this one in those tobacco towns along the Green River.
day Roy Barlowe and his dad walked up the hill to Townie Harpe's old
place. Townie's widow, Miss Erskine, was sitting on a cane bottom
chair on the porch, fooling with some clothes.
Roy didn't know whether she was
sewing or quilting or doing some kind of mending. He never paid much
attention to that kind of work. Still, if the mother knew those ways
then it followed that the daughter would.
He saw that his dad had removed
his hat and Roy wanted to kick himself for forgetting to do that himself.
They'd gone over it again one last time on the walk up from their
place, just down the river, and here he was, already messing up.
Nothing for it but to start. "Afternoon,
Miss Erskine," Roy said. It came out kind of fast.
The worn down little woman peered
out at them. "Are those Barlowes out there? And cleaned up? I guess
I missed church this morning, because I didn't even know it was Sunday."
"Yes, ma'am. It's me, Roy Barlowe,
here with my dad. He made me -- we came up here so I could talk to
you some." His dad had told him to act like everything was his idea,
and he'd told him too not to mind anything the woman would say since
most of it would be nonsense. But Roy added, "And you didn't miss
church. It's just now Friday."
"Friday," said Miss Erskine. "Friday
and a clear day and summertime. I had it all right. And you are
Barlowes, but you ain't out chopping or hoeing or ploughing. Is there
Roy turned his hat around and
around in his hands for a minute. He looked at his dad, but just got
a glare and a "go on" motion. He wished he was back in one
of the fields, where he spent most of his time. Finally, he said,
"We came up here so I could talk to you some."
Miss Erskine dropped her sewing
into her lap. She was easy to tire. She had a wrecked body, wrecked
from all those babies, Roy's daddy said, though only her Sally had
made it up past four years old. She was ruined for any kind of work
and even talking to a boy made her brow grow damp and her breath come
in little shallow sips. She sat quiet for a minute.
When she finally did speak, she
looked past Roy. She spoke straight to his dad. "Is it that late,
Mr. Barlowe cleared his throat.
"I guess it is, Erskine."
"You want to tie my little child
up to this wool headed boy and get all of Townie's fields with her."
Roy took a little step back from
the old woman -- he couldn't help but think of her as old from the
way she looked, even though he had two sisters older than her -- and
watched her slump back against the house and breathe hard after she
He could tell that his dad still
wanted him to do the talking, so he skipped to the very end. "Look
here, Miss Erskine, our places join up all the way from the road to
the river. Ain't nothing but fence line keeps them apart and y'all
have let that get blown down a lot of the way. Sally is a strong girl
and she's got up to where she could get married. And I'm up to where
I could get married, too."
Roy didn't know what the woman
was thinking, didn't know that she was wondering if old Noah Harpe
had sent her Townie up Bittersweet Creek in his Sunday suit this same
way twenty-four years ago. She'd been fourteen and never seen a man
she wasn't kin to when her mama had packed her up on the back of the
wagon, both of them crying. Then it was babies and cooking and tobacco
and none of the babies amounting to nothing until sweet Sally, the
twelfth, when Erskine was twenty-four.
Ten years older than Sally was
Roy's dad knew some of that, though,
and spoke up again. "The boy's right, Erskine. And even if he hadn't
made up his own mind about it -- " Miss Erskine rolled her eyes but
Mr. Barlowe kept talking. "Even if he hadn't made up his mind, we
done worked this all out a long time ago. Don't tell me you don't
remember. I stood right here and talked this out with you and Townie
before he went to his rest. There was some promises made about us
taking care of this place and it's past time we kept them. And you
made a promise, too."
Roy looked away from his two elders,
out over the little valley below them. The fields were wild with weeds,
even some young trees. No crops in them and no cattle. The little
plot of garden was the only untangled place he could see.
When he looked back, he saw that
Miss Erskine was looking over at the fields, too. She picked up her
sewing and said, "I remember." His dad seemed to think that decided
something and put on his hat.
