The Preacherman–conclusion

Part 1 here

“Adam…wake up.”

Something was shaking me, bouncing my brain around inside my head, each bounce setting of a sick boom of pain.

“Adam…please.”

I didn’t want to wake up, didn’t want to open my eyes.

“Adam…”

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? Continue reading

The Preacherman–part 3

Part 1 here

A part of me was curious as to what the “some things” were; but a bigger part didn’t want to go sit in that chair, didn’t want to know “some things”. Judging from the frown on the Preacherman’s face, I was sure what he was fixing to tell me weren’t good.But I did what I was told.

I sat down on the edge of the chair, too edgy to relax. Though the Preacherman had been good to me, I knew his kindness was conditional. One wrong move and he’d swat me like a fly.

God’s Book lay open on the Preacherman’s lap. His fingers moved over the squiggles covering the pages while he stared through the night-black eye of the window that looked out over the flatlands. I wondered what the Book told him. When I was a youngen, old folks said it was the black marks that did the talking, but I’d never heard a peep out of the Book or the marks either. The few times I’d laid my hand on Ma’s God’s Book, it hadn’t said nothing. But then I weren’t no preacherman.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, son, but what you’re wanting ain’t never gonna happen.”

Heat flooded my face. My ears burned. I couldn’t look up; my eyes stayed pinned on the Book as he gently closed the well-worn cover.

“I can see you love my daughters as much as I loved their mother,” he said. “And I know very well what you’re feeling. I’m a man, I know what you want. But it ain’t gonna happen. It can’t happen.”

His hand drew away from God’s Book, and I felt the meaty weight of it settle on my shoulder. Cold. Like the Other’s.

“You’ve been a good son, Adam, you’ve done everything I’ve asked of you.”

And here I thought I’d been told what to do. And was fixing to be told again. Continue reading

The Preacherman–part 2

Part 1 here

I didn’t know what I expected, though what came through that door surely weren’t it.

A gal edged sort of sideways through the opening, and it was her. “Is he awake now, Pa?” she asked, her eyes all big and bright with excitement. She smiled my way.

That beautiful smile pulled an answering one out of me. Forgetting that I didn’t have so much as a stitch on, I started sitting up in bed, and then I saw the Other come through the door, and Lord, they looked exactly the same. But where the first’s smile was sweet and warm and held everything that was good, the second’s was cold and hostile and filled with a jittery darkness.

And it only got worse.

As the two of them glided across the floor toward me, I remembered what I’d seen when they were perched up on the wagon seat: three arms. One arm on her right, one arm on the Other’s left, and where their shoulders touched, one more perfect arm. And I knew good and well that if I could see up under the long, full skirt of that gray dress, I’d see three legs.

What in God’s name was she?

Her lips quavered. She looked confused. The Other’s grin widened, showing all those cruel white teeth. Continue reading

The Preacherman

I’d been down in the Cheyanna strip pits for so long I’d just about forgotten what the sun looked like, when Cracker pulled me off the sorting line and told me I’d done my time and was free to go. Wondering if he was pulling a funny on me, I followed his fat arse through the dim, winding tunnels where it seemed like I’d spent pretnear my whole life working and eating and sleeping and dreaming of blue sky; then it was up a narrow flight of steps carved into the gray shale of the south wall to the ore platform.

Many a time I’d watched that contraption haul piles of yellow-threaded chunks up the long, dark shaft hacked through the rocks overhead, and had seen it bring down a few unlucky men like me; but the only time I’d set foot on it myself was the long-ago day it’d dropped me smack-dab in the middle of hell.

“Climb on, Dooley,” Cracker said, nudging me none too gently in the back. And I knew then that he weren’t funning me.

I stepped on, Cracker right behind me. He gave a couple of sharp tugs on a rope and the platform lurched, then rose upward into that hollowed-out tunnel barely bigger than the lashed-together timbers under our feet. The four thick cables attached to its corners seemed alive, hissing and vibrating as they roiled up into the darkness. The noise put me in mind of Albo snakes, with their red eyes, and slick white bodies as long and skinny as a whip.

Up we went, on and on. And when at last I saw a pinprick of light overhead, I knew that I wouldn’t have to sleep no more with my arms wrapped around my head to keep the Albos from wriggling into my ears or nose.

The dot of light got bigger and bigger, filling the mouth of the shaft with a white glare that my eyes couldn’t bear. I shielded them with my hand, but that weren’t enough; I had to look away, down at my grimy boots instead of the clean, blue sky above.

