, flashing perfectly white teeth.
“But you could be. Oh, yes…you could be.”
And with that, he disappeared into nothing and Tulah knew she had seen the Devil himself.
She woke up soaked with sweat in her own bed, trembling, and breathed a long deep sigh of relief when she realized it had all been a dream. She sat up and put her face in her hands. Surely it was the tea she drank to sleep that had given her such disturbing dreams.
She pulled her legs from underneath the pile of quilts on her bed and put her feet on the floor. She knew she needed to get out of her sweat soaked nightgown. She stood up on the cold plank floor and looked down.
The hem of her nightgown was dirty and torn and her bare feet were caked with mud.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Carolina Special ~ Part Three
The whistle blew mournfully as the train chugged around a curve on the track nearly drowning out the voices of the spectral chain gang that still played in Floyd’s head. He felt sure he would hear their mournful voices toiling for many years. The miles flew by as they cross the North Carolina / Tennessee border, winding through the Smoky Mountains.
The moon faded in and out of violet clouds that were moving so fast it seemed like the glowing sphere was itself traveling through the sky. Though there was only a slight breeze, the sky above seemed to be driven with fast moving air, herding the clouds ever westward.
Floyd watched the mountains roll by and the surface of the French Broad was glassy like a ballroom floor. The train was slowing to move past the market town of Newport and Dusty pointed his finger up to one of the cliffs that rose above the town.
“Look up there, boy,” he said, “This might be good for you to see.”
Floyd followed the line of Dusty’s pointing finger up to the cliffs above. There, illuminated by the moonlight, and giving off its own gentle glow was a white cross.
“What’s that for?” He asked.
“Well, you’ll see in a minute, but it’s there so all trainmen can say a prayer for the little girl who died on these tracks some years past. Her daddy put it up there.”
“All the way up there? You’d need some serious ropes to get up there.”
“Yes, that would have been the safe thing to do.” Said Dusty, “But just watch…”
As the train drew abreast of the town, Floyd looked down at the tracks below and saw to his amazement a young girl emerge from under the train. It shocked him so much he jumped back.
The child was dressed in a frilly old fashioned dress with lots of frills and bows. Her hair was arranged into cascades of curls on either side of her head. She cut a glance back at the train and waved at Floyd and flashed him a wide snaggletooth grin. Floyd waved back in astonishment. Then she ran off to the center of the river, floating above it as if it were solid. About the same time, he looked up to the glowing cross and saw a man emerge from behind it. He was dressed in an engineer’s garb of striped overalls and he had an impressive handlebar mustache. As Floyd was watching, he spread his arms out and floated down to the surface of the water where the little girl in the party dress waited. He landed gently and held a hand out to the child.
Then the two ghosts bowed at each other and began to waltz over the slick surface of the river. It was one of the most beautiful sights that Floyd had ever seen. And in his mind’s ear he could just barely hear the sound of the band playing the waltz.
“Who are they?” Asked Floyd in a half-whisper, not wanting to interrupt the ghostly dance that was taking place over the glassy water.
“That’s the little girl who died in this spot. And that’s her daddy with her. You see, he didn’t use no ropes to erect that cross on the cliff. He fell to his death while he was trying to climb back down. So he haunts the cross and makes it glow to remind other trainmen to pray for her, and she comes out from the tracks on nights when the moon is full and they dance a waltz. The love they shared for each other is what haunts this place.”
Dusty pulled his bandanna out of his side pocket and blew noisily into it and dabbed his eyes.
Floyd gave him a searching look.
“What? Cinder got in my eye is all.” Dust said gruffly.
The train emerged out of the mountains on that clear autumn night and picked up steam across the plateau as it got closer and closer to Knoxville. Floyd felt he’d learned so much from Dusty and felt he’s soon be able to take a train on this run by himself. But he was wondering if with his new ability to see the shades around him if this would be the best thing for him. He thought perhaps he’d give it a few more runs and see what happened. As long as he could do as Dusty advised and keep his mind on the engine and the track,
It seemed like the rest of the journey was going off without a hitch. Once in a while he’d hear something or see something out of the corner of his eye and Dusty would look at him and shake his head. Floyd had learned it was best to do as Dusty said.
The miles clattered by and soon they were approaching New Market which was just 20 or so miles from their final destination. The train started gradually slowing down so it could take on water at New Market. When it finally drew to a grinding and reluctant halt, Floyd realized Dusty was getting his kit bag together.
“That’s a good idea.” He said, “I’ll start getting my stuff ready to go, too.”
“No hurry, boy.” The old man said. “This is where I get off, I’m afraid. It’s been right nice traveling with you.”
“Hey, old man, you can’t get off here! There ain’t nothing here but the water tower. ‘Sides…you have to sign off in K-town for me.”
Dusty gave him one of those long looks with his eyes slightly narrowed, as if his old creased eyes were looking into the sun.
“ Oh really?” He said softy. “Look around you.”
Floyd ran a soot covered hand through his hair and then looked out into what should have been rolling hills of farmland. What he saw was like a punch to the gut.
All around the train were the ghostly remains of a dreadful train wreck. The real train, the one he was standing on was crossed and intersected by the ghostly twisted metal corpses of two steam engines. A cowcatcher, twisted into nothing was laid next to the stack of another. The carnage was dreadful. Specters walked up and down the remains of the train. One, an engineer, waved up a Dusty and Dusty waved back at him.
“Dusty, but…but…No!” Floyd said, looking desperately at the old guy.
“This is New Market, son. Site of the deadliest train wreck ever. Two trains going sixty miles an hour hitting dead-on with no warning. This is where I come from. See, I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to haunt this entire stretch of track from Spartanburg to here doin’ what I love best. Runnin’ trains. Can’t go to K-town. See, I never made it there on that run of the Carolina Special. Yessirree, my journey stopped right here.”
Dusty slapped Floyd on the back and grinned. “So you sign off for just yourself. Really, you’ve been doing it all on your own on this trip. I was just along for the ride.”
Floyd stood speechless as he watched the old man jump down from the cab. When he did so he assumed the same translucent, ghostly shape that the other apparitions held. The old guy went up to the engineer and shook his hand heartily and then turned and waved at Floyd as the train chugged forward towards Knoxville.
And in his mind’s ear he heard the old guy say to him, “Just remember, keep your eyes on your work…keep drivin’ the train and you won’t go wrong.”
But Floyd was severely shaken. The thought that he’d been traveling with a shade all this time was almost more than he could bear. And he’d grown genuinely fond of the old man and he would have liked to buy him a cup of coffee in the railroad diner. That Dusty was no more real than any of the spirits he’d seen that night was unthinkable. His cheek still stung where the old man had slapped it and he could still feel the imprint of his hand on his back. What was real anyway?
