Archive for: August, 2012

Decay By Eric Kruger

Aug 26 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

The one thing you never get used to is the screaming. The smell is so awful most people throw up the first few times, but the screaming is torture. It sounds exactly the way you think it would. Imagine someone slowly dying and their flesh falling from their bones while they are still alive. Now imagine them screaming through that pain. I don’t have to imagine it. I am hearing it right now. Inside the small room everyone is trying to stay sane, but the screaming is overwhelming every thought. Sleeping is almost impossible. We haven’t eaten in two days and our water is all but gone. Four days ago we thought we were lucky to have escaped our previous ordeal, but we counted our chickens too early. Within minutes we were surrounded and had to run for our lives. We barricaded ourselves into the first seemingly suitable shack. There was no time to replenish our reserves or scout the area. They caught us at our most vulnerable. At first we thought we might have eluded them, as it was quite for what seemed like an eternity. But the screaming started to build and has not stopped. Looking around the room I can see it written on everyone’s faces – the end is near.

Waiting it out and not doing anything was so frustrating in the beginning. A lot of people died because they thought they were heroes. Everyone wanted to step up and save the world. A lot of people died. The authorities tried to stop the infected from harming others by deadly force. It looked like it might work for a while, but they couldn’t be everywhere all the time and people took matters into their own hands. Suddenly neighbours shot each other for having the flu. Total anarchy ensued. Some people tried to ride it out, some just ran and others just disappeared. Nothing of the lives we knew was left. Cities were burning, people were dying and corpses were walking the street.

“We just need to stick it out for one more day” I try to say with confidence. Sam just looks at me. He hasn’t spoken in two days. At 71 he is the oldest one of us and also the weakest. Looking at Sam I know he is not coming with us this time. Next to Sam Julie is trying to sleep. Her eyes are closed but every time the screaming reaches a fever pitch she twitches. When I met Sam and Julie a month ago I thought they were father and daughter. The way Julie was taking care of him and the way he was trying protect her would have fooled anyone. I was alone at the time and running for my life. I ran in to the back of a small house just as they ran into the front. We almost collided. We immediately realised we were all clean and started to run up the stairs. Before we even got to the rooms upstairs the smell of decaying flesh filled the house. The smell of death, so thick you could feel it forcing its way down your throat, choking you. Sam and Julie reached the room first and I glanced back just before they slammed the door behind me. Four corpses were coming up the stairs, dropping their flesh as they went along.  The first one looked the freshest and was still pretty much intact. It couldn’t have been more than a day old. Its skin was still tight from the bloating and there was no visible fluids leaking. The three behind it was pretty old, maybe three days. They have lost most of their faces and were moving pretty slowly. They didn’t have much time left. Within a day they would be decomposed to a state of slush and bones on the carpet. The fresh one was the problem. If there was no escape route, we would be stuck here for at least three more days. I always carried enough supplies on me to cover me for five days, but I did not know what Sam and Julia had on them or how well prepared they were. I totally underestimated them.

Mark is sitting with his hands on is ears, rocking back and fro. It sounds like he is singing to himself, but I can’t be sure. The screaming is getting pretty loud again, which is good. The louder they scream the closer they are to the end. I walk over to Sam and give him some of my last water. “Here Sam, drink some water. We’ll get out of here tomorrow. Then I’ll refill my bottle.” Sam’s eyes say thanks, but his cracked lips are silent. Julie takes the bottle from me and gives some water to Sam. I owe Sam my life and hate to see him die like this.

The moment the door slammed shut Julie and Sam were running through the room grabbing the bed and some boxes to barricade the door. They didn’t say a word, yet worked as one. When the door was secured Sam went to the window and locked it. Julie came over to me. “My name is Julie and that’s Sam. Did any of those creeps touch you?” I know what she was getting at and why we haven’t made a run for it yet. A new corpse is a big threat, since it has all the strength of the person it was, without any restrain. If they bit or scratched me, I would die within twelve hours and be up and chasing humans again in another two. If Julie and Sam where still in my vicinity, I would be a threat to them. “No, they didn’t put a finger on me. You guys?” Sam just ignored my question and spoke to Julie. “So, it’s getting pretty dark. We are pretty secure here. We have enough provisions. I say we wait till daylight and decide then if we stay or bail” So we waited. Sam was pretty quiet, but Julie talked all night. I think she tried to drown out the corpse at the door, but I enjoyed the company anyway. She and Sam was not related, but met up about three months ago. Sam saw three corpses trying to get into a building screaming their heads off. He knew something was up. He locked himself up in the house across the road and saw them break through the door. He yelled through the window and threw stuff at them until they started to bang on his door. He saw a pretty girl run from the house right into the one next door. Sam thought that it was a pretty smart move from the girl considering that night was falling. Two days later Sam and Julie formally met.

I realise that Mark is not singing. At first I think he’s just humming, but then I start to hear the words “idonwannadie, idonwannadie, idonwannadie”, over and over again. I go and sit next to Mark. He keeps rocking, but glances up at me. “Hey. You ready to get out of here in a few hours?” I try to sound as relaxed as possible. Mark looks at me with his big puffy face. “You reckon we’s be out here soon?” The only reason Mark is still alive is because of his size. I have seen him throw a corpse across a room, splattering it against a wall. I don’t think he can even read or write, but right now that is not a skill anyone can use; throwing corpses five meters through the air is. Soon we’ll rely on him again.

After two days Sam, Julie and I left our safe room. There were a total of four corpses piled up outside the door. We treaded carefully around the sticky pile of decomposing flesh, making sure not to touch any.  As careful as I was, I slipped on a bone and started to fall. Hitting the ground, breaking my skin and touching the corpses remaining fluids would be a death sentence. I felt my feet staring to give away under me and gravity claiming my body. As quickly as it was happening I was thinking what a dumb way it was to go. I have transformed myself from a geeky bookworm to a survivalist who could look after himself and help those he met. Countless times I surprised myself with my new found strength and cunning. And although the end of the world was looming, I was rising above it. Or so I thought, until I stepped on a stupid, dumb shiny bone. Death by tripping. I felt my body hitting the ground, but it was at an awkward angle. Something was wrong. I opened my eyes and realised I was lying against the wall next to the pile of deadly remains. Sam was bracing himself against the opposite wall. Julie was looking at me with bewildered eyes. “Huh?” I uttered in disbelief, not comprehending my victory over fate. “Sam, you ok?” Julie asked. He was holding his wrist. “Yeah yeah. Tell your boyfriend to keep his eyes open.” Sam started down the stairs. “I’m not sure what just happened,” I admitted to Julie. “I think Sam just saved your ass. He pushed you away from the gunk as you were falling”

Sunlight is creeping in through the cracks in our barricades. We will have to do something now. Sam is lying way too still and Mark has stopped rocking. All is quite inside and out. We will have to do something now. I shuffle over to Sam and Julie. I touch his arm. It is too cold. Julie just looks at me with no life in her eyes. What I am about to do will save us and make her hate me forever. I crawl over to Mark. “Hey Mark, it’s time to get out of here. I will need you to do me a favour. Will you help me?” He just nods slowly. Outside I can still hear them scratching against the walls. I am getting dehydrated and my head is pounding. We will have to do something now.

The three of us were together for a month when we saw Mark. He was sitting on a park bench. We assumed it was a corpse, but we kept an eye on him for an hour without noticing any movement. We decided to go and inspect him up close. Sam said to let him be, but we were curious. As we got close we heard him hum and realised we made a huge mistake. In front of him, hidden from our vantage point, were about six corpses scattered on the ground. Just as we turned to run he looked up, and as if nothing could be more normal said, “I’m Mark. Are you gonna try to bite me?” I laughed for the first time in months.

