|Burn the witch.|
In Defiance of the Witch
Jamey studied the trail, finding it hard to believe the tract of Canadian wilderness was his property. He also found it hard to believe his father was dead. It all seemed unreal, hard to grasp, even the sun above as it surfed toward evening through a pristine sky of blue. Lowering his gaze, he saw Luela come to a halt up the path. A white cloud caught the sun and it became a fleece full of gleams above her. A dusting of early twilight sprinkled out of the light canopy of boughs, tinting her bikini-clad body with blue. Silver flashed in her long dark hair and she moved like a fallen angel of some alien Rubens -- with smooth ease, she tossed a heap of pine boughs out of the way.
As Jamey stepped closer, he spotted the axed end of one of the boughs and began to wonder who could have cut them. Luela turned to face him, her brow cool despite the effort. Even from several yards away, Jamey could read the invitation in her eyes. Arousal lightened his step and he had the strange feeling that his genitals were as blue as her tinted flesh.
Luela's full lips, breasts and hips were fresh springs - secret fountains of love he had to drink from and drown in. When they rose from the duff, salty sweat had stolen some of her purity. Jamey kept her in his arms, and now his genitals really were blue - tinted and softly swollen. He took in the perfume of her hair as he brushed needles and leaf dust from her moist thighs. Life was easy with Luela; he couldn't imagine it any other way.
“Someone's been out here,” Luela said. “I hope they're not watching.”
“This area is totally isolated. My father must've been out here just before he died.”
They slipped on their swimsuits, shorts and T-shirts, and then they moved ahead on the path. It narrowed to an almost invisible rabbit run then widened to the size of a cow path. The cow path only ran for a short distance before spilling out into a clearing. Such a celebration of sunset color was in the sky that if one had synesthesia it would've sounded like Beethoven at his grandest.
A burial mound stood at the center of the clearing and the end of a faint trail. They both looked around as they approached it, but nothing else of interest was to be found, just tall grass, weeds and the screen of evergreens at the perimeter.
On a dimmer day they would've been spooked, but the sunset was so bright today the clearing was tinted with uplifting colors. A few yards from the mound, they halted and surveyed it. It was smoothly formed, almost like a breast, and covered with young grasses and weeds. Chestnuts, acorns and bound tufts of sweetgrass were sprinkled at its bottom. The whole thing wore a skirting of fresh-cut pine boughs.
“It's a beautiful mound,” Luela said, “but I can't imagine what it could be for.”
“It's not old Cree or Iroquois. It's a simulacrum of a burial mound that my father must've made as part of his anthropological work.”
A pale white object protruded partway up the mound. It caught Luela's eye, she nudged Jamey and they climbed the soft bank.
The object was a tiny doll's hand. Luela took it in hers and pulled gently. It popped like a wine cork. She giggled and Jamey reached down and stuck his fingers in the earth. He worked around the doll and yanked it out, sending a spray of earth down the mound.
As a doll it was uninteresting; in fact it was a man in a blue suit. His tiny silver ring struck Jamey as familiar, but the plastic face had been burned and melted to a featureless hole.
Dizziness came upon him suddenly and he leaned against Luela. He tried to say something but his voice failed and the words came out as a choke. Staggered, he looked up at the blazing sunset, and it suddenly darkened. He saw his father's withered, brown face in the shield of twilight above the mound. Shock staggered him and he slipped backward and rolled down with the doll in his hand. Luela stumbled and dashed down to him, but he couldn't see her; he came up on his knees and saw a big silver wheel spinning in the sky. Tires screeched; a glass-spilling crash and the doll gained a glowing face. He was compelled to look; it was his pal Dan, his expression ghastly. A scream tore the tiny face then it burst into flames.
An explosion made tinsel of the big wheel and a line of silver blew through the trees. Possessed by the premonition, Jamey got up, ducked past Luela and raced off, following a vision of silver. Not knowing why, he ran on, crashing through bushes, kicking up duff until he reached the highway.
Horns blared and drivers dodged Jamey as he ran into town. A ribbon of silver hummed under his feet, giving him speed. A bell tower marked the center of town, and as he headed for it, he heard the terrible screech and crash again. Picking up speed he rounded the corner of Division Street. There the premonition ended at a patch of busted windshield crystal.
Exhaustion washed through to his bones and his stomach bit at him like a devil - he faltered and collapsed to the road, and when he lifted his head, he saw a farmer escaping from a pickup hung up on lamppost. Behind the stellated windshield of a new Chevy, he saw blood, a blue suit then flames.
The flames were tremendous, yet the fireball exploded in such a way that it snuffed itself out. Jamey rushed to the car, searing his hand as he forced the door open. Dan fell partway out and Jamey caught him and dragged him away from the wreck.
Safety was something he couldn't drag him to as he was already dead and his face was nothing but a hole -- a scorched mash of red, white, black and purple with a severed vein and a crisped slice of tongue protruding. Strangely enough his blue suit wasn't burned. Jamey dropped the corpse amid the gathering crowd, and then he fell to the blacktop and the total darkness of a blackout.
Death and funerals gave Jamey the feelingof being in a somber black-and-white movie like the old noir films. Like his father, he had distaste for all things formal. Dan had enjoyed all things formal and he would have enjoyed his own funeral. Grim sobriety and hopeless strength, there are men who are too serious, and they pay the price when a thread unravels and the fabric of their perfect world is torn. Jamey looked at the burnished coffin and figured that sudden death was better for Dan . . . but that was probably because he saw Dan's life as a dream that could only end in tragedy.