And Floyd wondered how he could run the train if he couldn’t trust his own senses. If the experience he had made it so that he couldn’t distinguish reality from the spirit world, perhaps it would be better not to work the rails. And it was then that Floyd decided to apprentice in the engineering department repairing the big engines back at the yard rather than being responsible for driving them.
When he disembarked at the K-town station, he walked to the local boarding house and slept deeply but restlessly. The next morning he came back to ride back to Carolina, this time in broad daylight. Blind Charlie Oates was already parked in his usual spot with his guitar and harmonica. His guitar case was open to hold his tips. He was singing “The New Market Crash”, one of his gorier train wreck songs, full of decapitated corpses and screaming metal.
And Floyd went up to Charlie and nudged him with his boot, interrupting him.
“Hey, Charlie. Here’s a dollar. I’ll give it to you if you’ll play something else.”
“What you want to hear?” he asked, his white eyes rolling up and around in their sockets as he rocked in the direction of Floyd’s voice.
“I don’t care, Charlie. Just don’t play that one.”
He started tapping out the cinders from his pipe once more. He tapped them and tapped them past the point that there could possibly be anything else in the bowl.
His eyes were watery and blue that day.
“And you know what? Every time I found myself in Knoxville after that day, I always would pay Blind Charlie Oates to not play that song. And you know what?” He cut his eyes up with a half-smile. “It was money well spent.”
And he reached for his tobacco pouch and began filling the pipe and tapping down the shreds of tobacco.
Friday, October 26, 2007
So, so sorry...I don't have a food article for you today.
I did have an amazing Shrimp Po-Boy at the Shrimp Dock in Knoxville, but I was so hungry that I forgot to take pictures of it. You'll just have to trust me...it was really yummy.
Anyway, I was in for my kidney doctor checkup at UT. He comes in by himself and sits down next to me...this is never a good sign. I much prefer it when they breeze in with a gang of baby doctors in tow. I love baby doctors...they are just so cute!
So, I'm shedding like a gram of protein in my urine every 24 hours. This is evidently a lot. Evidently, if it doesn't stop it, my kidneys will start to fail. Anyway, he wants a kidney biopsy. Now, the last time I had a biopsy, I ended up in the hospital in a coma for six months with a gang of nonsocomial infections and had to learn how to walk again.
So naturally, I am a bit reticent about saying, "Why sure, doc...go ahead and stick a great whopping needle in my innards! Sounds like fun to me!"
He tells me this isn't a big deal and I even get to be awake for it! It's an outpatient procedure...but sometimes they keep people overnight. So, I guess which one clotting disorder chick gets to be.
So, I'm sitting there and I feel that stupid thing my chin starts to do when it crumples up and then that hot heavy feeling in my eyes.
I say, brokenly, "Well....you know.,..it's just...it's just...well, every time I walk in a hospital I wonder if I'm ever going to get to go home again."
He pats me on the back and I don't feel better. I'm afraid.
And the crappy thing about it is...I felt so good today. I really did. I still do.
So, I convince him to give me another month. To try to do another draw in a few weeks and come back. It's more to give me the time to get used to the idea of having this done. And to give me a bit more time to hope that maybe this is just lupus weirdness and it will correct itself.
So, I guess I'd better get writing...'cause it looks like I've been handed my deadline.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Stir With a Knife ~ Part Three
Bessie struggled against the ropes and screamed for help into the gradually darkening day. The path was in the deep part of a holler which meant the sun would set here before it did on the ridge above. She lost track of time and her throat was hoarse from yelling for help.
“Oh, please, merciful Jesus!” she prayed tearfully. “Please send someone to help me!”
She continued to struggle against her bonds until finally, exhausted, she slumped against the tree in an uneasy doze.
In her first moments of returning consciousness she heard the babble of the nearby creek. The crickets were rhythmically chirping over this and the chirps were punctuated every now and again by the deep quivering call of a bullfrog. Before she even opened her eyes, she knew from the sounds that darkness had fallen here in this quiet glen in the wood.
Bessie wondered if it would be any use to holler for help anymore or if she should just prepare to spend the night here waiting for dawn to break and try not to draw attention to herself. She was dreadfully thirsty and if she could get to those moon pies in her apron bib, she would most certainly eat them.
She smelled it before she saw it. This is often the case. The heavy scent of wet dog slowly became stronger and stronger. It was like filthy wet wool that had been spun in the grease and then laid in front of the campfire to dry. There was not another smell like that and Bessie trembled in fear. She had no way to make herself larger or more threatening and in the dark of the night it would make little difference.
The dreadful sound of something large shuffling through the brush and grunting as it snuffled along the ground reached her ears and she was truly afraid.
She thought of the evil girls who had left her there and she thought of Bart who had set this all in motion. She thought about the community in general who seemed to take a perverse delight in thinking the worst of everyone as if a person’s hardships were cause for great joy. And Bessie felt a smoldering anger build deep within her. She’d be damned if she would face death sniveling and afraid here alone in this dark place.
Her eyes had adjusted to the dim moonlight filtering through the trees casting gray dappled shadows on the forest floor. The bear entered the clearing on the path where she was securely tied to the tree and lifted its huge head up into the wind to sample the smells of the night. Bessie hadn’ t seen such a large bear before, it seemed to easily be 400 pounds with a glossy black coat and its tan pointed muzzle. There was a curious intelligence glinting in the big bear’s button-like eyes.
The bear riveted it’s massive head around and stared at her, it’s eyes fixating on hers. Then it reared up on its hind legs like a shaggy man and roared. Bessie could smell the hot fetid breath of the beast from where she was. It shuffled closer and closer to her and she thought of her poor sick mommy who would be left without anyone to care for her once she was gone. And Bessie felt another surge of rage rise up from deep within her breast.
The bear snuffled at her feet then reared up again so that its huge head was looking down at her. She met the bear’s stare head on with a fierce look in her eye. Then, the bear lifted one paw, as big as a dinner plate, and rested it gently on the side of her face like a lover. She felt the coarse bristly texture of its pads against her cheek and the hard sharpness of its claws resting on her hairline.
“Hold! Ursula!” called a voice from somewhere in the darkness.
Bessie cut her eyes in that direction and she felt the bear freeze where it stood.
Slowly an eerie green light illuminated a spot across the wet spring. Bessie wasn’t sure what she was seeing but the spot grew brighter and brighter and suddenly there were three women standing there with their arms entwined. They were not comely but were strong looking women. Each wore a homespun kirtle and white shirtwaists with cameos at their throats. Their hair was long and flowing down their backs in the fashion of unmarried girls. They looked like women from old photos. They were not exactly young, nor were they old. They were bathed in the unearthly green light.