“Julie, we need to go now. I know you love Sam, but he’s not with us anymore. But he is still going to help us. Even now he is still going to help you live”.  Julie looks at me as if I am talking in another language. I swallow hard, but my throat just closes up more. Sam is dead and we need to get out, now. “Julie I am going to do something you are not going to like and I need you to be strong and run when I say run and not turn around. You have to promise me that you will do that. For Sam.” Her eyes are confused, but she shakes her head yes. I stand up on weak legs and shuffle over to Mark. I already told him the plan and he knows what to do. I squeeze his arm and we walk over to Julie and Sam. Mark bends down and picks up Sam’s body. Tears start to run down Julies face. I walk her over to the furthest door away from Mark and Sam. I nod at Mark and he turns away from us facing the window. The corpses are screaming again. Julie joins them as Marks lifts Sam’s body and throws it through the window. The corpses run towards it and start to tear the flesh from his frail body. I grab Julie and we run as fast as we possibly can.

END

 

 

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Some Things Can Wait by Gregg Winkler

Aug 19 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

The nurses will tell you that I didn’t put up a fight when they told me that Art Jenks was moving in because I’m an old softy, but that’s not the reason.  There were two reasons.  One, even though he’s nearly ten years younger, the man reminded me of my grandpa (especially there at the end, when the Alzheimer’s had stripped him of the Sheriff’s badge in a way that retirement never could).  And two, with his deteriorating health, I figured having Art as a roommate might mean not having a roommate for long.  However, if I had known then how much he liked to talk over my TV shows, I might have put up more of a fight.

I’ve had my own room for the better part of two years.  I’ve come to think of those old gray walls as mine.  The television, the shaggy beige carpet, the closet with the old Norman Rockwell calendar (still turned to last March) hanging on its door – all of it was mine.  It may not seem like much to some, but to me, it was home.  There were threats over the years that I’d have to share the room with others, but the one good thing about winding up in the Med Center:  there’s an ever rotating roster of residents.

The Med Center was the place at the Guiding Light Retirement Center where the terminal residents go to wait for death.  It was full of your dementia patients, your Alzheimer’s, your terminal cancer patients, guys like me, with end-stage renal failure who need daily dialysis.  Some of us last longer than others, but this is the end of the road.  When you’re discharged from the Med Center, you’re discharged for good.

Art, you could tell, was ready for discharge from the moment he was admitted.  He spent his days wandering the halls.  Sometimes he’d poke his head inside a room and ask if anyone had seen his wife.  Folks would say no, and he’d nod, thank them, and then move on to next room, stopping occasionally to cough into a white handkerchief.

One morning, I overheard the nurses talking.  Art’s wife had died years ago.  On occasion, when Art gets really worked up about finding his wife, you’ll see one of the nurses take him up the hall to an examination room.  Minutes later, he would return, red-eyed and somber.  I try to imagine what it must be like for him, to hear that the love of his life has died.  God knows going through it once is too much, but to have to do so every couple of days… Let’s just say I can understand why Art was in such a hurry to get out of the Med Center.

He spent the first evening unpacking two boxes of belongings, almost exclusively clothes.  In one box, he had an old black and white photograph of he and his wife, standing in front of an old Buick, holding each other, his eyes on the camera, and hers beaming up at him.  He sat the photograph on the end table next to his bed.

Later, when the night nurses came in for the final rounds of the night, he was very pleasant and slipped into bed without a complaint.  But once the nurses were gone, Art rolled toward me and whispered, “Jessie –” That’s not my name.  “Jessie, will you stay up and keep watch until I go to sleep?”

I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t tell him that my name was Carl, not Jessie.  I didn’t say that I’d stay awake, either.  I just watched him, trying to imagine what it was like to have all your memories caught up in a tornado, whipping around and around, mixing together, landing here and there, scattered all over the place.  He fell asleep while I tried figuring him out.

The next day, after breakfast, I asked him who Jessie was.

“Jessie?  He’s my older brother.  Works for Caddo Electric.  He’s their purchasing agent.  He’s been there for years…”  Art went on, but I tuned out for most of it.  The Price is Right was on, and I never miss The Price is Right.

Every night after that was the same with Art, and every night, I would sit up in bed until he fell asleep.  That is, until the night he pissed me off by ruining my favorite TV show, Deal or No Deal, by babbling on about some sports car he intended to buy.  When he finally climbed into bed and said, “Jessie, can you watch me until I fall asleep?”  I threw my blankets up over my head and rolled over facing the far wall.  I refused, and I fell asleep listening to him whimper like a child.

But then, in the night, the screaming started.

It jerked me out of my sleep the way it would when one of my own children would scream in the middle of the night many years ago.  I rolled over, and there was Art, sitting up against the headboard of his bed, holding the coverlet up to his chin.  He was crying big sloppy tears down his stubbly cheeks, but his eyes were wide open, staring past the foot of his bed.

“What is it?” I asked, but when Art tried to speak, he only stuttered, and began to cry harder.  “What?  What’s the matter?”  I swung my legs out of bed.

He straightened one finger from the grip on his blanket, and pointed toward the closet.  My eyes followed, and my jaw dropped.

The closet door was open, and swirling out of it was a thick, black smoke like the kind that rises from an old greasy candle, except thicker.  It rolled upon itself on the floor like a thick, diaphanous worm.

Then, in the smoke, suddenly everything became perfectly clear.  There was a hand.  I recognized that hand immediately – even the thick layer of grease underneath the one remaining fingernail — the tips of the middle, ring, and little finger having been severed at the knuckles years ago in a scrap yard accident.  That hand, with its black oily thumb and singed wrist hair, reached out, grasped the sides of the closet door.

Then, my eyes went all hazy, and the hand was gone.  Just smoke again.  I blinked my eyes hard.  The smoke seemed to be rolling slowly toward Art’s bed.

Moving faster than I have in years, I jumped to my feet, wishing I had my old Louisville Slugger.  I ran over and slammed the closet door shut, cutting the rolling smoke in half.  The half inside the room, twisting on the floor, spasmed and then evaporated.

Art wailed.  I went over and sat beside him on his bed.  He reached out and wrapped his boney arms around my neck.  “Thank you, Jessie.  It almost got me that time.”

“It’s okay,” I said, and ruffled his hair.

We sat that way for a while, him hugging my neck, and me letting him.  I couldn’t get the image of that hand out of my head.  Old Pete Doogin’s hand.  In 1918, before I was born, my grandpa arrested Pete Doogin for the disappearance of Emily Shoate.  By 1932, when I was ten years-old, Doogin was back in town, working at the same old scrap yard where a massive sewer pipe fell on his hand, cutting the tips of his fingers off.  When I was kid, we used to tell each other stories about crazy old, Pete Doogin, about how he used to sit there at the old scrap yard and shoot at the rats, eating them raw for supper.

My friends and I cut through the scrap yard on our way home from school one day, and Pete Doogin started screaming and chasing after us.  Knowing what he did to that little girl, we ran.  There were five of us all together, and we were all pretty fast runners, except for Gary Stufflebeam on account he had asthma.  Pete Doogin grabbed Gary and pushed him down into the dirt, holding him there with that mangled hand of his.  The other kids ran on, jumping the fence, but I ran back, pushing him off Gary.  He was probably drunk, cause he didn’t just stumble backward, but fell all the way over, rolling in the dust.  By the time he was back on his feet, though, I was helping Gary over the fence.  Pete Doogin ran full speed into that fence, grabbing it with his mangled hands and shouting at me that he knew who I was.  He said I’d better stay the hell out or he’d crack us up – me and my fool grandpa.  I looked back, looking straight into the black hole of his mouth, at the rotting teeth and blackish tongue.  I had never been more scared before or since.