Luela moved to his side. She was a spirit of color in the lingering gloom, and he felt his blood warm as she led him out of the church. The sky was like the rolling brow of an old gray god; a god who had left the churchyard and adjoining graveyard drained to a landscape of ashes and crumbled stone in his dim vision.
“Do you see them?” Jamey said.
“See who?” Luela said.
“The weird people I told you about. The ones I saw at my dad's funeral. They're here.”
Luela studied the graveyard. “Now that you mention it, those people shouldn't be there in the graveyard, not ahead of the reverend, the pallbearers and the deceased.”
Jamey watched as they moved toward the open grave; gray, shambling men and women - the sort that could blend into any crowd.
“I saw some of them at my father's wake and funeral. When you ask them exactly who they are you find they're acquaintances so distant that they're not acquaintances at all. They give me the creeps - people who hang-out at funerals.”
“More likely it's grief and imagination,” Luela said. “No people are morbid enough to be graveyard groupies.”
Sunshine as bright as trumpetscame in the morning, and being a country girl at heart Luela was happy to see the last of their new furniture arrive. She had everything arranged; all Jamey had to do was guide the men in and show them where to place the stuff. Twenty minutes later, they were closing up the truck. As far as Luela was concerned, her past was in it - she was now settled down. In town, the rumors were that she was too wild to make a good wife, but she knew better than rumors.
As an afterthought, Jamey decided to check the mail before going inside. There was a pile of letters and they were mostly junk mail, but in spite of that, he tossed them from hand to hand, juggling them like a happy child as he went up the walk.
Luela took the letters and sat down at a wicker table she was using for her mail sorting. “This is interesting,” she said. “A letter from Dan. He must've sent it just before the accident.”
Jamey was a touch bemused, looking on as she took the opener and sliced the flap.
“Here we go,” she said as she folded open the letter. “'Dearest Luela, Now that Jamey and I are dead I thought I would explain--'“
Jamey's eyes widened as he watched Luela grow pale and fall across the table. Mail spilled to the floor. Quick as a thief, he snatched up the letter and read the rest.
Behind them the mound rose like a healthyswelling of the fertile earth; they had walked out to the clearing more out of nervousness than anything else. So unsettling was Dan's letter that Luela couldn't sit still.
“I'm going to check on that letter. It might be a forgery, a prank. It doesn't make sense. I mean Dan being in love with you but never saying so, then planning to kill me - and himself. No one can be in love and keep it a secret - not in a small town.”
“He always gave me weird looks,” Luela said, “but I didn't know it was crazy love he had for me. And it wasn't a complete secret - your father knew.”
“How do you mean?”
“I think your father studied so much witchcraft in the course of his work that he became like a witch himself. He built the mound and he made the doll of Dan. Before the cancer got him he cursed Dan, killed him with a voodoo doll so you would live.”
Silence ensued and they strolled toward the far side of the clearing. The morbid truth rose in their minds and made a skull's mockery of the noontime idyll. At the edge of the clearing, they saw something interesting - just beyond the narrow band of evergreens there was another clearing.
They looked at one another then stepped through the trees. It was a field of small mounds with a few stunted evergreens. The mounds were very old and a longer look revealed some broken gravestones. In most cases, they were only heaps of bleached stone piled on the humps. It became obvious that this was a very old abandoned graveyard and one where the graves had swollen over time.
A cloud carried a fan of sunbeams across the screen of trees, illumining the far end of the graveyard and some figures in baggy clothing moving around a mound.
“It's them,” Jamey said. “The funeral creeps.”
Luela shielded her eyes and saw that it was some of the same clumsy, unattractive people she'd seen at the funeral.
“Funny how they're all cast from the same mold,” he said. “Maybe they're one big creepy family.”
Jamey was more angry than frightened as they set off through the mounds. He intended to put the morbid poachers off his land. The fact that the creeps were tenacious and didn't move when they saw him caused his anger to grow.
When Jamey was almost on them, they stirred and congregated on the far side of a grave they had dug up. Even in bright sunlight, they had grayish skin, rheumy eyes and lifeless hair.
With his full attention on the poachers, Jamey didn't notice what was in the open grave, but Luela, who was following timidly at his heels, did. She screamed, grabbed his shoulder, dug in her nails and refused to let go.
As she shivered on him like a thorn branch, he glanced to the grave. A horribly mutilated corpse was lying in the wet dirt. It was Dan's corpse and the front of his suit was torn open. His organs had been removed, leaving him with the look of a gutted fish. A featureless mask covered his damaged face. Jamey knew that Dan's organs had been donated, so the ghouls couldn't have stolen them, but they had still desecrated the corpse.
“You filthy ghouls!” Jamey yelled. “Why did you drag the body here?”
“He called to us,” said a hatchet-faced, scarecrow-thin man. “We're trying to bring him back to life here in the witch's graveyard . . . back to life in defiance of the witch who destroyed him.”
“See how he longs for you,” said a crone wearing a dress as colorless as burlap.
Dan's right hand had grown gnarled like a claw. As Jamey watched it convulsed, opening and closing.
But Jamey's anger didn't melt to fear. He pulled a strand of silver from his pocket. “The witch's graveyard is my inheritance,” he said. “And you'll do nothing in defiance of me!”
Luela continued to shiver. The strand of silver spun, becoming a wheel in Jamey's hand. The corpse quivered, and at first, the ghouls were dumbfounded, then they shielded their eyes and began to cry in pain as they stumbled away from the flash of the talisman and the corpse rising to pursue them.
. . . . . . . . . . .