One carried a spinning bobbin, the other had a skein of yarn wrapped around her hand and the third had a large pair of scissors. They looked to Bessie to be women just come from a quilting bee or some other sewing gathering. She had been to many herself though she didn’t usually carry her supplies out in the open like that. She usually carried them in her large tapestry sewing bag.
The one with the scissors held them up and looked at the other two.
“Shall I?” she asked, looking at her two companions and then back at Bessie and the bear.
The one with the bobbin said, “No, wait…we may have a use for one such as this.”
Bessie finally found her voice, “Be careful! If you come closer the bear might git you!”
The three laughed. It was a silvery tinkling sound that seemed to travel over the air to the ear in a visible path. The green light shimmered with their laughter.
The one with the skein said, “Oh dear! Child, Ursula will not hurt us…nor you if we ask her not to.”
The bear looked kindly on the three women then looked a bit longingly at Bessie. Bessie frowned and glared back at the bear.
Bessie turned her face to the women and pleaded, “Please, please won’t you untie me? If you can control your bear I’d ‘preciate you callin’ her off of me!”
The three approached Bessie. The green twinkling light that surrounded them seemed to move with them and dance around in the night air. It moved around them like a live thing.
The bear continued to hold her huge paw against Bessie’s face as the women drew closer.
“You see,” said the one with the bobbin, “we lack one such as you in our circle. Mayhap you are the one we have been seeking.”
Bessie frowned and said, “What do you mean? Can’t you just untie me and let me go on home?”
The one with the skein said, “Well, you can clearly see that we have a weaver, a cutter and I hold the skeins, but we have no stitcher.”
The one with the scissors said, “Yes, we lack one to sew the fabric of life into quilts. Clearly, you can see that.”
The one with the skein said, “Mmmmm, yes, lovely quilts, warm and colorful. To hold the memories of the threads we cut.”
Bessie felt a surge of desperation. “Yes, Yes! I’ll join your sewing circle, though I’ve never seen you ‘round here before. I’m a good quilter, really I am. I’ve won prizes and all. Just please, let me go!”
And the one with the bobbin moved closer to her and wove around the tree and whispered into her ear, “But it will come at great cost. Are you sure?”
And the one with the skein whispered into her other ear, “Will you sacrifice your beauty? Will you live your life alone?”
And the one with the scissors said, stroking Bessie’s hair, “But you will have great power and will carry the golden needles. But it comes at such a cost…Are you sure?”
Bessie realized she was being offered something extraordinary, that these were no normal women. She wondered if they were even human and if they were maybe angels or fay folk of some sort. But she felt in her bones, in her angry tired bones that she would surely die if she turned down the offer of the three mysterious women and then no one would be there to take care of her mother.
She closed her eyes and said, “Yes. I accept.”
The women pulled back from her and the one with the bobbin reached into her skirts and brought out a packet of needles. When she flipped open the paper flap that covered them, Bessie saw that they were needles of the purest gold. They glinted in the moonlight with a mellow soft light.
And the one with the bobbin tucked the packet of needles into Bessie’s skirt pocket.
She whispered to her, “Take good care of them, my sister. Stir with a knife, trouble and strife…”
And they faded into the greenwood like ghosts with their bear following behind them and Bessie felt her bonds dissolve around her..
At least, that is the story she tried to tell months later when her wounds healed. They’d found Bessie still tied to the tree that morning. She had been mauled by what might have been a large bear or maybe a panther. They weren’t sure exactly what happened but the girl was not as injured as badly as they would have expected from such an attack. She still had two Moon Pies tucked in her apron pocket.
Her beauty was ruined by the deep claw marks on her face. They did not heal up well and the scars were puckered and drawn. One of her eyes no longer focused properly and she no longer could see too well out of it. One of her legs had been scarred as well. Bessie would dance no more. But she was glad she had lived so she could take care of her mother.
The other item she had on her when she was found was a packet of golden needles.
The Conclusion of "Stir with a Knife"
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Sugar and Brimstone ~ Part Three
Tulah’s mother arrived late to the scene of the fire. She saw her daughter rocking on her knees in shock and went to her. Cinnie sank down beside the child who thought she was a woman and wrapped her arms around her. They both rocked back and forth with Cinnie murmuring, “Shhhhh, shhhhh, baby, shhhhh….”
Tulah couldn’t seem to say anything. She tried but it came out in big gulping shudders like a distraught five-year old. “Uh…uh…uh…”
Then she would commence to rock again, her eyes wide and staring.
Cinnie took her own coat off and wrapped around the girl. Tulah leaned into the leftover body heat in the wool and buried her face in it. It was as if she thought drinking in the scent of her mother could stop the shock and shuddering.
“Come on, baby…” Her mother said softly. “We need to get you home.”
She pulled the girl up to a standing position. Tulah stood on her legs swaying like a calf stumbling to its feet for the first time. If not for the supporting arm of her mother, she would have surely fallen back onto the ground in a stupor.
Cinnie led the girl slowly back down the path to their home. Tulah was barely conscious of getting there. Her brightly lit home looked somehow different. She looked at it with new eyes and she realized it wasn’t the house that had changed, it was her. Everything looked somehow smaller and she felt bigger, as though she was taking up so much more space than before. She didn’t feel safe and she didn’t like the feeling. She allowed her mother to sit her at the kitchen table and wrap her in a quilt.
Her mother took some water off of the stove and brewed up a pot of tea made from the mountain apricot vine. Tulah’s eyes followed her movement’s vacantly. Cinnie counted out the five minutes then poured the tea in a cup.
“Here you go,” she said, setting the big mug of tea down. “This will help you sleep.”
Tulah looked down into the pale green liquid and took a sip. She remembered the other-worldly saucer shaped flower the vine grew on and it’s odd spikes of lavender and white.
“Some folks call this passionflower.” She said. “What an odd thing to call a flower that puts you to sleep.”
Cinnie sat down next to her. “You drink up. You’re in shock.”
“They tried real hard to kill him Mommy. They tried real hard. I didn’t want them to at first, but by the end I was prayin’ for a bullet to hit him.”
Cinnie reached over and covered her daughter’s shaking hand with her own.
“Shhhhh…you drink now.”
Tulah drank her tea and felt the waves of sleepiness and calm flow over her. She allowed her mother to lead her to her bed and help her undress. Cinnie tucked her daughter in and sat on the side of the bed stroking her hair until the girl fell asleep. Then she quietly left the room, closing the door behind her.
She slept in a deep mindless sleep where dreams made less sense than usual. But it was not the sleep of an innocent girl anymore. Indeed, had it not been for the soporific effects of the mountain apricot tea, Tulah would have not been able to sleep at all. The cries of the burning man, the man she thought she loved, still played over and over in her mind. The rain began to fall on the tin roof at some point in the wee hours of the morning. This sound, which so many times had lulled her to sleep, seemed to waken her from the odd narcotic dreams she was having.