Roy put on his own as she said,
"Y'all go on before the sun gets low and the girl heads home from
Sally wasn't at the river, though.
She was on the stony bluff where Willow Ridge shoots up from the north
bank. She was walking along a mud track, barefoot, her arms full of
They bury in the backwoods in
that country. Bottom land is too fertile to waste on the dead. The
cemeteries are all up in the hills, under the poplars, and the ground
in them is choked with roots and rocks.
Sally picked her way past Burtons
and Sapps and Barlowes to the little cluster of Harpe markers at the
back of the graveyard. The first three were just dark slabs of limestone,
already melting away. These hadn't lived long enough even to get names,
so she didn't know whether it was brothers or sisters of hers she
lay flowers for.
Then one with some writing on
it. She knew what it said so she didn't have to puzzle over it like
most of the written down words she came across. It said "Townsend
Harpe, Jr. Beloved of the Lord 1881-1884."
Then two more with no names, then
one stone with four, all girls who died within a few days of each
other. The same crude slashes of letters that had named her oldest
brother named these sisters Mary, Naomi, Angela, Carolina. A fever
took them, her mother had told her once.
All these and a half dozen more
clustered around the big marker, the one for her daddy. Sally had
traced it out once, the year she went to school. It was the first
thing she had learned to read. "Townsend Harpe, Sr. Blessed Husband
& Father & Charles His Son."
When her mother had still had
breath in her to tell Sally stories, Erskine had told the tale of
that stone. Townie -- and Sally could just remember the big man, she'd
been about four when he died -- had carried his last boy up to the
ridge to bury him. He'd gone by himself, Erskine was too weak from
the birth. "It must have been his heart give out on him," her mama
had said. "Digging in that froze up ground."
Sally was laying the last of her
flowers across the stone when she heard a whistle, something like
a bird call. She laughed. "Is that supposed to be a blue jay that's
got its beak busted up, Joel Cornett? Cause that's the only bird I
can think of that might sound anything like that."
A sandy haired boy, about her
age, trotted into the graveyard, grinning. "Ain't all of us spend
our time listening to birds and talking back at them, girl."
"I don't know what you do
spend your time on, then. Cornetts sure don't work any." She was already
running by the time she said the last word.
And so he chased her, like he
had all summer.
Down off the ridge, along an old
logging road cut out of the side of the hill that was split its whole
length by gullies and washes. She ran down the track, leaping the
ditches and swinging around the saplings that thrust up from the red
ground, the boy right behind her.
When they came into the bottom
she cut off the road and down into a creek bed. She slowed. The soles
of her feet were hard with calluses this late in the summer, but the
creek gravel was still harder running than the road. Joel closed the
gap a little, splashing in and out of the water, watching for the
banks of clay where he could move faster so long as he didn't slip.
Just above the junction of creek
and river, and the deep pool where Sally had stretched the trot lines
she'd come out to check, was a clearing filled with ferns. She let
him catch her there, like she had the past three or four times they'd
He hooked his arm around her waist
and they rolled down, laughing. She let him kiss her some, sharp and
hot and fast, like sparks cracking out of a green log on a fire. but
she kept an arm across her chest, where she knew his hands would be
coaxing at her.
"Come on, Sally," he said, and
she laughed again because he had the same whine in his voice that
pups had sometimes. "Come on, it's alright. It's alright now."
Then she pulled away from him
because he was moving his whole body up against her and it scared
her when he did that, when his breath got shallow and he kept saying
the same thing over and over. "You leave it alone, Joel," and hadn't
she said that over and over? "There's things that's left to
Joel leaned back, then grinned
at her. "Well then let's get married, Sally. If me and you are
going to get married then it's alright. That makes it alright."
Sally sat up and looked at him.
She worked her jaw up and down and felt her eyes open up wide, felt
them start to glisten. "You ask me right," she said.
Joel grinned wider. He scrambled
up onto his knees. "Sally Harpe, will you marry me?" Then he flopped
back down beside her.
