Fragments and signposts

Two notes:

1) A Rag and Bone story’s been picked up by a quarterly anthology out of Ottawa. Watch this space for more.

2) I’ve got something new bouncing through my head. It’s a little bit Orpheus, a little bit Silver John and a little bit of a murder ballad. So, we’ll see.

1.

In a small, quiet house near a large, quiet graveyard, the Dead Man’s Whore puts out her red lantern.

It’s Friday, after all. The eagle’s flying, and old habits are hard to break.

The Dead Man’s Whore looks at herself in the mirror, sees cornflower blue irises swallowed whole by eightballed pupils. She brushes rouge over blue-white cheeks, traces cold blue lips with hot-red lipstick and smiles, baring long, strong teeth at a world that needs gnawing every now and again.

 She hasn’t aged since the dead man took her. She’s gotten old and cold and stiff in that time, but she still looks like a flower plucked in her prime.

She worries that she may never die.

 

2.

She remembers walking through the woods in high summer. The jar flies screamed in the still, hot air and she sang for lack of anything else to do.

She couldn’t remember where she was going or why, but she could hear the screams grow silent as she began singing the old song.

My husband was a railroad man
killed a mile and a half from here.
His head was found in a driver’s wheel
and his body ain’t never been found.

As she walked, she felt the shadows grow sharp edges and the sunlight become muted and powdery. She could hear slow creaking and the steady tap of hail from the woods. She jumped as something landed on her head and fell on the path. She looked down and saw a jar fly, coated in frost and cracked where it had fallen.

The creaking grew louder as she walked, and she could hear whispers from the branches.

She sang, because she knew not to stop.

Young girl, young girl, where will you go
I’m going where the cold wind blows
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine
I will shiver the whole night through.

She heard a quiet wheeze behind her on the path, smelled old hair oil and rotting meat. She could hear a cold, dry hand scrape over cold, dry stubble, hear him lick his lips slightly.

“Young girl, young girl, don’t lie to me,” it said, each word landing like a shovel in wet dirt. “Tell me, where did you sleep last night?”

And she ran.

She left the path, stumbling over twisting, exposed roots and slipping on dark, thick patches of moss. Strangled voices from the trees shouted as she passed.

She ran deeper into the woods until she reached a tall tree next to a wide, dark creek. The tree’s branches were heavy with bound men, heavy black shoes kicking slightly. She turned and saw the haint, drum-tight gray skin stretching over its face in a pitiless grin, patting back its greasy hair as it walked toward her. She looked at the river and saw bodies float by.

The haint scratched its bony, bare chest under its overalls with thick, yellow nails, looking down at her.

“Heard you sing, my darlin’ gal,” it said. “My crops need tended, my dinner needs cooked and my bed’s so cold, my darlin’ gal. You get on home, my darlin’ gal.”

She closed her eyes and ran toward the sound of cold water, feeling it close over her head.

She felt calm and cold as her vision dimmed and, unbidden, the words drifted through her mind. In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine/and I shivered the whole night through.

And then she felt a strong hand grab her by the hair and drag her out of the water.

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