At least that was what she thought, when she became aware of a glow in her room. She thought perhaps her mother had opened the door to look in and check on her.
She looked towards the glow through her eyelashes and then, in horror, opened her eyes widely.
The ghostly apparition of Tarn Rickson stood at the foot of her bed, engulfed in flames.
The Conclusion of "Sugar and Brimstone"
Monday, October 22, 2007
A Great Big Thank You Goes Out to Everyone!!!!
Most particularly to MerryLea Rescue in Frederick, Maryland who picked up the entire bill for the Fat Buddy's treatment!
If you were planning to help the Fat Buddy out, please instead consider donating to MerryLea since they have made it possible for us to go ahead with F.B's treatment. Donating to them will make it possible for them to help another needy dog...so, pay it forward!
Fat Buddy would give you all a great sloppy kiss of thanks but, believe me when I tell you, this would not be a pleasant experience.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I'm interrupting this Happy Sunday to let everyone know that the famous Fat Buddy is very ill. My blog readers won't be as familiar with Fat Buddy's fame, but he is quite well known in Cocker Spaniel Rescue circles.
I was fostering Fat Buddy for the Hilton Head Humane Association in South Carolina as a special needs dog. He has pemphigus and had an appointment with a vet to be put to sleep when he came into my care. That was in 2001. Since I'd done such a good job of rehabilitating him, he came with me to Tennessee as a permanent resident of Rosie's Cocker Rescue Referral.
If you enjoy the Breakdown and my writing, you owe a debt to Mr. F.B. My first forays into story writing started with the Fat Buddy Stories that were told on the Cocker Spaniel Rescue lists. These were short little Factlets detailing Fat Buddy's prodigious badness. Let's see...there was the famous battle for the steak sandwich...which I lost. There was his Garfield-esque love of pasta. There was Fat Buddy, Egg Burglar, and the Dreadful Retribution of the Ganders. Stories about the extensive efforts to Fat Buddy-proof my home...and Fat Buddy's uncanny ability to thwart those efforts. The dog has stolen and eaten 5 pound bags of sugar and flour, countless packages of meat, entire jars of peanut butter and once, an entire watermelon...really, too many items to list. He's constantly getting food packaging stuck on his head. He's dastardly clever. When the rest of the gang are begging at the dinner table, Fat Buddy first scopes out the kitchen to see if I've perhaps left a rib roast within easy reach. He's dug up rows of seed potatoes and eaten every cucumber and radish in my garden. Actually, not every radish...he has a strong preference for French Breakfast radishes. I have fought an ongoing losing battle for years to keep him out of the groceries.
Given his appetites and legendary sweet tooth...it's not surprising that he now has a dreadful anaerobic infection in his mouth. I've had him on ampicillin and it looks like that has failed. I'm starting him on doxycycline as soon as the shipment of that drug arrives. If that fails we will have to move on to the much more expensive clindamycin. Essentially, I've been working night and day for the past week rinsing his mouth with chlorhexidine mouthwash, applying warm compresses to make him more comfortable and administering antibiotics in an attempt to get the infection under control. He's pretty miserable. Still eating...just not chewing.
What he really needs is a dental. My vet has given me a procedure estimate of between 347.26 and 460.46 to have the little scoundrel's teeth fixed. He's probably going to have to have all of his molars removed. I need to raise at least a third of that amount to have the procedure done.
If you'd like to contribute toward's Fat Buddy's procedure, you may donate through paypal either through the blog or to my email address: email@example.com. Alternately, you may donate directly to my veterinary clinic:
Dr. Sandra O'Connor, DVM
Cedarwood Veterinary Hospital
101 Hedrick Dr., Newport, TN 37821
Just reference "Rosie Griffeth's Fat Buddy".
If you have a fax number and would like a copy of his estimate, I'll be happy to fax it to you.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Carolina Special ~ Part Two
Floyd looked at Dusty then turned back to see where the hound raced beside the train, but the beast was gone when he turned back.
Dusty fiddled with the gauges and said, “Oh, they only has a certain territory they range in. Ghosts, I guess you’d call them. But they’re liable to be more active tonight. You won’t see them this solid any other night of the year.”
“How come? What’s so special about tonight?”
Dusty gave Floyd a hard look and pointed at him then nodded toward the firebox. Floyd took the hint and started shoveling coal into the heart of the engine.
Dusty laughed. “It’s Halloween, son! Day of the Dead, Feast of All Souls, the night when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Didn’t you pay no mind to the day when we set out?”
Floyd thought about this for a moment. He’d never been a superstitious man or given to fancies of ghosts and haunts, but he was now changing his mind.
“So, Dusty…do you remember her…I mean…do you remember when you saw them?”
“It was a long time ago, son. A long time ago. I was a much younger man. And like I said, it’s best to put it out of your mind. By the end of this journey to Knoxville you’ll know what I mean.”
Floyd tried to put his mind to the tasks at hand. He tried to think about the sound of the steam chuffing out of the engine and the color of the smoke coming out of the stack. But he just couldn’t get the beautiful woman of light out of his head. It never occurred to him that such a being existed.
The train chugged on through the night, gradually approaching Asheville. Floyd looked out into the night sky and the trail of white steam snaking behind them. When he looked out to the western mountains, those strange lights seemed brighter than the first time he saw them. There was something both beautiful and menacing about them. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but it was as if they were watching him and he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand.
His eyes gazed down the track and he saw there a trestle looming in the distance. The train reduced its speed since they were drawing close to the city. Soon they seemed to be inching towards the trestle and Floyd saw a dark emptiness there under the bridge. It was a gaping hole of space that sparkled with misery. Swinging from a hangman’s noose from the trestle was a woman’s corpse. Her garments were white and glowing and seemed to float around her as if moved by some phantom wind.
Floyd was frozen in horror. He wanted to look away but couldn’t seem to. As they came closer and closer, the corpse raised her head. Her eyes were bugged from hanging and the noose had cut into her neck. Dark blood dripped down the front of her garments.
Out of her swollen distended mouth she screamed, “My baby…where’s my baby?”
By now they came abreast of the trestle and dark, misshapen figures began to emerge from the tree roots that lay exposed on the banks. They were a miserable lot and moaned and howled with agony.
Floyd recoiled as the seemed to swarm the train as they went under the bridge.
“Dusty…we got to go faster!” He screamed as the shades of the night seemed intent on overtaking the train. He hadn’t felt this way since he was a young boy, hiding his face under the covers to escape the sounds of the night.
“Don’t look at them, boy! We can’t go any faster through here.”