Sally nodded. "Uh-huh. Yes." She
couldn't stop crying but she was happy. She guessed that the stunned,
tingly feeling was a kind of happy. Joel lay her back down, but she
shook her head and turned from him again.
"It's alright, I said, Sally,"
he said, frustrated, that note in his voice again. But Sally kept
shaking her head.
"No, Joel, we have to wait. That's
the way and don't tell me Cornetts do it different because I ain't
no Cornett yet."
She started to stand up and was
surprised that Joel didn't try to keep her down. He just settled back
like he was thinking. He said, "Well, there's some things people that's
promised can do, I guess. If they're promised."
Sally knew about promises. Her
mama had a whole pack of stories about what happened to people who
broke them. She beetled her honey-colored eyebrows. "What are you
talking about now?"
"Here, Sally, here." And this
time when he leaned to kiss her he didn't try to snake over her, but
took her hand instead. And kissed her and whispered to her and moved
her hand down.
She breathed along the same as
he did. Her arm was trembling a little, tensed up, but she moved her
hand where he guided her, how he guided her. And he kissed her and
whispered to her, his whispers ragged now.
He stayed laid down after, even
when she stood up and went splashing around in the creek, bathing
her hands. Sally felt solemn and quiet, but Joel laughed again. "It's
Sally didn't feel like looking
at him, but she bobbed her head up and down and said, "Because we're
promised. That's right, isn't it, Joel?"
"Don't you doubt it," he said,
finally getting to his feet. "And I know all them haunt stories your
mama tells you talk about promises, don't they? I guess I'd better
keep this one, hadn't I?"
Sally looked at him sharp. "We'd
both better, Joel Cornett."
Joel started to laugh, but didn't.
He pointed up through the trees. "You better get your fish and head
to the house."
Sally looked at the sun herself
and saw that he was right. She trotted up for a quick kiss on the
cheek before she ran down the creek.
Her mama didn't say anything about
the time when Sally bustled into the kitchen. Sally counted that odd
but kept still about it, just pulled down the cleaning knife from
the peg where it hung by a leather cord. While she cut the heads off
the catfish Erskine warmed up a pot of beans and mixed corn meal with
water and black pepper.
When Erskine finally did speak,
Sally felt her heart jump up in her throat. Erskine said, "You're
about old enough to get married now, I guess."
"Mama?" Sally thought she must
have heard wrong. Could things work out that easy?
"Roy Barlowe is old enough to
look after his own place now, especially since all his gang of brothers
live right down there and can help him. I'll move down into your little
room and you two can take mine and your daddy's."
Sally stopped filleting the catfish.
"Roy Barlowe?" She didn't understand.
"His daddy will need him until
they finish stripping the tobacco, though. That'll give us time to
see about a dress and all that business."
It had been a long time since
Erskine had talked to her so much at a stretch. She kept filling in
the places where Sally would have said something if her throat hadn't
felt frozen up. She said, "You've known the Barlowes all your life,
you've got that much."
Erskine took the knife from Sally's
fingers and sliced a long piece of the fish, soft and white. That
was usually Sally's job. Her mother dropped the piece into the batter
and spooned lard into the cast iron skillet. It spat at her, and still
Sally couldn't talk.
The fish went into the pan and
while they fried, Sally slumped down onto the bench beside the oak
table. Erskine steadied herself against the table and said "It's done,
honey. You'll get used to it. You don't even have to leave your house
like I did. And those Barlowes have been good neighbors to us."
The fish started smoking and Erskine
turned back to the stove so she almost didn't hear Sally say "I can't."
Erskine moved the fish onto a
pair of wooden plates. "I know you don't think so, honey, but you'll
be alright. I'll still be right here in the house."
But Sally shook her head. "I'm
sorry, Mama. I can't. I'm not going to marry Roy Barlowe."
Erskine drew up. "It's done, Sally.
You've been promised. It's done."
"I didn't promise to marry that
boy!" Sally was crying now, trembling.
"Don't carry on, girl. You been
promised to him a long time. Your daddy worked it out with Mr. Barlowe
before he passed. They'll take good care of us, Sally. You're promised."
