Part 1 here
Something was shaking me, bouncing my brain around inside my head, each bounce setting of a sick boom of pain.
I didn’t want to wake up, didn’t want to open my eyes.
Warm breath fanned my cheek, soft lips pressed gently against mine. Loi’s lips. And it was Loi’s voice that again whispered a name: “Adam…”
Adam? Who was…
Oh yeah, Adam was me.
My eyes opened to darkness, to a shadowed face hovering over mine. I sensed more than saw her: my sweet Loi. She was here in my bedroom, where she’d never been before. Something must be wrong. “What—”
“Shhhh.” Loi’s hand covered my mouth. “Don’t say anything or you might wake her. Just come with me.”
Wake her? Wake the Other? She didn’t want the Other to wake up? What was going on?
Loi tugged on my arm. “Hurry.”
Then it all crashed into my head in one giant wave. The church house. The crying babe. The Other strangling it. Loi screaming. And someone, most likely the Preacherman, knocking me out.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up. My head pounded harder. I sucked in a couple of deep breaths and the pounding eased up, settled into a steady, throbbing pain. And swimming around inside my head with the hurt was a thought: just where was Loi wanting us to go?
I opened my mouth, got out a “What” before she shushed me again. It seemed to be mighty important to her that I kept quiet, so I didn’t say nothing, not one word, as she took my hand and led me out of the bedroom, through the dark house, and out the back door. And every step of the way, I was aware of the Other, that she walked with me and Loi.
On the porch, Loi paused and eased the door closed behind us. Then it was down the steps and out into the yard.
Cradled in a sky full of stars, a three-quarter moon rode high overhead. Enough light that as Loi led and I followed across the packed-dirt yard, I could see the Other’s empty face. Her and Loi’s feet moved together, but the Other was somewhere else, and for some reason, that’s how Loi wanted it to stay.
Loi stopped at the chicken house. Her fingers squeezed mine, then dropped away. Through the thick wire mesh of the door, a few of the hens clucked uneasily, most likely wondering what was going on.
And I wondered too.
Why had Loi brought me out here? And why didn’t she want the Other to know?
She stepped away, moving down the front of the chicken house, her hand trailing along the top of the firewood stacked against its wall. She stopped at the end and bent over a little. Then she turned around.
Moonlight glinted on something shiny, and as Loi walked back toward me, I saw what it was: an ax. Now, why would she need an ax, unless…
I took a couple of steps back.
Unless the Other had woken up.
“It’s not for you,” Loi said softly. And then she was close enough that I could see her sweet face and the Other’s blank one, and I knew I weren’t fixing to get my head chopped off.
But why the ax?
“Here.” Loi held it out to me. I took the ax from her outstretched hand, wrapping my fingers around the smooth wooden handle. “It’s for me.”
“What are you…what?” I slung the ax away. It clunked against the stack of firewood, setting off the hens. Startled squawks and flapping wings ripped a hole in the warm night air. “Have you gone looney?”
“Don’t yell.” Loi scrambled after the ax, her movements awkward because of the Other. To move smoothly together, they had to go slow. “Maira must stay asleep so we can…” She picked up the ax and turned to face me. “…do what must be done.”
“I don’t understand.” But I thought I was beginning to.
Loi’s lips were a tight white line above her jutted-out chin. “I can’t—I will not—abide being shackled to a monster. I want her away from me. I want you to cut us apart.” Her chin lifted higher. “Now.” And she offered up the ax.
Shaking my head, I backed away. “No.”
She followed. “Yes.” And tried to thrust the ax into my hands.
I clasped my hands together behind my back. Loi moved right up against me, the ax handle all that was between us, and looked up into my face. “If you love me you’ll do this for me.”
Right beside her sweet face the Other’s blank face looked out over my shoulder. I shuddered. Even when the Other weren’t here, when her looney pulled her down inside herself, just looking at her had always feared me. And now I knew why. Someone who could kill an innocent babe was capable of anything.
“Please, Adam.” My eyes moved from the Other’s face to Loi’s. Tears sparkled on her lashes. “If you love me, you’ll do it.”
“But…but…” I could barely get words past the lump in my throat. “You and her, you’re all joined together. If I cut you apart…” Tears filled my eyes, tracked down my face. “It’ll kill you.”
Loi smiled. “I know.” Then she kissed me, a soft, sweet touching of her lips to mine that filled me with such a love that there was no room in my heart, or ever would be, for any other woman but her.
I wanted that kiss to go on and on, to never end, to take us out of this place to another, where I was me and she was she and there was no Other. I breathed her name and brought up my hands to cup her angel face.
“Where’s my kiss, husband?”
The Other’s voice worked on me and Loi like a bucket of cold water dashed on fighting dogs, startling us apart. Loi kind of wobbled around, and when I reached out to steady her she brought up the ax and tried to force it into my hands. But I still wouldn’t take it.
Then the ax was gone out of Loi’s hand, and she planted a palm against my chest and pushed. “Adam, look out!”