I remember running straight to the Sheriff’s station, where I found Grandpa staring out the window.  “Grandpa, it was Pete Doogin!”  He spun around and looked down at me, and I can still remember that blank expression on his face.  That evening, he went out to the scrap yard and had a talk with Pete Doogin, telling him to stay away from us kids.  Pete Doogin never said anything to me after that, but any time I saw him in town, he’d sneer at me with those nasty black teeth.

I think even then, my grandpa was showing some of the signs of the Alzheimer’s that would slowly eat up his brain.  In those days, it wasn’t much.  He lost things, forgot names, sometimes got upset with us for asking so many questions.  Eventually though, it got so bad he didn’t know any of us.  When grandma sat him down for supper, he’d apologize for not having the money to pay her, as though he was eating at some diner rather than his own home.  At the end, he was stuck in a bed, and when we visited, he would stare at us, and ask who we were.  By that time, he was barely even a shell of the man who wore the Sheriff’s uniform.  Maybe that was why Art reminded me so much of the old man.  Maybe I saw a lot in him that I saw in grandpa.

When Art was finally settled down enough to sleep, I stood up and walked back to bed.  On my way, I caught my reflection in the mirror, and stopped.  I had expected to see my old baseball cap, but instead, there was just my pink scalp.  Instead of the bright eyes of a twelve year-old, there were the bloodshot, weary eyes of an old man.

The next day, Art didn’t seem too concerned about the black smoke that rolled out of the closet.  When I asked him about the hand, he acted like I was the crazy one.  The lucky bastard had forgotten all about the night before.  He forgot that evil smoke drifting out of the closet in the same way he forgot that his wife had passed away.  I, however, could not forget, and I fretted about what I had seen the next day during dialysis.

The next night, when Art rolled over and asked if I’d watch over him until he had fallen asleep, I nodded my head, and sat up in bed so I wouldn’t be tempted to drift off.  I watched until I could hear his labored snores, and then I slipped out of bed, and pushed the uncomfortable, orange chair in front of the closet, right underneath the Norman Rockwell calendar.  Then I slipped back into bed, and slept fitfully, waking up occasionally to stare at the closet.

And that was our new routine until the day my blood pressure bottomed out after my dialysis appointment.  Normally, I’m hypertensive, so when my blood pressure dropped, my doctor admitted me to the hospital for observation.  I protested.  I told them I was fine, that I could go back to the Med Center, but they admitted me anyway.  As my blood pressure began to come back up, I told them “See, nothing to worry about!” But still, they refused to release me.  They told me it was for my own good, that it was dangerous for end-stage renal failure patients to suffer such a dip in their blood pressure.

After dinner, in a desperate attempt to make some difference, I called Guiding Light and asked to be rang through to my room.  Without me there to irritate, there was a good chance Art would be out wandering the halls, looking for his wife.  But he was there.  He answered on the third ring.

“Art!  It’s me!  You’ve got to get the orange chair in front of the closet!” I shouted into the phone.  It was the first time I’d said anything about it out loud, and I knew how crazy the words sounded as they left my lips.

“Who is this?” Art said.  I could picture him in my mind – his brow creased, confused, maybe on the verge of getting angry.

I almost told him it was Carl, but I knew he wouldn’t know who I was.  So in a moment of inspiration, I said, “It’s Jessie.  It’s your brother, Jessie.”

The line went very quiet long enough for me to think that maybe Art had hung up on me.  Then he said, “Who is this?”

“It’s Jessie,” I said again.

“This isn’t Jessie,” Art said.  “Jessie’s been dead more than ten years.  What kind of joke is this – ”

“No Art, listen – it’s Carl!  It’s your roommate – ”

“This isn’t funny!” Art shouted into the phone.  “What kind of sick person would think this is funny?”  Art began babbling, but I could only make out fragments of words.  He was angry.  And I couldn’t blame him, and when the phone clicked loudly in my ear, I sighed into my chest feeling like I had just betrayed my best friend.

I thought about calling back later; that perhaps he would forget about this phone call, and believe me when I tell him who I am later.  But there were no guarantees in that.  So I decided to make a break for it.

I slipped out of bed.  I tore the blood pressure cuff off my arm and dropped it on the bed, then pulled the wires that led to the little white circles on my chest.  I grabbed my shirt off the chair next to the bed, but couldn’t find my shoes (they were in a plastic bag in the closet, I later discovered).  I threw the shirt over my shoulders and was buttoning it as fast as I could as I sneaked out of my room and down the hall.

I followed the “Exit” signs that hung from the ceiling.  All I had to do was get outside, I thought.  Once I got outside, barefoot or not, I could hitch a ride, or if I had to, walk all the way to Guiding Light.  I walked as fast as I could.  I made it around one corner and was heading around another when I heard over the intercom, “We have a Code Yellow.  Code Yellow – male, 89 years, gray hair, five-foot eleven.”

I stopped buttoning my shirt, and tried to move my feet faster than they’d moved in decades.  I tried to bring them up into a jog, to just move myself faster, but my body would not cooperate.  And when I did get around the corner and could see the doors leading out to the parking lot, there were two women in white coats, a number of nurses in multi-colored scrubs, and a security guard waiting there.  “That’s him!” they said, and I tried to turn and outrun them, but I knew there was no point.

When they grabbed me, I said, “But I’ve got to get back!  It’ll get him if I don’t get back to help!”

“You gotta get back in bed,” the large, broad-chested security guard said.

“No, I’ve got to go back!  He needs me!”

As they put me back in my bed, wrapping the blood pressure cuff around my arm again, the nurse smiled and lied to me.  She told me everything would be okay.  It was what we said when telling the truth would make things worse.

My blood pressure climbed back to normal sometime in the middle of the night – normal for me, which meant a little high, but nothing to fret about.  Being after midnight (though the clock in the room was slow; showing ten minutes till), they had me stay the whole night.  I was discharged the next morning, and taken by ambulance back to Med Center.  By the time the nurse wheeled me back to my room, Art had been dead for several hours.

People in nursing homes die every day.  It happens in the Med Center two or three times a month.  It’s upsetting, sure, but it’s not surprising.  By the time I got there that morning, the nurses had already removed Art’s body, made his bed, and boxed up most of his belongings, including the photo of him and his wife.  I asked the nurse whether the closet door had been open that morning or not.  She couldn’t remember, but I know that it was open.

So that was it for Art.  He had finally caught up with his wife.

But even though he’s gone, some things haven’t changed.  At night, after the nurses have come in and given me my evening pills, I still push the old orange chair in front of the closet door.  Except now, I add a stack of books for more weight.  I sleep a bit more during the day, and at night, alone in my room, I watch the closet.  I lie there in my bed, and when the closet door begins to open, and the disfigured hand of Pete Doogin reaches out, I reach down beside my bed for my shoe.  So far, the chair’s holding, but every night, Pete Doogin pushes the door open a little further, telling me the whole time that he is going to crack me up when he gets out of there.  In the middle of the night, I find myself wanting to call out for Art, or for my grandpa, or for my own long gone wife.  But none of them are here anymore.  It’s just me.  And I think Pete Doogin knows that.  Once I grew up, I thought I’d left Pete Doogin behind, but the real boogeyman never goes away.  It waits.  Some things can wait.  It’s been waiting for this for seventy-five years.  It’s very patient.  It can wait a lifetime, but eventually, it’ll be time, and no orange chair pushed up against the closet is going to stop it.

 

 

Bio:  When not writing, Winkler splits his time between working for the U.S. government, teaching composition at a number of colleges in Northeastern Oklahoma, playing funky riffs on the bass guitar, and squeezing in some quality time with his beautiful wife and two sons.