Skeletal hands with broken fingers raised in supplication to Floyd who looked on horrified as they passed this cursed spot. The hung woman continued to scream and keen for her baby and the things coming out from the tree roots moaned. Their fleshless bones made a dreadful clattering as they banged against each other. Their fleshless skulls with their gaping eyes bored into Floyd.
Soon, it was over and they were through the overhanging trestle. Floyd glanced behind him and saw the spirits attempting to follow, their bony joints stopping them short at some invisible line. They hit that point and jerked backwards like vicious dogs on chains. Some of them collapsed with the force of that correction into piles of quivering bones that tried in vain to reform themselves.
Floyd threw up out of the side of the cab. Shakily he looked at Dusty. Dusty looked like nothing at all had happened the old fireman busied himself with his firebox and looked out to see the color of the steam.
Floyd wiped his mouth on his handkerchief. Then he grabbed Dusty by the shoulders, shaking him and said, “What in the hell was that?"
Floyd’s voice squeaked as it hadn’t since he was a teenager.
Dusty pushed him off and said, crossly, “I told ya not to look. That’s Suicide Bridge. It’s where the most unquiet spirits of suicides in these parts go when they die. Spooked ya, didn’t they?”
Dusty fished a bag of chewing tobacco out of the pocket of his overalls and stuck a good-sized plug in his cheek.
“Now, maybe you’ll listen, boy. Don’t look at them. Ignore them. Eventually, all of that will just be blurs on the edge of your vision. Just like other people see them.”
“Other people see them?”
“Well of course, son, didn’t you ever wonder about all the times you saw something out of the corner of your eye? Thought it was a bird or something, maybe? A piece of paper tumbling in the wind? That’s what they all think. Yessiree…that’s what they all think. Because the truth would be too terrible to believe. And folks believe what they want to believe, don’t they?”
Floyd’s experience with Suicide Bridge had shaken him considerably. He took Dusty’s advice to keep his eyes firmly focused in the cab of the engine. The night train rattled and clanked its way past Asheville with it’s payload of coal through the crisp autumn night. It winded its way along the banks of the French Broad River, sometimes on tracks laid into sheer cliffs blasted into the mountains. The water of the river glinted and danced in the bright moonlight below where the train ran on the shining tracks.
Floyd might have been sleepy from the quiet pacing had it not been for the hard work involved in keeping the fire stoked. While he was now calm, he assiduously avoided looking out into the surrounding night.
As they were perched on a particularly perilous rock face, he began to hear something. It was soft and he really thought he was imagining it. The rhythm of the train on the track seemed to keep time with the voices he thought he heard and it was easy to just believe that his mind was filling in the blanks of the timing of the train. At least, that was what he tried desperately to believe. But the voices got progressively louder and louder and he realized they were singing..
There was also the gradually louder sound of metal striking rock in a relentless beat. He finally could make out the words. He heard one clear distinct voice that would shout out the first line of the song and then a chorus of others that would answer. All the while, the endless sound of the hammers beat against the rocks.
I’m goin’ back to the Swannanoa Tunnel
That’s my home, baby, that’s my home…
Cap’n, Cap’n can’t you see?
Linin’ this track is killing po’ me!
Asheville Junction, Swannanoa Tunnel…
All caved in, baby, all caved in…
Cap’n, Cap’n can’t you see?
Linin’ this track is killing po’ me!
Hammer fallin’ from my shoulder…
All day long, baby, all day long…
Cap’n, Cap’n can’t you see?
Linin’ this track is killing po’ me!
Take this hammer, throw it in the river…
It rings right on, baby, it shines right on…
Ten thousand biscuits in my hand,
Gonna sop my way to th’ Promised Land…
Floyd felt himself slipping away. He was mesmerized by the sound of the work song. The verses went on and on and on. He was soon rocking to the rhythm of the voices that seemed to rise from the river itself. He felt himself somehow rising above his body, as if he were looking down on himself there in the cab of the engine. It was odd, but he couldn’t see Dusty there in the train cab with him and he wondered why he could see himself but not the old fireman. The pull of the song was irresistible. He felt if only he could jump off the train into the swirling black and silver waters of the French Broad, that all would be right somehow. He watched his body move to the door of the cab.
And he saw himself reach for the latch of the door. And he felt a surge of joy that he would soon be plummeting to the water below.
About that time, just before he was allowed the blessed freedom of jumping from the train, he was jolted back to reality by several hard slaps to his face. He opened his eyes and looked into Dusty’s lined and concerned face.
Dusty spat a stream of tobacco juice out of the cab.
“Sorry, boy, my fault. Shoulda told you to close your ears as well. Chain gang perished in the river down there when they were laying this track. They’s buried under these rails. Looks like they just invited you to join ‘em.”
Floyd felt oddly sad. He had really wanted to know how the song ended.
He couldn’t know that the song had no end.
Carolina Special ~ Conclusion
Friday, October 19, 2007
When I first moved here, which was not that long ago, it was a scary little Exxon station with a full service garage. I think it might have been a game check point. You’d see hunters drive up with bears hanging out of the back of their pick-up trucks. I also had to drive to White Pine, about 30 miles away, for a six pack of really good beer. But a few years ago all of that changed when The Pigeon River Smokehouse took over the property and turned it into a really nice place to stop and eat.
It's been really amazing to watch how they turned that little service station into a spacious store and restaurant with a really beautiful modern kitchen with a wood smoker. The wide porches have picnic tables and rockers on them where you can take your barbecue and eat just steps away from the Pigeon River. As barbecue joints go...this one is really nice!
I’ve been a bit remiss in not writing them up sooner. They’ve been supplying my pulled pork sandwich habit for a while now. So, I decided to remedy that and marched in and ordered “The Works” yesterday. I tackled the Barbecue Combo.
This is a plate of smoked meats that will knock your socks off. Barbecue chicken, thinly sliced beef, pulled pork and ribs with French fries and a side of either cole slaw or baked beans. Two enormous slabs of garlic Texas toast come with it as well. I’m told both sides are excellent but the beans I had are truly outstanding. There is so much meat on this plate that I highly recommend bringing a very healthy appetite. I couldn’t finish mine and will be eating off the leftovers for a few days.
They smoke the meats in a modern wood smoker back in the kitchen using red oak. It’s a bit more of a subtle smokiness than some barbecue that I’ve enjoyed…and you know me…my barbecue addiction is legendary. I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of it in my lifetime. They serve it properly, with the sauce on the side.
Absolutely do try to save room for dessert. They also do a really outstanding Sweet Potato Pie with a nut crumb crust. I’m admittedly something of a Sweet Potato Pie snob, coming from South Carolina where this is practically the State Pie. But I give this pie a serious “thumbs up”. It's definitely worth saving some room for.