Sally stood, suddenly, and grabbed
the knife from where it lay on the stove. She said, "I can't keep
that promise, Mama. I'd use this on myself before I did."
Erskine moved faster than Sally
had seen her in a long time. She slapped the back of Sally's hand
and sent the knife flying away. "Girl, fourteen is old enough to marry
and it ought to be old enough to not talk that kind of foolishness.
You remember what happens to girls that can't keep their promises
before they go."
Sally screamed at her mother,
defying her, "I don't believe those tales anymore!"
Erskine took Sally's wrist and
sat her back down on the bench. "Oh, you don't, do you? Too big to
believe in the Lonesome Girls? I suppose you don't wonder why the
birds the old Crow Man sends to steal corn for his supper don't eat
it themselves, then. I suppose you don't still walk out of that graveyard
you're always stealing off to backwards when you get caught up there
in the rain."
Sally didn't say anything, just
stared at the floor.
"Girl, my mama told me about those
girls, and she had it from her mama and on back like that. Your granny
was a Christian woman and kept the commandments. She knew what walked
this old world.
"You want to stay caught in the
clay instead of rising up to be with the saints? Because you will
be. You'll stay in your cold grave if you break this promise.
"Those girls might look as pretty
and white as the moon but they're the damned of the earth, Sally.
They claw out of their coffins and dance when they can, they catch
fool men when they can, but they're as tormented as if they was in
the Lake of Fire.
"And they're cut off, girl. Cut
off for eternity from the love of the Lord. You don't want that, do
you? Do you?"
Sally shook her head.
But Sally Harpe was fourteen,
and the tobacco had just been put up to cure so there were weeks and
weeks until stripping time. There was time to sneak off to the woods,
time to whisper and laugh, yet. Time and time.
Time to get bold and listen to
Joel Cornett talk big about running off to Bowling Green or Lexington,
or even Louisville. Time to watch the leaves turn and feel the wind
get chill and then it was time to give thanks.
Time for all the souls in that
country to gather and to give thanks, to break bread, to bring out
the fiddle and the pipe, to dance and leap before the Lord as the
preachers excused it.
So it was this bold Sally that
bundled Miss Erskine up onto the wagon seat and guided their old mare
down to the Stone's Camp meeting house. Such a crowd was there already
that she had to park the wagon in the road and hobble the horse in
the parsonage yard.
Erskine was getting on more poorly
since the weather turned colder, so they'd eaten at home and only
driven down to listen to the music and watch the dancing.
Sally hoped to do more than watch.
She was flushed with excitement, looking around at all the people.
She barely even nodded when a Barlowe woman said, "Roy's gone off
to get a deer for us to roast, Sally. Isn't that fine?
Joel was already out there, cutting
up with his Cornett cousins, boys even rougher than him. He ran across
the stamped down yard and leapt, tumbled over the middle bonfire,
the biggest one. If he heard the music he wasn't minding it, he moved
out of step with all the couples reeling around him.
They'd pulled some pews out into
the yard and Sally found a spot on one for her mother. Erskine moved
to make a place for Sally, her Sally who was gone when she looked
Sally heard her name being called.
"Sally Harpe!" Erskine cried while Joel spun and spied her and said
The fiddles started in for real,
then, and even gray old men nodded their heads, keeping time. The
young men went wild, grabbed their wives or their sweethearts and
flung them through the air, stomped and jumped and spun.
So Sally flew. Sally felt his
hands on her waist more than she felt her feet on the packed ground.
She laughed and screamed when he threw her highest and even let him
kiss her. She let him kiss her right there in the firelight, in front
of all the church-goers, in front of her mama, in front of all those
Cornetts and Barlowes.
To Sally, standing in front of
him, it looked like Joel had grown antlers. But then he was on the
ground, buried under the carcass of a deer and Roy Barlowe was standing
beside the fire. His coat was streamed with blood from where he'd
carried the deer across his shoulders.