 

 

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Brimstone by LEONARD JAMES

Aug 12 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

A stiff breeze cooled the sweat that clung to Garth’s forehead.  He lifted his Stetson and wiped his brow on the rolled up sleeve of his dusty grey shirt.  He’d never been accused of being tall.  In fact he was somewhat shorter than average.  Maybe that’s why he took to gun slinging.  Names like “Small Fry” and “Shorty,” fired his temper.  He’d started a lot of fights he was too small to finish…

…Until he learned to shoot.

No one mentioned his size now, at least not to his face.          Not if they knew him.  Garth McCants was a name most men feared.

Those that didn’t, learned respect at the nose of Garth’s Colt Peacemaker.

He wasn’t the fastest hand with a gun.  He’d faced faster and still lived, because he knew how to kill.

Trouble was, once your name gets around, you have to keep on killin’.  He’d sent twenty two men to hell with his Colt, nine of them were real gunfighters.

Number ten was waiting in the next town.

The challenge came by telegram, a first for Garth.  Most men came with itchy trigger fingers and a gut load of false courage.  There were others as well, killings Garth had been paid well for.

He’d have ignored this latest challenge—you never knew when a stray bullet might catch up with you—but fifty thousand dollars was hard to turn down.  Still, he was pretty well set for life.  He didn’t need the money.

If the telegram hadn’t been addressed to Shorty McCants he might have let it go.

The messenger had knocked once, tacked the telegram to Garth’s door, and run for the hills like the hounds of hell were yapping at his heels.

Luc Burns and his gang had a death wish, and Garth was going to grant it.  Carefully of course, he wasn’t stupid after all.  He wanted to live to spend his hard earned money.

The money weren’t no lie either.  Garth had checked on that first.  The bank manager at Colston had received a telegram as well.  A bank draft was left with Garth’s name on it.  He need only return with a set of ten special guns and the money was his.

His horse Brin—a five-year-old, bay mare of Montana stock—trotted along a half-seen trail that stretched into a purple and gold sunset.   Dust devils danced through scrub brush and cactus.

Brin slowed, as a lone tumbleweed rolled across their path.  Garth listened to the wind, hearing only the steady thud of Brin’s hooves thudding over the cracked hardpan.

If the telegram was right, Garth should be seeing the town pretty soon.

They pushed on through the sweltering heat.  Just as the top edge of the sun slipped below the horizon, the town appeared out of thin air, as if it had been hidden by the waves of heat rising out of the baked, red earth.  Garth pulled up on the reins with one hand and snatched the Colt from his holster.  He opened the loading gate and thumbed the wheel to the chamber he kept empty—Colts had a bad habit of going off in the holster.

Dropping the reins for a moment, he pulled a cartridge from his belt and loaded it in the empty chamber, then eased the hammer back slowly.

The challenge read: one man every hour from dusk till dawn, but some men weren’t above shooting a man in the back.    Garth pulled the holster up across his right thigh, slid the Colt back into place and nudged Brin onward.

A light twinkled ahead, then another.  A third light blinked on in line like orange stars hung low to the ground—pole lanterns were being lit along the main street.  Garth gathered the reins in his left hand, and rested his right hand on the smooth handle of his Colt, while Brin set a steady pace toward the lights.

The street was quiet as he rode in.  Beaded sweat turned cold as it trickled down Garth’s back.  His shoulder ached where he’d taken a bullet.  He felt someone watching and turned his head side to side.  People ducked into doorways and shuttered their windows.  A printed notice with his likeness drew his attention to the jail’s outer wall.

He pulled up on Brin’s reins and dismounted.  There were no warrants out on him.   He’d never drawn on an unarmed man.  Garth ripped the notice down and stared at it.  There were no words, at least none that he could read, only jagged lines with slashes and dots like chicken scratches at the top and bottom.

A hefty sheriff with a graying handle bar moustache opened the door.

Garth shoved the notice at arms length into the sheriff’s face.  “What’s the meaning of this?”

The sheriff laughed.  “That’s just ole Luc having some fun.  Said you might not take kindly to it.  Thought it was a good joke.”

“The graveyard’s full of funny men.  Where and when am I to meet this Luc and his boys?”

“Right here, but you got an hour ’fore the first un shows up.  The saloon’s open.  Drinks are on the town and there’s a friendly card game if you fancy your luck.”

Garth tipped his hat, turned back to Brin, grabbed her reins, and planted a foot in the stirrup to mount.  He was halfway up when the sheriff spoke again.

“Oh, I almos’ forgot.  Ol’ Amos is gonna ring the church bell ever’ hour when it’s time to start.”

Garth threw his leg over Brin, found his seat and nodded.  He pulled out his pocket watch.  7:05.  He had some time to kill.

He rode down Main Street a little easier than before.  Luc Burns seemed to be on the up and up.

It’s too bad he has to die.

A jaunty tune sashayed out of the saloon as Garth approached.  He slipped down, tied Brin to the hitching post, and pushed through the swinging doors.

He studied the room as he moseyed up to the bar.  “Whiskey.”

“Yes sir, Mr. McCants.  Luc says nothing, but the finest for you.”  The barkeep took out a dusty bottle of Kentucky Red and filled Garth’s shot glass.

It burned smoothly as he gulped it down and called for another. This one he sipped, as he turned and faced the room.

The music stopped and so did the card game in the back corner.  The only one not staring at Garth was the soiled dove who gathered mugs from an empty table.

“Send that pretty gal with a mug of beer and a couple cigars.” Garth said as he walked toward the game.

“If you’re hungry Mr. McCants, I got day old beans and ham stew.”

“That’ll be fine.  Send them as well.”

A spot opened for him at the table.  He pulled six sawbucks and a five dollar gold piece from his purse.  “What’s the game?”

“Stud with a dollar ante.”

“Deal me in.”

Garth won the first three hands, lost two, and won the next.  He refused to think of the fight to come.  Thinking too much made a man hesitate, worse than rushin’ a shot.   The one time he’d been hit was when he hesitated.

Of course he was glad he had.  He’d just killed a gunfighter who’d called him out.  A kid darted off the board walk and fell on the man, crying.  Garth started to turn away when he saw the kid grab and cock his father’s gun.  Garth could have put the boy down, right on top of his dead father, but…

He held up.

And got shot in the arm.

The eight year old boy threw the gun aside afterwards, and ran off.

Despite the blood dampening his sleeve, Garth had been relieved.   He didn’t want to kill no kid, but from then on he drew and fired at any gun pointed his way.   He’d learned his lesson.  No good deed ever gets unpunished.

Garth shook off the memory and picked up the cards the dealer flung his way.

Ace of diamonds.

Ace of spades.

Eight of diamonds.

Eight of clubs and, last of all, eight of hearts.

Aces and eights.

BONG.

BONG.

BONG.

Dead man’s hand.

Garth threw his cards in, stood, and stared death at the dealer.

The man shrank under his gaze, looked to the table, and finally at Garth’s cards.  The dealer gasped.

Garth collected his winnings without a word and headed out, as the last bell of the hour shivered into silence.

A man stood by the pole-lantern just beyond the sheriff’s office.  The gunfighter had on a black split-tail duster with boots to match.  A wide-brimmed Stetson, kept his face hidden in shadows.

Who did this guy think he was?  

The sheriff stood to the side twiddling a gold coin.  He looked up as Garth drew even with the light. “That’s far enough Mr. McCants.  I’m gonna toss this coin way up.  When it hits the dirt, draw as if your life depends on it.”  He grinned, showing all five of his worn yellow teeth.  “It does.”

The coin spun catching the light, rising and falling like a man’s luck.  Garth thought he saw a golden skull with burning eyes on the coin’s face, before it bounced in a tiny cloud of dust.

Garth drew and fired, but there was no flash from the other man who stood his ground.  The shot should have taken him down.

Garth fired two more plugs into the stranger.