“Here,” Cracker said in a voice made gravely by too many years breathing Cheyanna’s dust. “This’ll help.” He pressed a wad of dirt-smudged white cloth into my hands.

It was a kaul, a head covering worn by the traders who traveled the roads between Cheyanna and the outside world: a hood that fit over your head with a narrow slit cut out for your eyes. Without it or something like it, a man could go blind out in the desert staring day in and day out at all that white sand.

I mumbled a “Thanks,” and pulled it over my head. And looked around, having my first drink of daylight in…”How long?” Continue reading

Millie’s Story

“Move away from it!”

Prodding my ribs with the dragon’s barrel, Pa attempted to push me aside. I hunkered over Keme’s bloody, prone body, gripped his shoulders tight, knowing if I gave Pa a clear target, he’d shoot Keme again, kill him. If he wasn’t already dead.

“Damn it, daughter, I said move!” Another jab with the dragon.

Not looking up, I shook my head. “No!”

Silence invaded the shed, broken only by Pa’s raspy breathing. I felt a light touch on my bare shoulder, then the hand jerked away as if my skin had burned it. Pa growled, “Millie, what’s going on? Where’re your clothes?”

I looked up into a face that was more shadow than substance in the lantern’s feeble light. I opened my mouth, but no words came out.

“Did it…did it force itself on you?”

I finally found my tongue. “No, Pa…I…we…” And lost it again.

His eyes raked both Keme and me, taking in our nakedness; they narrowed, hardened. “Are you telling me it didn’t…you willingly had congress with this demon?”

“He’s not a demon, he’s—”

“It has wings, daughter, it is a demon, and I’m going to finish it. Then…” A loaded pause. “Then I’ll deal with you.” Continue reading

Keme’s Story

“I saw the most beautiful girl yesterday,” Keme said to his mother. “More beautiful than any I have ever seen.”

Wapun continued grinding the pestle into the multicolored corn contained in the hollowed-out mortar stone. “Oh…have you been traveling north again, visiting with the Hidatsas?” She glanced over her shoulder, smiled up at him. “Has some pretty little thing caught your eye, my son?”

“No, not the Hidatsas.” Keme remembered the girl, eyes as green as prairie grass, hair the color of gold. And her smile.

“The Kansa then? Or the Mandan?”

“No, no, she was…well…” Keme trailed off, uncertain how to tell his mother about the beautiful girl, how they had met, and how she had not been frightened of him.

The pestle stopped. Wapun turned toward him, her black eyes locking on his. “You did not go over the mountains again, did you?”

Keme looked down at the stone floor. It had been a mistake, he should not have told her about Millie. But he had been so excited he had to tell someone about the girl and his love for her.

His mother grabbed his arm. “Look at me, Keme.”

Slowly, he raised his eyes. Worry twisted her features, causing the fine, white down that covered her face to bristle like an angry dog.

“This girl—does she live across the river?”

Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, he nodded.

Her wings rose slightly, quivered, the tips making a raspy noise upon the floor. “You know this is wrong. We do not mix with them.”

Keme knew. From an early age, he had been warned not to fly south from the Redochre Mountains where they nested, that since war had broken out among the Earthbound Ones many, many moons ago (so long ago that no one now living remembered just when), they had changed; the Earthbound Ones now believed their avian brothers to be witikos or other evil spirits. Continue reading

Hershel’s Secret

Damn, it was hard to keep a secret from Maryanne. That woman was so confounded nosey. Asking this, asking that, her voice going all reed-thin like it always did when she didn’t believe a word I was saying.

“And you’re telling me that this time you gotta stay late and work on Mr. Redwine’s truck.” The racket the twins was making in the background pretnear drowned out her voice. “For Pete’s sake, you’re a carpenter, not a mechanic.”

One of ‘em—most likely Alex, he was the noisy one—let out a high-pitched squeal that stabbed my throbbing head like a rusty pitchfork. I yanked my cell away from my ear, whispering “holy shit” through gritted teeth.

Squawk, squawk, squawk spitted out of the phone. I lifted it back to my ear.

“—and we’re gonna talk about it when you get home. This’s been going on for months. Two or three evenings a week, something’s come up and you’ve been getting home late, dark or after. How you been driving nails in the dark, Hershel Thurman Patterson? Huh? You tell me. And your paycheck sure ain’t been getting any bigger.”

