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

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”. And 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

The Revolt

“We have to do something,” Betty said. “He’s taking our children. He keeps us prisoner, breeds us, then takes our children.”

“We’re not prisoners,” Tallulah said. “We can go outside.”

The other girls nodded their heads, murmured words of agreement while casting furtive glances toward the door.

Betty snorted. “Oh, for the love of God!”

“They’re not really children,” Tallulah said. “Why, they haven’t even been named yet, so how can they possibly be children?” More nodding of heads. Continue reading

The City by the Sea–part 2

Part one here

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him.” Doctor Littlefield moved the palm-held heart monitor over Zackary’s thin chest. “He seemed fine when he was born—except for the skin color, of course. But that’s beginning to fade, and still…”

The baby was breathing almost normally now, but earlier Lissa had wondered if he was going to make it this time. The coughing and wheezing and sucking for air, it had tied her stomach in knots. Zackary was only a week old and she was already madly in love with the tiny life she and Gavin had created. She had tried to distance herself, knowing from the moment the doctor placed him in her arms, and she had seen the green tint of his skin, that she would probably lose him. He was one of those who were not-quite-right. But how could she not love him? She had changed his diapers, sang to him, held him as he suckled at her bosom. My God, she had even named him—against everyone’s advice.

Doctor Littlefield smiled down at the infant she held cradled to her breast. Lissa saw the sadness in her eyes. How many babies had she helped into the world? How many babies had she seen depart it?

But not my baby! Lissa held out her arms. Continue reading

The City By The Sea–part 1

Part One

“Gavin, wait, you forgot your mask.” Lissa waddled to the door, holding out the filter by a thumb and forefinger as if it were one of the icky, four-inch roaches that prowled their apartment every night. God, how she hated those ugly things, but nothing you could do but learn to live with them; they weren’t going anywhere.

Gavin took the silver mask and settled it atop his blond curls. “I could’ve got it, babe.” He looked down into her eyes, a gentle smile curving his lips. “You’re supposed to stay off your feet as much as possible, you know.” He laid a gloved hand on her swollen belly. “Doctor’s orders.”

For all the good it’ll do, Lissa thought. Had staying off their feet saved her sister’s baby? Or Beverly’s? Or anyone else’s she knew? She wanted to go outside, walk, run, even if it meant suiting up and breathing through a filter. “I just…I want…I’m so tired…” Continue reading

You Are What You Read–part 2

Part 1 here

She came down hard on her butt.

The ship listed to one side. A dream, Jane thought as she slid along the planking. This is just a dream. But that knowledge didn’t stop her from being scared out of her wits, and it sure didn’t stop the all-too-real pain of splinters gouging her palms as she scrabbled for a handhold.

Her fingers brushed—what? She turned her head to the right, and there was The Book and her fingers were gone, swallowed between its open cover. Then her arm was gone, and oh sweet Jesus, it was sucking her up, pulling her inside itself, pulling her into its yellow mouth.

Again, falling, tumbling. And again being deposited. Somewhere.

Jane opened her scrunched-tight eyes. Back resting against the wall, she was sitting on the floor of the closet inside the Liberty Public Library, the feather duster on the varnished boards beside her. And The Book.

She giggled. Silly of her, she’d sat down in the closet to look at The Book, and had fallen asleep. Good thing it was Saturday and she had the place all to herself. It wouldn’t have done for sour-faced Miss Maples to have caught her napping on the job.

Yes, that’s what had happened: she’d fallen asleep and dreamed. And oh, what a lovely dream it had been. Until its end. Continue reading