He still didn’t fall.  The pole lantern showed the burned holes in the man shirt where the bullets had passed through but there was no blood dripping from the wounds.  The gunfighter tilted his head back and the lantern caught the ghost-pale face of a gunslinger Garth had killed a year ago.  Hellfire burned in the man’s eyes.

Time stood still as he drew a silver barreled pistol from his holster.

Garth fired twice more, targeting the silver gun. The bullets struck, knocking the gun from the shooter’s hand, but not before a single shot left its muzzle.  Blazing brimstone lit a trail as a slug burrowed into the dirt at Garth’s feet.  Liquid fire bubbled out of the hole it made in the earth.

Garth’s mouth went dry. His heart pounded in his chest. “What the hell…?”

He looked up.  The first ghost had vanished.

A flash of silver caught the light as the sheriff picked up the dead man’s gun by the barrel and brought it to Garth.  “That was pretty fair shootin’ Mr. McCants.  Next duel’s in an hour at the bell.  See ya then.”

Garth dropped the gun where he stood and hurried back to Brin.  He grabbed the reins, stepped into the stirrup, and had her moving toward the edge of town before he got his seat.

The sheriff only laughed, as Garth galloped by.

The ground shook at the edge of town.

Brin reared, throwing Garth from her back.

The road split beneath her, revealing the river of fire below.  Yellow-red flames flared out.  Burning horse hair caught the wind as clawed hands reached out of the fire and seized Brin.   Her screams died as they pulled her beneath the bubbling flames.

Sulfur burned tears from Garth’s eyes.  Brin!”

“I’d pick up that pistol if I were you.  You’re gonna need them all if you want to leave town.”  The sheriff laughed, and whether it was a trick of the light or something else, a gleam of fire danced in the sheriff’s eyes before he turned and headed back into his office.

Garth backed from the cracked earth, absently dusting the road off his britches. He chewed over the spot he was in.   He couldn’t leave now, but the duels ended at dawn.  Maybe he didn’t have to fight.  Surviving was enough.

He stopped and picked up the ghost’s gun.

I might need this before the night ends.

He saw a church at the far end of Brimstone and headed for it.

Funny how well the town was named.

No one tended the church, but Garth found a worn bible on the pulpit and opened it as he knelt.  He’d never prayed before.  He turned the fragile pages.

“Our Father which art in heaven…”

Garth stayed on his knees, begging the Lord to see him out of this hell.

 

Some time later, Garth heard a noise and lifted his eyes to see the skeletal hands of Amos, pulling the bell rope.

He pulled out his pocket watch. 9:00.  He’d spent the hour on his knees, but didn’t get up.  If the devil wanted him, he would have to drag Garth outta church.

A nervous laugh escaped his lips as a memory came to him of his poor mother dragging him to church when he a boy.

At the ninth toll the old church faded away and he found himself standing on the Main Street.  The Sheriff’s face held a toothy grin.  He flung the coin high in the air.  Garth drew and fired at the gun hand and again his bullets knocked the gun loose, but this time the burning slug drilled through Garth’s shoulder.  He holstered his Colt and grabbed his arm.  The burning shot had cauterized the wound as it passed through, but it still hurt like hell.    He picked up ghost’s gun, turned it on the sheriff, and pulled the trigger.

Click.  Click.  He lowered it to his side. The weapon was useless to the living, he slid it under his belt beside the other hell-forged gun.

 

* * *

 

Garth stumbled to recover the eighth gun, his eyesight blurry, face fevered.  He didn’t think he’d last much longer.  Seven holes had burned clean through him.  One in each leg.  Two gut shots and three in his left arm.  His gun-hand had been left whole.  The devil was playing with him.  Every gunfighter he’d faced was a ghost from his past.

Garth stumbled back to the little church and fell to his knees.  “God!  I’ll never kill again if you’ll help me make it ‘til dawn.  I don’t want to die here!”

Garth checked his watch.  3:29

He knew any of the ghosts could have taken him out.  He’d only survived because Luc—Lucifer—wanted his pound of flesh.

Garth sank to the church’s floor, one hand clutching the tattered Bible.  The other rested on the handle of his Colt.  On the floor, his pocket watch ticked off the seconds.  The air shifted wafting the stench of a slaughterhouse in his face.  He looked up to find the face of the first gunman he’d ever killed.

The ghost’s voice echoed hollowly.  “I’ve been to see my boy.  He wears a gun.  Practices every day.   In ten years he’ll be where you are.”

“How did you get away from this infernal place?” Garth asked.

“The devil gave us an hour in the world and a chance to get even.”

“Get…even?”

“Vengeance.  The first ghost missed, but each man since has sent a piece of your soul to hell.”

“I remember you.  I … I spared your son.”

“You spared my boy all right, but the examples we set will bring him to Brimstone none the less.  It’s where all gunfighter’s end up.”

“Please help me.  I’ll go to your son.  I’ll tell him about this place,” Garth begged.

“What good would it do for a gunfighter to talk to him?”

“Look at me!”  Garth trembled in fear.  “I’ll never kill again.”

“You say that now and yes you’ve one hand on the Bible, but your gun is still clenched tightly in the other.”

Garth pulled the Colt Peacemaker from his holster.  He’d had it a long time.  He spun the gun one last time and held it out butt first to the ghost.

“I’ll need all the guns.”

Garth gave them up and was left clutching the Good Book to his chest.  “What are you going to do?”

“I’m gonna face the Sheriff for you.  The devil’s taken my soul, but I’m owed a vengeance.  Save my son and we’ll call it square.”

Garth lowered his eyes and the held out a hand. “What’s your name, friend?”

“Chance.  My name is Chance Olan.”

Amos rang the bell.

“What’s your boy’s name?”

“I named him after me.”

On the fourth toll, the ghost and guns disappeared, but Garth remained in the church.

It was the guns that took me to the fight.

He crawled to the doorway and peered outside.

Chance faced the sheriff in battle.

Amos tossed the coin.

It hit the ground.

Chance pulled two guns from his belt.  Click and fire, click and fire he emptied them into the ground around the sheriff.

Brimstone blazed from the sheriff’s gun, burning a hole through Chance’s chest.

Gun by gun, Chance continued to fire only at the ground.

Fire churned up from the riddled earth in a circle around the sheriff.

Chance pulled the Colt out last and fired a single shot.

Time held its breath.  Hot lead sizzled up the barrel of the sheriff’s gun, blocking the chamber.  The gun shattered in flash of fire as time resumed its normal pace.  The ground under the sheriff teetered and sank, dragging the lawman into the molten furnace of hell.  He rose on a geyser and tried to crawl out, but whips of fire wrapped him hungrily and dragged him out of sight.  Another geyser spewed from the hole, splattering into the street, reaching for Chance.

Full of holes, Garth could only watch as the flames clawed toward the ghost. White lightning blazed down from a silver-edged cloud.  Then blue fire arced around the ghost and he disappeared.

The fiery tongues lashed in frustration.

Garth shut himself inside the church, hoping Hell had claimed all it could.

He stayed on his knees, eyes closed, bible pressed to his heart, praying until sunlight warmed the back of his head.  He opened his eyes.  Nothing remained of the town, but cracked dirt, tumbleweeds, and the tattered old book.  Even the church had disappeared.  He heard a snort from behind.  Something brushed the back of his neck. He turned.  Joyful tears filled his eyes.  Brin had been returned, alive.
Holding the bible tightly, Garth used his free hand to push himself up.  His fingers found something hard in the dirt.  It was a gun.  He picked it up.  His Colt had been returned as well.
Faces of the ghosts and the promise he had made flashed through his mind.  Against a stacked deck, he’d found one Chance in hell to hang his soul upon.
He dropped the Peacemaker in the dirt where he found it.  He grabbed Brin’s reins one handed and hauled himself into the saddle.  Bible still in hand, he rode into the morning sun.  Garth had a promise to keep—one last Chance to save himself from the fires of hell.