The Pigeon River Smokehouse is located off of I-40 just off the #447/Hartford exit on the river side of the interstate. I highly recommend stopping there if you are coming through on your way between Asheville and Knoxville. It’s just as you come out of or enter the big mountain pass that stretch of interstate services, so it’s a great place to stop.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
So...I'm driving down The Old 15th this past week, a long one lane road that they are very gradually blacktopping, and I come across a loose horse.
I believe I recognize the horse and decide I will try to gently nudge him back home with the jeep. I'm not sure why I thought I could do this...it would have worked with my horses that I had these many years ago. Of course my horses just galloped around like crazy things every time they got out. This guy was just placidly munching on the verge with his butt sticking out in the road. And anyone who has spent any time at all around horses knows the butt end is the one to watch. So, I eased the jeep forward a bit and rolled the window down.
"Hooo...Horse!" I called. "Giddup!"
This is the point at which most horses would snort at you and take off trotting in the opposite direction. But Horse had different ideas. He turns around and affectionately starts nuzzling the hood of the jeep, planting himself firmly in front of the vehicle.
At this point, a car comes up behind me...on this remote stretch of country road. And there I am with Horse completely blocking the road. I get out and pet him and kindly ask him to move to the side of the road.
Horse blows me a raspberry and affectionately rubs horse snot all over my t-shirt.
I weakly shout back to the car behind me, "I can't get him to move!"
Never mind that I've sort of caused this predicament by misguidedly trying to get Horse to move down the road in the first place.
Horse is very good natured about all this though, and allows me to sort of shove him over a bit.
So I get back in the jeep and Horse follows me and puts his entire head in the open car window. He seems to want a sandwich or something.
Meanwhile, I'm imagining the driver behind me gradually working himself into the rural version of road rage.
I give Horse a few hearty pats of the sort horses enjoy then give him a good-natured shove. I'm finally able to navigate the jeep around him though not giving the hind end as wide a berth as I'd like to.
As I look behind me in the rear view window I see Horse wistfully watching my jeep escape.
And I wonder what other hapless traveler he's going to hit up for a sandwich before the sun finally sets.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Stir with a Knife ~ Part Two
Bart Roach was a pretty, pretty man. His entire family were very comely people. Bart was a rare thing up in these hills, an only child. His folks were better off than most, since his daddy was a foreman at the local cannery. Bart, with his black hair and sky blue eyes could have any girl he wanted. But for some reason, he wanted Bessie. And Bessie hadn’t wanted anything to do with him since one day several summers ago.
She’d just come through the woods that day with a basket of eggs for the old sisters who lived up the road. There in the road was Bart with an old horse that had collapsed in its traces in the road, it’s spavined legs trembling in exhaustion. The load of logs Bart was asking it to pull was just too much for the old mare. Bart wielded a whip in one hand and an axe handle in the other.
He alternately struck the horse with both, screaming, “Git up, Dammit. Git up you worthless sack of bones!”
He was in such a raging fury that he didn’t see Bessie standing there. She ran forward, hollering, “Stop! Stop! She cain’t help it! Stop!”
But it was too late, by the time Bessie reached the poor mare. Bart had beaten her to death.
He stamped in the road, dancing about in anger. Bessie knew then that a man mean enough to beat a horse so badly in anger had something wrong with him.
But that didn’t stop the other mountain girls from seeking him out. When he was on his best behavior in a social setting, he could be quite charming. And he was considered a good match by most of the local families. The only sign that he might be a difficult man was his pouting bottom lip and his tendency to flash his eyes when he didn’t get his way.
But he almost always got his way and had since he was a tiny baby. Indeed, anything bad that Bart did, was brushed away by saying, “Awww, he were just petted too much.”
But still, there was many a girl who would gladly take over the job of petting pretty Bart from his family.
But Bessie wanted nothing to do with him. He’d once come calling at her house with a bunch of flowers and some candy for her. He’d come to ask permission to call on her. Bessie turned him away at the door saying, “Thank you, but no.”
Bart threw the flowers in the dirt of the yard and stamped on them and threw the candy out to the pigs. Bessie looked out the small window, peeking from the lace curtains at him.
“Lawd, he just ain't right.”
Bart just couldn’t get her out of his mind though. It was more that she wouldn’t have him than anything else, and he decided if he couldn’t get her by courting her that he would just take her. He figured once he’d had her, that itch would be scratched and he’d be done with her.
But now, sporting a big black shiner courtesy of Bessie’s dainty fist, he felt the humiliation keenly. So he put about that she had slept with him after the dance.
Bessie didn’t notice much at first. She’d half forgotten about the incident after the Harvest dance. But soon she was aware of the nasty looks and cold shoulders. It didn’t take long for it to get back to her.
It wasn’t that Bessie was unaccustomed to sniping about her. She was a very pretty girl and many of the girls were jealous of her. Until she was safely married, it was likely that she was going to be the object of nastiness and envy. She knew this, but the attack on her virtue stung particularly bad.
Cora, June and Stella were three of the most hostile towards Bessie. They had always had a sore spot towards her since they were children. The three friends seemed to delight in tormenting Bessie for as long as she could remember. Now that they were of an age to marry, they each had an eye on Bart.
Cora came up to Bessie one day as she was coming down the road from Timmon’s store and seemed to be in a terrible state.
“Bessie! Bessie! …We need help!” Cora seemed all out of breath. Her pale freckled face was flushed in splotches all down her neck.
“What’s the matter?”
Cora wrung her hands and said, “It’s little LiAnne…she’s fallen down in the cistern at Mr. Greens. Can you come help?”
They took the shortcut through the woods on Cora’s suggestion. Halfway through the path in a place that was cool and damp from a wet spring, June and Stella came up behind Bessie and roughly put a burlap bag over her head. Bessie felt the rough scratchy texture of the burlap and that smell that was somewhere between raw cotton and cracked corn. She struggled to breath beneath the rough cover.
“What are you doing? Let me go!” She screamed.
Her only answering was the giggling of the three girls as they tied her arms to her body. They dragged her over to a poplar tree and tied her to the tree, firmly by wrapping rope around and around. Finally the girls were done with their task.
The took a knife and slit the burlap sack so Bessie’s face was showing. They scowled at her.
“That should teach you!” June sneered at her.
Bessie started to cry and sob. It was clear that they meant to leave her here and while someone would eventually find her since this path was used now and again, she had no idea when she would be found.
Stella pulled something out from the pockets of her skirt and stuffed them in the bib pocket of Bessie’s pinafore apron.
“That’s in case you gets hungry.”
They screamed with laughter and ran off down the path.
Bessie looked down through her tears and saw with a sinking stomach what Stella had left there. She had left her two Moon Pies and Bessie knew then she was most likely done for if someone didn’t find her soon.