Lord-a-mercy, the lying was getting harder and harder to live with. “I…uh…the truck…” Good thing I didn’t have one of them there smartphones. I’d heard tell you could track a body if he had one on him. Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 5, conclusion 

Part 1 here

I knew what It was up to: It was trying to scare Grace and get her to move from between It and Penny. Grace was of the light and that blacker-than-black unthing couldn’t touch her.

Again, they did their dance–It moved left, Grace moved left, It moved right, Grace moved right. Then one of Its great wings sliced down toward Grace and I hollered and Caleb hollered and Will hollered, all three of us thinking that she’d be flattened under that slab of black. But when it touched Grace’s head, the wing burst into flames.

With another roar that shook what was left of my little house, It pulled back the blazing wing into Itself, snuffing out the fire. Then, It folded, and folded again, and kept on folding until It was no bigger than a sheet of paper, and slid in a blacker-than-black square across the floor away from Grace. Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 4

Part 1 here     Part 2  here      Part 3 here

“What was it, child?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but–but Caleb saw it too.” Will turned his face toward his brother. “Didn’t you?”

Caleb shrugged. “Dunno.” His eyes looked a little wild and boogery too. “I guess…something…” He looked back at the night, then sidled up close to me. I put my arm around him and he pressed close.

On the other side of the yard fence, the corn patch lay still and black. Nothing moved amongst the corn stalks that I could tell. But there was something there, all right; I could feel it. And Penny did too. Her hair bristled from her head to the tip of her tail, and she was whining and growling, both at the same time.

“Let’s go inside,” Grace said softly. “Now.” She took my elbow, and with Caleb and Will tucked up against me, guided us all up the steps with a steady hand.

When both my feet were on the porch, I took a good look at my jellyfish-gal, and it came as no surprise that she was now pret’near as tall as me. And Isabelle’s tee shirt barely covered enough to keep her decent. I reckoned I’d better hunt up something to cover her bottom part ’cause at the rate she was going, by morning she’d be full growed.

Grace reached around me and pulled open the screen door. “We’ll be all right in the house, Nana,” she said. “It doesn’t like the light.”

***

It took me a spell to get to sleep that night, and it weren’t because every light in the house was blazing. I kept thinking about It what was out in the corn. And Grace. What was she and where had she come from? And what was It that’d come down after her? And why? Continue reading

Saving Grace–part 3

Part 1 here         Part 2 here

Will didn’t argue with me. All and all he was a good boy, Caleb too. They were a handful for Isabelle though, what with her having to work all the time and no husband to help out. Funny how a man can just walk out on his family and never look back. That’s what Jack Fisher had done though: he’d gotten on a plane to California and called Isabelle on his cell phone somewhere over Colorado and said he was leaving her.

Worry lines creased Isabelle’s young face, worry lines she shouldn’t have, and I hated Jack Fisher all over again.

“Let me help you with that, child.” I reached for one of the bags of groceries.

“I’ve got them, Nana.” Isabelle moved past me and into the kitchen. She plopped the bags down on the countertop and started putting things away.

I felt a tug on my apron and looked down at Will’s upturned face. “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Caleb too.”

While Isabelle bustled about the kitchen, I made a pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid, and the boys took their glasses and went out on the back porch. They liked it outside here; there weren’t no outside to speak of at their apartment in the city.

“I’ve got a favor to ask, Nana,” Isabelle said, looking out the window over the sink.

I took two glasses of Kool-Aid to the table and sat down. “Anything you need, all you gotta do is speak up. You know that.”

A breeze sidled through the window screen, ruffling Isabelle’s blonde hair. She closed her eyes and smiled. “It smells so clean out here, the grass, the trees, even the dust from the road.” The smile slipped from her face. “Not like the city where all you smell is gasoline fumes and baking asphalt.”

“You’re welcome to come back home anytime you take a notion. You know that too.”

Pap and me had taken Isabelle in after the car wreck that’d killed Josh and his wife. This old farm was the only home she’d ever known.

“I can’t live way out here, Nana, I have to work.” She opened her eyes and turned to me. “And that’s why I’m here, why I need a favor.”

“Come tell me about it.”

And she did. She told me about the job interview she had set up with a company two states over, a company that’d pay her twice what she was making at the law firm she was working at now. “Marshall is a nice town, Nana,” she said. “And I could have a nice house with plenty of room for the boys and a big yard for them to play in. And a place for you to–”

“Hold on now.” I’d heard this kind of talk before, and I knew that Isabelle meant well, but I wasn’t leaving my home. Me and Penny weren’t going nowhere. “How does this have anything to do with needing a favor from me?” Continue reading