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Plantation Ghost by David W. Landrum

Aug 05 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

The owner of the B&B showed Rebecca Haynes and Sossity Chandler to their room. Todd was staying at another bed and breakfast. Rebecca had breathed a sigh of relief after she heard he would not be sleeping near where she would sleep—especially after what happened yesterday. Jergen and Lydia were at yet another bed and breakfast. Sossity tipped the bellhop and turned in a circle to examine the room they had rented.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked, making a sweeping gesture.

Rebecca glanced around. She tried not to look preoccupied.

“Very nice.”

The bed and breakfast was a converted plantation house. The room had high ceilings bordered with decorative plaster fringes. The furniture, heavy, Victorian—a claw-footed dresser, twin beds, a nightstand between the beds—looked solid and secure like the society that had created it—the Old South with its oppressive paternalism and criminal enslavement of a race of people set next to platitudes of benevolence. Sossity’s blues band had played six shows in the last ten days. Rebecca was tired.

“You sounded great tonight, Rebecca. You make me want to get my Fender out and thump on it again.”

“Don’t do that,” she replied. “I’ll be out of a job.”

They laughed. Sossity Chandler had played bass in her old band. Rebecca remembered seeing her on TV and watching her fingers as she adroitly played a huge Fender Precision bass guitar. She had been a skillful player. Rebecca had envied her back then. She could hardly believe that now she was in her band and rooming with her.

“I’m really tired, Sos,” Rebecca said. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to take a shower and go to bed.”

Sossity gestured at the bathroom door. “All yours.”

Rebecca sighed as the hot water ran over her. Her mind inevitably returned to the episode with Todd in the afternoon the day before. She had told him they were finished and stayed away from him two months. She even marveled at how easy it had been to share the stage with him when they started the tour, to travel and eat with him—not difficult at all, she had thought. As she soaped up, she reflected on how she had only been fooling herself.

Lydia VanLant had asked her if Todd had learned a new song the bland planned to do that night.

“Not sure,” she replied.

“I’ll go ask him,” she said.

“I’ll go ask him,” Rebecca offered. Lydia had things to do and agreed. Rebecca went to talk to Todd in his room.

All a self-deceptive ruse, she thought as she rinsed off. She had gone in, asked about the song, and accepted his invitation to sit and then to have a drink. An hour later, she left, wondering why she had caved in, why she had made love to him, how she could undo in a few minutes the separation she had fought for so strenuously in the months after their painful split.

Rebecca quivered when she thought about it. She had left his hotel room satisfied to her core by his lovemaking but sobbing and torn up from her failure and lack of resolution.

She stepped out of the shower and dried. Wrapping in a towel, she went into the bedroom and dug through her suitcase for a nightgown. Sossity had had cell phone open and was talking to Digory Marks, her boyfriend.

Rebecca went back into the bathroom and slipped the nightgown over her head. When she came back out Sossity had stretched out on her bed. She smiled as she talked on the phone.

She had reconnected with Digory after her divorce. Rebecca remembered that whole mess. Sossity had become a celebrity-meltdown focus on the news media in those days, with two DUIs, a week in jail, a great deal of impertinent public behavior, and serial fornication with rock stars, actors, and professional athletes. She had pulled out of it, regained emotional stability, engineered a spectacular comeback as a recording artist, and reconnected with Digory, an old boyfriend from her college days.

Rebecca remembered a tiff she had gotten into over her admiration for Sossity. Liking celebrity scandals, she was reading about Sossity’s latest one at a computer terminal at school one day when Cadetta Simpson came up behind her.

“Why are you so into that little blonde bitch?” she asked.

Rebecca remembered being startled. When she recovered, she said, “I like to see who’s screwing her this week.”

“Some white guy, you can be sure of that. You like her music too.”

Rebecca had all of Sossity Chandler’s CDs.

“So I’m not supposed to like her music because she’s white?”

“That sounds like a good enough reason to me,” Cadetta said, walking away.

Rebecca turned down the sheets. Sossity got up and pointed to indicate she would go to the lobby to finish her phone conversation. After she left, Rebecca snuggled into bed and switched off the light. She had not seen Cadetta Simpson in years. Her old classmate probably

knew she worked for Sossity Chandler. What would she think if she found out she—Rebecca—had had a white boyfriend?

This made her recall the whole scene from that morning—his arms around her, the kisses, her tearing off her clothes and him screwing her in the warm cocoon of a plush bed. She shuddered remembering the orgasm that tore through her like pleasurable fire, his abandonment, the unfeigned delight he found in her—and then lying there, drugged with pleasure, in the afterglow of their tenderly violent embrace.

Tears came to her eyes. Why did she try to fool herself? She stilled loved him. He had begged her to admit it. She refused and they left each other, angry and unresolved.

She tried to get comfortable. She could see him in her mind’s eye. Thankfully, exhaustion served as the narcotic to cover her pain. She fell asleep.

She woke in the dead of night. Someone stood at the foot her bed—a black woman, tall and thin with big eyes. Rebecca wondered if she were dreaming. She glanced over and saw Sossity in the other bed. When she looked back to the foot of her own bed, the figure had vanished. She dropped off to sleep once more. In the morning, she remembered what she had seen but wrote it off as a waking dream.

As she dreaded a high caloric breakfast with eggs, sausage, and biscuits with gravy to pour over it —very Southern food—she also dreaded that morning’s upcoming band practice. Rebecca and Sossity were joined at the table by two businessmen and an academic couple visiting the area for a conference. All were fans of Sossity’s music.

Unlike some celebrities, Sossity was always cordial and friendly to her fans. She did not avoid them and did not express annoyance at their adoring attention. She chatted with them, answered questions about her music, told anecdotes about touring and the days before success had come to her.

One of the businessmen asked how she liked the plantation.

“It’s a nice place. Quiet

“Did you see the ghost?” he returned.

“There’s a ghost?”

“Supposedly. A woman who was killed here. She kept the place shut down for years. The owner could probably give more details.”

The guests told Rebecca, too, that loved the way she played bass and asked her about the jazz band she played in when she was not touring with Sossity. Inevitably, someone asked about Todd.

“You guys must be good friends,” the academic woman observed.

“We’ve known each other a long time.”

“Didn’t you date him for a while?” one of the businessmen, who was African-American, asked.

“We used to do things together,” she said. “I wouldn’t call it dating. Maybe slightly romantic friendship. He has a girlfriend.”

The subject changed. Rebecca breathed an inward sigh of relief. Sossity knew they had dated, had been in serious relationship, and had split. Family pressure led her to shut the relationship down—pressure from her mother, brother, and sister—though not from her father.

As she sat and listened to the others talk, she remembered meeting Todd. She had known him in school, though they did not date until after college. She had played bass viol in the school orchestra. He played violin.

Rebecca liked him from the word go, she remembered. He was handsome and athletic, a good musician, and a good student. He was Jewish. His parents, in fact, immigrated to Israel after he graduated from high school, taking his three brothers and two sisters with them (Todd was the oldest). Despite his cheerful quirkiness, Rebecca could see he was lonely and missed his family. That, she reflected, was why she felt the urge to talk to him the times she saw him around town.

He attended the University of Chicago. She got in at Indiana University. He studied pre-law, she communications. When she was home for the summer, she went to a jazz club for a bachelorette part of a friend. She saw Todd playing drums for the band on schedule that night. They spotted each other. Not wanting to break the unwritten rule that guys were not allowed at bachelorette parties, she went over to his table. He gave her a hug and introduced her to the other members of his band.

“Drums,” she said. “I didn’t know you played drums.”

“I started in seventh grade—thought people might think violin was too sissified. I started playing in rock groups and garage bands.”