He was staring off to the side,
and it took Sally a minute to realize that the shouting she was hearing
was Mr. Barlowe, yelling at his son, yelling "Keep on him! Keep on
him!" So Roy bent over to where Joel was struggling under the deer
and wailed on him with big bunched fists.
Joel's head was caught between
the deer's neck and the ground so his shouts were muffled. Sally leaned
in to roll the animal off him, but hands dragged her back. Some Cornett
women were saying, "Come over here to the side, girl," while their
husbands and brothers pushed Roy back and pulled the deer of Joel.
But then big Barlowe men were
there, too, and the music died and people were shouting and running.
Some preachers were there and pulled at the men, yelled at them, but
it did no good.
Sally pulled away from Joel's
kin and tried to make her way back to the fire. But a fence of men
had sprung up, and she could only look though their locked arms and
see Joel standing, blinking the blood out of his eyes. Roy Barlowe
had shrugged off some other Cornetts and was there to slap Joel back
to the ground.
"You smack him back, Joel!" a
And Joel did. He found his ground
for a little time and the others slowed, muttering, waiting to see
which way things would go. The boys went back and forth, punching
and tearing at each other, gripping and staggering in a smaller circle
of their kin. Sally still couldn't break through the larger circle.
So she could just watch. Joel
was fast, she'd known that. Now she saw that he could be mean, that
he must have been in fights before. But Roy didn't flinch or cry out
no matter how Joel scratched at him or bit him, those big arms just
squeezed and pummeled and Sally saw a scared look cross Joel's face
because the other boy wasn't easing off any.
Then there was a hiss from a knot
of Cornetts and Sally saw a flicker of firelight on steel and then
Joel had a knife in his hand. He was staring at it but Roy didn't
see it when he roared and took Joel up in a bear hug. And broke off,
looking down at where red and yellow ran out of his stomach.
Then Sally screamed for sure and
the Barlowes rushed in around Roy again. But he shrugged them off
and yelled "No! No! Leave him!" So all those men backed off again,
Cornetts to one side and Barlowes to the other.
There was cursing from among the
Barlowes, "Throw him a knife!" But Roy yelled again, "No!"
The big boy lurched toward Joel,
who stood with the knife, his hands moving around in little circles
on their own, like they were afraid to stay still. Then Roy leaned
down over the carcass of the deer and straddled it. Joel started toward
him, almost like he meant to help him up.
He stopped though, and Sally saw
what Joel had seen, what they'd all seen. The strain on Roy's face
wasn't from pain but from effort. The sound around the bonfires dropped
off to nothing, nothing but the cracks and pops of the burning wood,
then a louder crack, then another, and Roy Barlowe stood with two
bloody antlers in his hands. Stood and moved towards Joel Cornett
with the buck's rack broken into talons.
He roared and his kin roared with
him, and the Cornetts and the Barlowes rushed toward one another.
But all the other men there had seen too much and the circle holding
Sally back broke as they all rushed in.
Sally went with them, she careened
among the struggling, cursing men, looking for her promised. She shouldered
a Barlowe or a Cornett to one side and finally found where the boys
staggered against each other. Roy held Joel's wrist like a vise, keeping
the knife from finding him yet again. His other arm was wrapped around
the smaller boy's back, the antler in that hand weakly scraping Joel's
side. The other antler hung from where it was caught in the bloody
mess of Joel's cheek.
The way cleared and she ran full
at the boys, tucking herself between them. They fell back, bloody
and exhausted, not looking at her. She followed Joel as he stumbled,
touching her hands to the torn open places at this thigh, his stomach,
"Joel," she said, horrified. "Joel."
He brought his hand up and caught
his fingers in the horns piercing him. He pushed out and the antler
flew away. She started to daub at his cheek with her fingers but he
was looking past her, bringing up the knife.
"No!" Sally screamed. "Stop it!
But they were on each other again,
barely able to raise their arms but trying, trying to slice or stab.
And she was between them, pushing and screaming. They lurched back
and forth over the wet ground, scrambling, leaning against one another
in a tangle.