As I was stumbling backwards, I saw the glimmer of moonlight on steel, saw the blade of the ax raised over the Other’s head, saw it slicing the night air as it rushed down toward me. I tripped over my own feet and went down, landing hard flat on my back. The air whooshed out of my lungs. And as I lay there gaping like a fish out of water, the six-inch blade whistled down and sliced the ground beside my ear. Dry chunks of dirt peppered my cheek. With a grunt, the Other pulled the ax head free and raised it again.
“Maira, don’t!” Loi said, her fingers wrapping around the ax handle beside the Other’s.
Then that third hand grabbed hold too. Lord knows which side it was on; I sure couldn’t tell. All I knew was that three hands were tugging and pulling on the ax, and Loi and the Other were staggering around and screaming, and the chickens were screeching like a cyclote had got in with them.
But I knew which of the two would end up with the ax; there was no besting a looney, not by yourself, leastways.
Loi needed help.
Finally I was able to draw air into my burning lungs, roll away and push up on hands and knees.
Loi and the Other’s moon-shadow writhed around on the ground beside me, and as I was getting to my feet, I saw the black shadow of the ax raise up, then come down. I heard the solid thunk of its blade connecting and then a scream.
I lurched around just in time to see an arm plop down on the ground. My heart took a dive down to my stomach and lay there twitching as my eyes moved up the gray form of Loi and the Other’s body, up to the shoulders. The right arm was missing, cut off just above the elbow. Black blood pumped out of the stump. Loi’s blood.
“Nooooooooo!” The scream ripped out of my throat, tumbled out over the flatlands and was thrown back at me by the Red Dirt Mountains. “Noooooooo!”
And somehow I had the ax and was bringing it down on the joined shoulders, not caring who got that third arm, just wanting the Other dead, wanting her corrupt flesh apart from my sweet Loi’s. Working down. Another swing, and another, and another, until at last there were two where there had been one.
And still it weren’t enough.
I took the ax to the Other, first chopping off the head, and smashing it, smashing it, smashing it, till there was no trace of red lips and jittery blue-black eyes. Then I chopped up the body, not satisfied till there weren’t a piece left any bigger than a cow flap.
And then I turned to Loi.
Leaning on the ax handle, I got down on my knees beside her. Blood soaked her left side, matted her hair and speckled her white face. Her eyes stared out at a place that I couldn’t see, and I thought that it must be a better place than this because she was smiling.
My sweet Loi was dead.
I bent over and kissed her soft lips; they were still warm. And then I started crying. Not the quiet kind either, the kind that slipped out of your eyes and rolled down your face without making a sound. This crying was pulled up out of my guts with rusty hooks, set on fire and yanked up my throat on the back of a scream that wouldn’t end.
Then, above all my caterwauling I heard someone else squawking and carrying on, but I didn’t pay no mind to it till I felt a weight on my shoulder and a voice yelling right in my ear: “What in the name of God have you done?”
Fingers dug into my shoulder, shook me. “Answer me!”
And I gave him his answer—the blade of the ax. Took his head clean off in one swing. It hit the ground and rolled into the mess that was left of the Other.
I sat down next to Loi and waited.
And it weren’t a long wait.
Again, I felt a hand on my shoulder, this one gentle, and looked up into the pinched face of Mrs. Deats. And right behind her was the townsfolk. I’d done murder so I reckoned they’d be locking me up or hanging me, didn’t matter to me which.
A man—I think maybe it was Mr. Mac who owned the dry goods store—bent over and picked something up out of the dirt, then held it out toward me. And even though I didn’t tell it to, my hand reached out and took it.
The Preacherman’s God’s Book.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Deats said.
My eyes moved up from God’s Book to her face.
“For what?” I asked.
“For killing the demons.”
I shook my head. “Loi weren’t no demon.”
“Not her,” said Mrs. Deats. “The other two.”
“Miss Loi will rest in the boneyard,” said the man who’d given me God’s Book. “The demons we’ll burn.”
From the back of the crowd, a woman’s voice called out: “Thank you, Preacherman!” And then all the folks were yelling it. They were thanking me, calling me Preacherman.
Was the whole town a bunch of loonies? I weren’t no preacherman. God’s Book didn’t talk to me.
Both my hands gripped the worn black book. Why had they given me the thing?
The townsfolk started milling around, laughing and talking like they was having a party. Somebody stacked up wood and somebody lit it. The smell of burning meat spread out over the night like a rancid fog.
I didn’t pay their goings-on no mind; closer to home, something peculiar was happening. My hands were tingling, starting where my skin made contact with God’s Book, and moving up my arms and from there spreading out through my whole body. And it weren’t a bad tingle; it felt good. Relaxing. Peaceful. Joyful. Like you would feel if you’d been gone from home a long time and you were back and there was your ma and she was hugging you and telling you that everything was gonna be all right.
I closed my eyes, gripped God’s Book tighter.
And then, It spoke: In the beginning…
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