“I like the way you play.”

“Do you do music at Indiana?”

“They have a big music program there—a conservatory. I play in a string quartet and in one of the orchestra, but I’m not a music major. Playing music keeps me sane after reading communications theory all day long.”

“I do this to keep sane after reading law all day.”

She smiled. “It’s good to see you, Todd. I don’t want to rush off, but I’m at one of those women-only deals. I can’t stay here too long or I’ll offend the bachelorette.” Then she asked, “Are you guys playing here for a while?” She knew the club had a band every night.

“We’re here alternate days for the rest of the week.”

“I might come by and see you.”

“Do it. I’d love to catch up on things, Rebecca. I’ll buy you a drink . . . dedicate a song to you.”

She laughed. “Sure thing.”

She had stood to go, felt a rush of warmth and affection for him, and put out her arms. They embraced and he gave her a small kiss on the side of the mouth.

The conversation at the table at the bed and breakfast caught her attention and brought her out of her memories. The subject had turned once more to the ghost.

“She is one of the most well-known ghosts in the area,” the white businessman, who had a heavy Southern accent, was saying. “This place was deserted for years because of her. More than one family moved in and the ghost supposedly drove them off.”

“Did the ghost go away?”

“A few people say they’ve seen her, but I guess she’s a little calmer—so calm she hasn’t rattled chains or terrified anyone lately.” Everyone around the table chucked at this. “People who have seen her identify her as a woman who worked her as a servant in the Reconstruction era, though, sadly, we don’t even know her name. She died a victim of racial violence, I think.”

Since racial violence was a delicate subject, the guests quickly moved the conversation elsewhere. Sossity talked about the concert tour and gave everyone there tickets to the performance that night. Rebecca meant to ask more about the ghost, but she and Sossity left the B&B without getting a chance to talk to the owner.

 

During practice, Todd kept stealing glances at her. She made a deliberate effort to ignore him. They went through the playlist and worked on the two new songs Sossity had just written. Afterward they had lunch at a locally popular rib place. By the cash register sat a rack of tourist information. Rebecca noticed a booklet titled Plantation Ghost. Her eyes fastened on the cover. On it was printed a grainy photograph of the woman she had seen standing at the foot of her bed.

She bought a copy and stuffed it in her purse.

Lunch was hard. She ended up sitting next to Todd. He did not insinuate himself and did not hint at their encounter the day before. The band had a fund-raiser concert scheduled at a small venue at 3:00. At 8:00 they were scheduled for a concert at a large sold-out arena downtown. Rebecca realized she had to get herself together before they played. Also, Sossity made it her business to know the emotional nuances of her band members.

Sure enough, after lunch, as Rebecca and Sossity drove to the venue, she asked, “What happened, Rebecca?”

She thought of ways to be evasive and then decided she needed to tell the truth. It would be pointless to try to deceive Sossity.

“I fucked Todd. Yesterday.”

They drove on in silence.

“I appreciate your candor,” Sossity said at last. “Are you guys mending fences?”

She shook her head. Tears spilled out of her eyes.

“Let go have a drink. We have an hour before sound check for the library concert. I want you to tell me what’s going on.”

They parked in front of a small bar, went, and found a booth. Sossity ordered a whisky, Rebecca a lime daiquiri. They sipped their drinks but did not talk. The place was empty but for the bartender, two male customers, and the two of them. A vaguely R&B piece played on the old-style jukebox. Sossity put down her drink.

“Okay. I know you guys split. You told me about it, though you never told me why.”

“Can’t you guess?”

“Because you’re black and he’s white?”

“That’s it—family pressure.”

“I know a little about that.”

“How? Did you ever date interracially?”

“A couple of times. I dated a guy who was full-blooded Japanese—parents were émigrés—for a couple of years. In high school, I dated a black guy named Lenny—Leonard Palmer—for a while. God, he was handsome and I was struck on him.”

“Your family made you split up?”

“His family. They put so much pressure on him he finally dumped me. Broke my heart.”

“Well, that’s exactly what’s happening with Todd and me. My Mom, my sisters, my friends, my uncles, were giving me blue hell about my dating him. I got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“And you still love him?”

“Yes.”

“It’s pretty clear what you need to do.”

“I can’t go against my family. It won’t work. There are lots of other guys in the world. I’m not going to alienate myself from everybody who means anything to me just because I fell for Todd.”

“Lots of women have alienated themselves like that because they loved someone of a different race or religion”—

“I know they have. I admire them, but I’m not made out of that kind of stuff.”

“You need to do what is right, Rebecca.”

She shook her head. She could not answer. It took her a long while before she could compose herself enough to speak.

“I can’t buck my family. I mean, I can but I don’t want to. They mean too much to me. I was weak yesterday. I won’t be weak again.”

“I’ve really gotten to like you in the few months you’ve played in the band. I don’t want to lose you or Todd. That may sound crass, but it’s so. Of course, it’s not my primary concern. My primary concern is you.”

“Todd and I can work through this.”

“Okay. I don’t think we need to go on with this talk. You know where you stand. I do too. I assume Todd does. But I want you to think about what I just said. You need to do what is right.”

#

After the concert that night, Rebecca went to bed. Sossity had gone out drinking with some friends who lived in Atlanta. As she tried to go to sleep, she thought about Todd. She remembered him at the trap set, handsome, exuding energy, undoubtedly the object of fantasized lust for most of the women who had watched the concert that night.

He loved her, she mused. She knew Todd had scores of beautiful blonde and red-haired girls beating his door down. She had seen them crowding around him like sparrows at a bird feeder after performances. She remembered her heart pounding—in the days before they got in Sossity’s blues band—when he began to indicate his romantic interest; the first time he kissed her, the thrill of his hands on her and, only a week later, the first time he made love to her in a motel room they rented after playing a gig in South Bend, Indiana.

She was not the kind of black girl white guys usually wanted, she reflected. She did not look like Halle Berry or Lisa Bonet. Still, he had fallen in love with her. That love had come to full fruition after they formed a jazz band and began playing gigs around Chicago. It had marginalized her, too, from certain section of her family and of her community.

Sleep began to claim her. She dozed off and opened her eyes to see the same women she had seen the night before. This time she was closer—not a foot away. She had a dark, weather-beaten face, large eyes, and a high brow. Tall and thin, she wore a print dress and pinafore. Her hands looked gnarled, though she did not seem old.

Rebecca wanted to scream but reigned herself in. Even with her heart pounding and her throat constricted so much she could hardly speak, she remembered the booklet she had purchased. This was the women on the cover. She did not look menacing. Rebecca decided to stay put, not to flee, and let the spectral woman speak first, but she said nothing. She wondered what her name was.

“Shoshie,” the woman said. “Shoshanna. But everyone called me Shosie.”

Rebecca managed to speak.

“You can read my mind?”

“I can tell what you’re thinking by the look on your face. What are you doing here?”

“Doing here? I’m staying here. It’s a hotel.”

“They let black folk stay here?”

“They do. I play in a band and we’re doing a concert in town.”

“Who is the white woman with you?”

“She’s the singer of the band. I play bass.” She paused and then added, “The woman I’m rooming with is my friend.”

“I thought she owned you.”

“Slavery ended.”

“They said it ended but I didn’t end. Not really.”

Then she faded away.

The door opened. Sossity came in. She noticed the look on Rebecca’s face.

“Bad dream?” she asked.

“Yeah. Too much stress, I think. How was the party?”

“Good. You should have been there. Athena McIntosh showed up. Kayle flew in.”

Athena McIntosh was a popular country singer. Sossity had written two hit songs for her.

Kayle Turner was Todd’s new girlfriend.

“That must have been a surprise.”

“Not so much. She goes to college in Raleigh—short flight. She and Todd looked really cozy.”

