Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Home Again (3)

by Rocky Macy

(Part 3 of 5)

“Bud, you’re bleeding, bleeding bad. We’ve got to stop.”  The girl fell to her knees at the foot of an ancient hickory.  “And I can’t go no more. Let them catch us.”
“Come on, Jessie.”  The boy grabbed the girl by the shoulder and jerked her upright. “There’s food up ahead. Someone’s making stew. Goddamn but that smells good!”
“I can’t smell nothing. Let’s rest a minute.”  She tried to stop again but Bud dragged her forward.
“A little further…over this way…past this thicket and…oh, shit!”
“What now, Bud?”
“Shit fire, Jessie! There ain’t nothing here.” Bud pulled Jessie out into the clearing. “Christ Almighty, I’m hungry!”
“Bud, don’t blaspheme. We’ve got troubles enough without you bringing the Lord down on us.”
“If he ain’t smoked us for stealing that car, chances are God ain’t gonna get his dick in a knot over the way I talk.”
“We wrecked that car, Bud.”
The boy walked to the center of the clearing and turned slowly, absorbing his surroundings.  Something was out there, some presence far more powerful than the tantalizing aromas of the phantom stewpot, and more dangerous than the police who would soon be stomping through the hills looking for him and Jessie. When his line of sight came to Jessie, Bud stopped. “Behind you,” he muttered.
Jessie wheeled about in fright. “What, Bud? What is it?”
“Graves? What graves?” Jessie’s fright was quickly turning into hysteria. “I can’t see no graves, Bud. There ain’t nothing there but them trees.”
“Five big hickories strung out there in a straight line.”
“And look at how tall they are.  These trees were planted at the same time.”  Bud walked over to the nearest hickory and placed his hands flat upon it, as if he were trying to push the giant over.  “These trees were planted to mark graves. People died here, Jessie.”
Bud pulled his hands from the tree and turned to face the frightened girl. “Some of the old farts who play dominoes in the pool hall all day like to talk about ghosts and haints. I’ve heard them say that if you plant a tree at the head of a grave, the person who died gets to live on through that tree. Five people died here. That must be who’s cooking.”
“Bud, I’m so scared that I think I’m going to get sick. Please don’t try to make me feel worse with some dumb ghost story.”
“It ain’t no damned story, Jessie.  Smell that stew!”
“Nobody’s cooking.  You hit your head awfully hard on the steering wheel.” Jessie reached a hand to his forehead, but Bud jerked back as if he had been bitten. “Bud, your eye is almost swollen shut, and there’s blood coming out of your ear.”
“I’m okay.”
“And your shirt is soaked in blood.”
“I’m fine, damn it!” Bud spun around and began weaving toward the hillside. There’s a spring over here somewhere. I just need some water and a little rest.” The youth suddenly dropped to his knees and crawled into a bramble. “Here it is! Get in here, Jessie. This is the best water I’ve ever tasted.”
“I’m not going to go crawling around in no bushes, Bud. There might be snakes in there.”
“If I find one we’re going to eat him.”  Bud backed out of the bramble and stood up. “Here,” he said offering his cupped hand to her lips. “Drink this.”
Jessie let the cool liquid run down her throat.  “It is good.  How did you know where that spring was, Bud?”
“I don’t know. I guess maybe I heard it, or smelled it. I just…I just knew it was there, that’s all.”  The boy was beginning to shake badly as he put his arm across Jessie’s shoulder for support.
“Oh, Bud, you’re hurt bad.”  She led the way over to a group of stones at the base of the hill. “Let’s sit for a minute while I try to figure out what to do.  I just wish it weren’t so wet and cold.”
Bud stood up and began walking around inside of the old foundation. “It’s not cold, Jessie, not here.”
“You’ve got a fever.”
“No, it’s not that. There are ghosts here, they’re cooking and it’s warm. The food is over here somewhere.” He took a few paces and stopped in front of where the ancient cooking hearth once stood.  “Here it is, Jessie. Smell that wonderful stew.”
“Bud, you’re scaring the fool out of me. No one is cooking, and there ain’t no ghosts.”
“You’re wrong.  Look at the hickories.  This whole valley feels like a cemetery.”
Jessie turned back toward the clearing and saw that the mighty guards of the clearing were beginning to sway back and forth in the cold, damp, and very still night.

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