She’d been tied out in the woods as bear bait with a lure planted on her body.
Stir with a Knife ~ Part Four
Monday, October 15, 2007
Sugar And Brimstone ~ Part Two
Tulah started shaking as she remembered all the blood Tarn was washing off of himself. No, surely not, she thought to herself. He just went coon hunting. That’s what he did!
But she couldn’t shake the feeling that Tarn had killed Ned Franks. It started like a worm churning in her belly and made her fingertips cold. She stood there in the yard and watched the lawman head off to visit more houses to see what he could find out. She thought about saying something about seeing Tarn by the creek and her mouth opened to say it. But she just stood there watching him leave, unable to speak.
Tulah spent the rest of the day sitting on the porch doing the mending with Cinnie. Her mother noticed several times that she wasn’t quite herself.
“Sweet thing, what’s the matter? You don’t seem quite yourself.” Cinnie reached a hand over and grasped Tulah’s hand. She squeezed it gently.
“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you? What’s laying so heavy on my girl’s mind?”
Tulah smiled weakly at her mother. She looked up at her mother and her eyes were tearing a bit.
“Mommy, Jesus forgives all sin, right?”
“Yes, Baby, Jesus forgives all. You just hand it over to Him.”
Her mother went back to her sewing and hummed “Beulah Land”. It eased Tulah a bit to hear the wavering tones of her mother singing softly.
The truth was that Tulah was beginning to question her heart. She wondered if what they said was true after all. That just looking at Tarn the wrong way would get you killed. And she couldn’t help but wonder if Jesus really did forgive all sins. Or were there some sins that were just too bad.
As night fell, there were extra lanterns put out on the porches. People seemed a bit nervous after the killing and knowing that the killer was still out there. Folks did tend to wonder if Tarn or any of the other wild boys on the mountain had anything to do with it. Tarn was thought to run a still somewhere up past Naillon Town. No one really knew where it was and as was the custom, no one ever showed any curiosity about it or really wanted to know where it was. Sometimes, the less you knew, the safer you were. And even if you knew, you pretended you didn’t. That was just the smart way to be.
They wondered if mayhap Ned had stumbled upon someplace he wasn’t supposed to know about. Someplace that might be worth killing to keep secret. Truth be told, if Tarn Rickson had anything to do with it, he may have just thought Ned looked at him funny. Tarn was like that and folks steered clear of him because of it.
Tulah and her family were about to go to bed when they saw it and heard the excited cries coming from down the way. The sky was orange just over the hill. Something had caught afire. The entire community ran down the road in the direction of the fire to help put it out.
Tulah followed the crowd of folk down the road, running down the gravel path. It was deeply dark but everyone knew this road in the same way that they knew the path to their outhouse in the dark of night. She stopped and looked toward the warm glow in the sky. Her heart skipped a bit when she realized it was coming from the direction of Tarn’s cabin. She ran faster.
As she approached Tarn’s cabin, she heard a dreadful sound. It was something like when you cut pigs, that horrible squealing that rises when the knife slits the skin over the testicles and only stops when you yank them out then release the pig. But this sound doesn’t stop, it rises and falls then rises and falls.
The fire looked like it had started in an outbuilding then spread to the cabin. The shed was full of quart jars of corn likker and it had gone up like a rocket. They had seen the glow from the shed going up before it spread to the house. It was now consuming the cabin. Tarn was evidently still inside and burning to death and he was the one making that dreadful sound.
A ring of men with rifles paced around the perimeter of the inferno. It was impossible to get in there to Tarn. Tulah saw one of them and then another sight and shoot into the house fire.
“What are they doing?!” Tulah grabbed a man by his coat sleeve and yanked to get his attention. “Why aren’t they helping him? Why are they shooting?”
The dreadful screaming seemed to go on and on and on, rising above the roaring of the fire.
The man squeezed Tulah’s shoulder. “Honey, we can’t get to him. They are just trying to put him out of his misery.”
So the men continued shooting blindly into the fire, hoping one of the bullets would connect with the man who was screaming and twisting somewhere behind the curtain of flame.
And Tulah sank to her knees on the ground in shock. Her hands were buried in the dirt and clenching the soil, her knuckles white. She opened and closed her mouth in silent horror like a trout on a fly. Her face was covered in sooty tear tracks and she rocked back and forth like an infant seeking comfort. And the screaming seemed to go on forever before it finally stopped and only the popping and cracking of the burning logs remained.
Tulah knew, as long as she lived, she'd never forget the horrible sound of the screaming and burning that was Tarn Rickson's last minutes on Earth.
Sugar and Brimstone ~ Part Four
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Carolina Special ~ Part One
The train creaked on it’s axis on the top of Saluda Mountain. The sounds were comforting in a way. The brakemen gave the go-ahead and they started down the mountain. The brakes screeched like a banshee in the night drowning all. The train gathered speed at an alarming rate, only held back by the howling brakes. Suddenly, the train gave a lurch. Dusty slammed his head against the engine and crumpled to the floor.
“Dusty! Dusty!” Floyd shouted over the brakes. “You all right, old man?”
Floyd eased over to him and a smear of blood came away on his hand from the back of Dusty’s head. He put a hand on the old man’s neck and couldn’t feel any pulse. The old man was dead. Floyd started to panic then looked up at the gauges and the firebox…looked like he was on his own in this nightmare.
He stood and looked out down the track, just in time to see the bank of fog drawing steadily and swiftly closer. It felt to him like they were going much faster than they should and then he heard it weakly over the scream of the brakes.
They were approaching Slaughter’s Cut at a dangerous rate. The brakes screamed in outrage. The clacking of the train against the tracks fused into one seamless roar. Floyd adjusted the steam input and held on for dear life as the train crashed down the mountain.
He felt the wind whip by like a tornado. His eyes seemed to lose focus and his ears roared. He lost consciousness the moment they hit the fog bank.
The next thing he knew, he was floating in the fog. He opened his eyes to the mist. The world was going by in slow motion. The silence was deafening, like being in the middle of a snow storm. It was as if the fog had absorbed the momentum of the train, suspending it. The tiny lights he’d seen earlier were floating around him like fireflies. The machinery in the cab glowed and shimmered. He heard voices as if in a tunnel. They were like the whispering voices you sometimes heard on the edge of your consciousness just before sleeping. The ones you strained to hear but never could.
Floyd slowly reached a coal dust begrimed hand out and cupped one of the tiny lights. It flickered and tickled in his hand giving off a tiny bit of heat. The lights swarmed around him like moths to lantern light. They pulsed and swarmed around Dusty’s head and the old fireman’s head raised off the floor as if the lights were gently raising him. Floyd heard the tinkling sound of the voices.
