Monday, February 18, 2008
I realized I haven't picked on my favorite monster recently--I speak, of course, of Our Imperial Sith Overlords AT & T, who recently deposed the tyrant Bellsouth. I pick on them because they are firmly committed to keeping us under the thumb of their circa 1972 phone wires--especially since they have satellite service we should be wealthy enough to afford. If not, we have no business being on the internet--or having a phone for that matter. Yay, verily, we should be using our tin cans and string--or shotgun blasts.
So, yesterday I'm visiting a friend who doesn't get out much. We are having a very nice chat in her parlour when there is a knock on the door. She hollers, "Come in!" as she always does. When they don't, I get up and go open the door. It's the cops and they want to know who dialed 911.
We assure them no one did. I invite them in so they can check out the phones and presumably make sure I'm not cutting my friend into tiny pieces that fit in the trunk of my car.
So--this is the deal. The phone lines are so bad that when water gets in the lines--which is quite often--it dials 911. I just hope the sheriff's office bills Our Imperial Sith Overlords AT & T.
Todays story deals with a piece of Appalachian folklore that actually goes back to ancient times. I'm sort of loving the idea of this family of characters and will probably expand this into something much longer and larger.
It nestled in the back of Papa's hi-boy dresser behind his socks, rolled together like dinner rolls. Mamma taught me to fix those socks just so, laying them toe to cuff, making them eat themselves like snakes. We kept it in a box carved by great great grandfather. The box was black and oily, rubbed by generations of Truholts with bear grease and walnut hulls, and inlaid with bits of antler from the deer the treasure came from. We went for months without thinking about our legacy--our curse--and as long as nobody got dog or snakebit, the madstone never left that box. When it did leave the box, my aunt, Clarice, was the one who wielded it.
A madstone was a covetous thing, desired by many and held by few. It came from the belly of a fourteen-point buck felled by my ancestor with a flintlock. The size of the palm of a woman's hand, the Truholt madstone was chalky blue and flat like a skipping pebble. Boiled in milk and laid on a wound, it drew the poison from flesh, drinking it into itself like a baby at the breast.
I was snapping beans the summer day six-year old Davy Valentine got bit up by a coonhound, gone mad in the heat of August. His brother, Jeb, came riding into our yard hellbent for leather hollering, "Truholt! Truholt, we need the stone!"
Papa ran from the garden, going right up to Jeb's horse and grabbing it by the reins. Jeb was in a state, all shaky, pale and tearful.
"Slow down, Jeb, what happened?"
"Davy done got all bit up. It's bad, Truholt, real bad. That dog done gone mad and you gotta come Truholt. We need the stone."
Papa nodded and I ran into the house, dug through his drawer and pulled out the dark box. It felt warm and slick in my hands and I felt the stone's power calling me. I carried the stone that day, proud my family could help. Papa hitched the pony up to the cart for the trip.
We drove to my aunt's house. Truholt women handled the stone, but I never had. Aunt Clarice joined us, hobbling from her house using her cane.
When she saw me sitting there holding the box, she said, "Lo, Child, this might be the day you handle the stone. Does it call to you? Can you feel it?"
I nodded, gripping the box, both hopeful and afraid.
We jounced into the Valentine's holler and up to their house, where the dirt yard needed sweeping and the dead hound laid, lung shot in the dirt. White froth pooled around the muzzle of the bluetick, its eyes still open, staring into whatever eternity mad dogs faced.
The family huddled in the house, despite the heat. I heard Davy crying from the porch while Papa talked in low tones to Davy's father. The price was set at a grown hog and we went inside.
Davy stretched back on the settee, his face all red and scrunched up, tears tracking through coal dust. The dog mauled his right thigh, grabbing him and shaking him like a kitten. It was a dreadful wound, but the likelihood of the madness with the awful thirst and shaking was worse.
"Get the milk boiling," Aunt Clarice said.
Davy's ma brought out the saucepan of boiling milk and Aunt Clarice nodded at me. I opened the box, revealing the dusty blue stone. My hands trembled when I lifted it from its nest of chamois and put it in the hot milk. We waited until the stone soaked up the milk, then I reached into the pan and took the hot stone. The burning was part of it, but it was the first time I had felt it.
I placed the stone on the raw meat of Davy's leg and held it there until it stuck. I repeated this until the stone slid from the wound, indicating it had sucked the poison out.
We left them to wrap up Davy's leg. On the way home, the sickness came. I held the stone tight in my fist as I had seen Aunt do. I knew the sickness was part of it.
She stroked my hair while I threw up and flushed with the fever. "Shhhh--shhhh. It will be fine, Child. You did good."
Truholt women wielded the madstone, purifying it with their bodies and casting the demons into the void.
It was our gift. It was our curse.