Rebecca did not reply. Sossity reached over and picked up the plain volume on the table between their beds.

“Is this any good?”

“Don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to read it. I think I might read it right now. The nightmare I had scared me so much I’m afraid to go back to sleep.”

Sossity smiled drunkenly. “That’s happened to me a few times. But maybe you don’t want to read a book about a ghost to get over a nightmare.”

Rebecca changed into shorts and a sweatshirt. Sossity climbed into bed and immediately fell asleep. Rebecca turned out the lights and softly walked downstairs. She sat in a large stuffed chair and began to read.

“That pamphlet doesn’t tell the whole story,” she heard a voice say.

So frightened she dropped the book, Rebecca looked up to see Shoshanna standing only a foot from her.

“My God!” she said. “You scared me.”

“I’m a ghost. I do that a lot.” She pointed down at the booklet. “Do you want to hear the whole story? The real story?”

Rebecca looked up at her. Tall, thin, she exuded beauty and dignity. She had very dark skin, high cheekbones and thin lips. This time she wore not a smock but a light blue blouse and a long, darker blue skirt. Like women of that era, she covered her hair with a scarf.

“Of course I do. Though I’d be a lot more comfortable if you would sit.”

“I can’t, sorry. I’m not allowed to rest.”

“Okay.” Rebecca regarded the woman. “Shoshanna. That is a very beautiful name. I’m Rebecca.”

Shoshanna did not seem to know how to react to friendliness. She only stared, looking bewildered and distressed.

“Tell me your story, please. I want to hear it.”

“That book tells a little of my story, but not the most important thing. After the war, I was freed. I went to live with my Mother. Some secesh caught us—ex-Confederate soldiers. They shot me. I managed to get away into the woods, but I was hurt pretty badly. I passed out and woke up in bed. A white man had found me. He nursed me back to health. He was a good man. Lived by himself in the swamp. He had been married but his wife died. They had only one child, a girl, but he had sent her to live with his sister in Anniston because he didn’t think he could raise a girl. After I got well, I stayed on to help him harvest his crop of sugar cane. One thing led to another.”

She stopped.

“You fell in love with him?” Rebecca prompted.

“He loved me. His being white and me being black didn’t make no difference. He lived out in the swamp and no one ever came to see him. Nobody knew about us. We had a child, a boy, and then a girl. I was afraid for them, so I sent them to live with my Mother.”

“No one ever saw you and him together?”

“A few people saw us working together, but Charlie was smart. He said he had hired me, that I lived out in the swamp and worked for him doing the stuff he couldn’t do since his wife died. That got laughs—you know what I mean, and the men in town weren’t against that. Of course, it wasn’t like that at all. He loved me and we lived together as husband and wife. He taught me to read and write. We were together ten years, and then he died.”

“How did he die?”

“Typhus. It hit the whole country. I didn’t want to get sick and get found in his house, so I told the men in town I’d gone to see him and looked like he was dead. I started out to where I had kin, but after I’d walked about ten miles, I came down with it myself. The people here took me in and I pulled through. They asked me if I wanted to work. I stayed the rest of my life here.”

“Why are you here, Shoshanna? Why do you haunt the place? Sounds like the people who ran this plantation were good to you.”

“They were.”

“Then why haven’t you gone on? Why are you a ghost here?”

“Because of another thing that book doesn’t say. I worked for the family twelve years. By that time, the Klan was getting strong. Somehow it got out that I used to consort with a white man.  Back when we lived together, the people thought I was just a woman that would do the jellyroll with him now and then—they didn’t know we were man and wife, and they were okay with me doing that. The Klan wasn’t okay with it. They came one night and dragged me out of my room—I lived right out back, the building still stands. They were going to string me up, but one of them slipped in all the scuffling and his pistol it went off. The bullet went in my back and up through my head. They left me and rode off. I died a couple of hours later. The family buried me out back. They didn’t say anything because they were afraid of the Klan.”

“I’m so sorry, Shoshanna.”

“It’s nice to be able to tell somebody.”

“You’ve been here ever since?”

“The folks who owned the place sold out. They were generous to black folk and the Klan started threatening them, so they left. Somebody from that group of men who killed me bought the place. I ran him off. It’s been that way ever since. Not everybody who’s lived here has a bad history. If an owner was innocent, I left them alone. But anyone with my blood on their hands—and there were a lot of them—I’d drive off.”

“The people who own it now?”

“Relatives of one of the men in that mob, but”—She stopped.

“But what?”

“They’re good people.”

“If that’s so, why do you stay? Can’t you cross over?”

Rebecca did not reply at once. After a long pause, she said, “It’s nice to be able to tell

somebody.”

And with that she faded. Rebecca found herself standing in the dimly lit lobby, all alone.

#

The next day, Rebecca asked to see the old slave quarters. The owner took her and Sossity out to it.

“Not much to it, really,” the owner commented as they crossed under two massive magnolia trees.

“Is this where the woman who they say became the ghost lived?”

“She did live here, though by that time slavery was over. It’s a pity we don’t even her name.”

They entered the small frame building. Inside, they stood in a single room with windows looking toward the main house, an iron-frame bed with a stand by it, and a smoothed-off wooden table by the door. On the table sat a wooden box filled with old books. Sossity, who loved to read, especially during concert tours when she had many boring hours to fill, began to look through them.

Rebecca let her eyes rove over the large single room.

“This is where she lived?”

“All the years she was here.”

She contemplated a moment and then walked over to Sossity.

“Anything good?” she asked.

“Standard stuff. Dickens. The Brontës. I’ve read a lot of them.” She picked up a copy of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. “I haven’t read this one, and it’s on my list.”

“Take it,” the owner of the B&B said. “They’re old editions, but not old enough to be valuable.”

Rebecca saw a volume bound in calfskin with purple-edged pages. Opening it, she saw lines of beautiful cursive handwriting—in pencil, so it had not faded as ink would have faded in that hot, humid climate. At the bottom of the page, she saw the name, Shoshanna Kramer. She turned to the owner.

“This is a diary,” she said.

The woman glanced at it.

“Oh, that one—I’ve read a few pages out of it. Never got very far into it.”

“It might be valuable. It might be of historical interest. Someone might want to publish it for the picture it would give of life back then.”

“I’ve never been into that sort of thing. Why don’t you take it? You might want to see about getting it published. Didn’t you say your degree was in English?”

“Communications—sort of the same thing.”

“It’s yours. I’ll probably end up burning all of these books away. They’re just taking up space.”

Rebecca took Shoshanna’s diary. Sossity, who had a fondness for old books even if she had read them, took the box and its other contents. “I’ll read them to my kids or donate them to a library,” she said.

They walked back to the main house of the Plantation Bed and Breakfast, had a final cup of coffee, and left.

#

The remaining three concerts of the tour went well. On their flight back to Chicago, Rebecca sat next to Sossity. Todd was not on the jet. He had gone to Raleigh to spend a few days with Kayle. Exhausted from the tour, and from the intrigues with Todd, Rebecca sat one of the plush, custom chairs, Shoshanna’s diary resting on her lap.

“It will be nice to be home, won’t it?” Sossity commented.

Rebecca nodded. Sossity was quiet and then said, “You seem to have reached some kind of understanding with Todd.”

Rebecca mused a long, silent moment.

“I love him. No doubt about that. You told me I needed to do what was right. But sometimes you can’t do what is right in life. Sometimes you have to do what is wrong.”

She said no more. Sossity saw she did not wish to take the subject further, smiled, touched her arm, and went to the back of the aircraft to talk with Jergen and Lydia.

Rebecca opened the diary and began to read.

 

Bio: My fiction has appeared in Sinister Tales, Orion’s Child, Stupifying Stories, The Horror Zine, and many others.

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