Be well…be well…be well…
Floyd looked on as the lights seemed to form into one large mass of brilliance. He felt as though he were moving through molasses . The lights formed into a face and shoulders. The brightness of the image blinded him for a moment and when he blinked and looked back at it, he saw that it was the face of a beautiful woman with long flowing hair. She had a long narrow face with kind eyes. Her shoulders emerged from the mist and were white and glowing.
“You see us, don’t you?” She asked, looking at him curiously.
“Who are you? What’s happening?” Floyd asked with a quiver in his voice.
“We are the ones who came before and the ones who have come after. We are the Nunne-hi or the sidhe or the ghosts of time.” She said cryptically. “We guard this pass.”
Floyd had no idea what she was talking about. He reached a hand out to try to touch her and she drew back in alarm.
“No, it is enough that you see me. If you touch me, you will not be able to return from this place.”
“This place? This place?…As far as I know I’m in the train cab in a fog bank.”
Floyd blinked hard. He wanted to believe this, but even in the glowing of the cab and the strange roaring silence, he could see nothing beyond the window. No movement, no sensation of movement was felt. He just saw the whiteness of the fog and the lights.
“You are between the worlds with us.” The apparition said. “And when you go back to your world, you shouldn’t remember any of this. But you may see other things because of this… Now sleep….sleep…sleep...”
And then, the sound was roaring in his ears again. It was as if a door had suddenly opened and he had fallen through it. He stood there in the dimness of the rocking train that now sounded completely as it should. No squealing brakes, no howling wind…they seemed to be chugging away at a normal rate.
Dusty was sitting peering at the gauges as if nothing had happened.
“Dusty! Are you alright?!” Floyd called over the din of the engine.
Dusty turned and looked at Floyd and frowned.
“Of course I am, you daft boy. Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Where are we?” Floyd asked. He realized they were not hurtling down the Saluda anymore and seemed to be winding around the foothills on the other side of the mountain.
Floyd hung out the side of the cab and drank in the cinder-flecked wind. He turned back and grinned at Dusty.
The old man paused and took a hard look at him.
“You saw them, didn’t you?” He asked. “You saw the lights on the mountain. You saw the people there.”
“Yes! Yes, I saw them and I remember it all! She said wouldn’t but I remember.”
Dusty gave a heavy sigh.
“You best put them out of your mind, son. I saw them once too. They saved us that time and I s’pose they just saved us again. But just forget them, boy. You’ll be better off. And maybe you won’t see the things that only folks who see the lights see.”
And Floyd looked out into the night and he could swear he saw a spectral hound running beside the train and keeping pace with it. It seemed to float over the land and solid tree trunks passed through its body. Flecks of glowing drool and blood streamed from its mouth.
Floyd gawked and pointed. Dusty looked out into the night.
"Eh, yep. That would be what I'm talkin' about. "
Carolina Special ~ Part Three
Friday, October 12, 2007
Sorry...I got nothin'. Don't have a food post...I'm in the week where I eat ramen and rice so I don't have anything for you.
BossyToe, however, came to the front door to have it es'plained...one more time...why she can't come in the house anymore. She quite enjoyed her childhood as a house goat and was feeling a bit nostalgic.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Stir with a Knife ~ Part One
The dance let out into the chill night air with lighthearted smiles and laughter. The night was brightly lit by the moonlight and no one needed a lamp to take the road home. But they all had taken these paths thousands of times before and knew them as they knew the the path to the outhouse back at their own homes.
Bessie smiled and waved goodbye to them all. The preacher patted her golden head and said, “You’re a good girl, Bessie. You tell your mother I hope she’s feeling better real soon.”
“Thank you, Preacher.” Bessie smiled up at him. “I ‘preciate you letting me come tonight. I don’t get out much since Mommy’s been sick.”
Bessie took off home with a song in her heart and the music from the dance still sounding in her head. She tripped along the gravel road, humming “Turkey in the Straw”, her feet still tripping to the tune.
The man walked behind her on soft soled boots making no sound. Bessie had no reason to look behind her and was caught up in her own little world. She didn’t hear the man gradually catching up with her and when she felt his hand cover her mouth it was too late.
He grasped her around the chest and pulled her to him…his breath sour with moonshine blowing close to her ear.
“Mmmm,” he said, “I bets you want some sugar, don’t you?” He rasped breathily to her.
Bessie struggled against him. He had her firmly from behind and her thrashing didn’t seem to be doing anything to free her. She smelled the strong scent of tobacco on his hand and it was hard to breath with it against her mouth. Finally she was able to stamp her heel against the man’s foot.
He screamed in pain and relaxed enough for Bessie to escape. She whirled and faced her attacker, her eyes flashing in anger. She hauled off and punched him across the face, hard, then pulled her hand back and shook it out.
“Damn you, Bart Roach!” She hollered. “You leave me alone!”
He brought a hand up to his face where she had hit him. It was going to leave a shiner, for sure. Enraged, he advanced on her, grinning and spitting.
She stood with her arms rigid in indignation. Her fists clinched tight. Her face was flushed in fury as she breathed hard.
He grabbed her again and forced an open mouthed kiss upon her.
Bessie bit hard down on his tongue and kneed him in the groin. He stepped back holding his mouth, with blood dripping from his lip.
“Damn you! Damn you! Damn you!” He screamed the words out in pain, running them together so they sounded like one word.
She scrubbed her mouth with the back of her hand and spat in the dirt. Then she turned on her heel and ran for all she was worth.
She ran so fast that she didn’t hear Bart Roach hollering after her, “I’ll git you Bessie Stark. Just you wait, you’ll be sorry!”
Bessie just kept running, her happy evening now ruined.
She pounded the path up to her house and came in the door bolting it behind her. She threw her back against the door and stood there breathing hard and tearing.
“Bess, is that you, honey?” Her mother called weakly from her bed.
“Yes, Mommy, it’s me. Nothin’ to worry about, go on back to sleep.”
Bessie’s mother was the only family she had left. Her Pa had died in a mine cave-in and her two brothers had died a year later, working in the same dangerous mine. Now it looked like she was going to lose her Mommy, too. She often wondered why God seemed to take the good and leave the evil.
Bessie sat down at the kitchen table and put her head in her hands. Silent tears streaked her cheeks. She wondered if her life would ever ease up. She wondered if she’d ever meet a fella who would strike her fancy who she’d marry and have babies with. But she knew that life was likely to get harder, because that was the way of life on the mountain.
When she curled up on her bed that night, the scent of the wood fire embers drifting in and out of her consciousness, she couldn’t know the terrible form that Bart’s retribution for her rebuke of his attentions would take, or the price she would pay.
Stir with a Knife ~ Part Three
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.”
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