Then finally, finally, the tangle
fell apart, Roy to one side, into the mud churned up by his feet and
his blood, Joel to the other, falling hard against the broken carcass
of the deer, and Sally, exhausted, fell face first to the ground,
her hair and skirts spilling out around her.
Then a gun sounded into the night
sky and horses came ranging in. Men were yelling "Order! Let's get
some order here!"
They could have stayed quiet though,
because still fell onto the gathering of its own accord. Erskine Harpe
had crossed the way to where her daughter lay. She knelt in the mud
and turned the girl over. She cradled her last child's head to her
and crooned and left it to somebody else to pull the antler from the
Joel Cornett blinked and shook
his head -- quietly, softly -- but the red didn't pass from his eyes.
Not that he had expected it to. He'd watched the world through that
bloody haze for months now, ever since the Barlowe boy had ruined
his sight. His sight and his breath and his legs.
But Joel had taken some things
from Roy as well, he figured. Otherwise, the bigger boy would have
heard him sometime tonight in the hours Joel had stalked him through
Joel gripped the pistol his uncle
had given him weeks ago and watched Roy shift a deer's carcass on
his slumped shoulders, resting against a tree.
Roy's breath billowed out into
the cold night, faster and harder than it would have in the summer.
Joel supposed Roy's wounds had all closed up by now, as his own had,
mostly. He'd seen that Roy favored the side where the terrible slash
in his belly had been, though. No, if Joel wasn't as strong as he
had been, neither was Roy Barlowe.
Roy had been able to get out some
evenings lately and take his gun to get a little meat. Not so late
as this usually, Joel knew. Not so long after dark and not so far
from home as this wounded buck had led him.
Led the both of them, Joel thought.
He'd been stealing after Roy since the snows fell, waiting for a night
like this, a night when Roy had made a poor shot, a slow killing shot
and had to track drips and smears of blood way off Barlowe land, over
Miss Erskine's wild fields and up on to the Willow Ridge. Waiting
for this very time, when the moon was bright enough to give him a
clear shot at Roy from where he hid in some bushes.
But then the clouds slid over
the moon again and Joel lost his aim in the dark. Joel cursed under
his breath, then thought he'd been too loud because he heard Roy speak.
But no, Roy wasn't calling him. Joel could just make out Roy's words.
He was praying.
"Now you look out for Roy, Lord.
That girl didn't come to harm on my account. You watch over Roy I
pray. You keep him from harm."
That girl. Joel had pushed the
reason for his wounds back into himself. His family never spoke about
it except to curse the Barlowes. And Roy didn't seem the type to dwell
on that business. Why?
"Oh," and this time Joel did speak
aloud but neither he nor Roy noticed. They were both staring at the
low stones spread out between them.
Joel didn't know whether Roy had
been to this place since they'd fought, but he'd stayed far away,
himself. Until tonight. If he'd been paying attention, if he'd been
watching where the deer led them instead of watching for a clear shot,
he never would have come out onto this part of the ridge.
The stones of the little graveyard
were just dark shapes against the woods. The wind picked up a little
and the clouds blocking the moonlight grew even thicker. But then
the markers stood out clear in the dark, clear in pale, cold light.
"What?" That was Roy and he was
letting the deer slide to the ground, so Joel didn't think he heard
the scrabbling sound when it started. By the time Roy was trying to
find its source, noise was coming from all around them.
The light got brighter, brighter
than the moon could have cast even if it wasn't hidden, but Joel couldn't
see its source. The noise, though, he could track. It was coming from
Then a light like a lantern beam
shot up from the earth before a stone where near Roy. The boy gaped
at it, and then there was another, and another.
Joel didn't dare move from where
he crouched as Roy started to back away. He saw Roy trip over the
deer, saw that Roy's feet had managed to get caught under its body
Hands were following the light
out of the ground, clean and white for all that they were thrusting
out from the dirt. Hands, wrists, shoulders, then the long tresses
of girl children. Girls were climbing up from their graves.
Joel wanted to scream or cry but
he couldn't find his voice. He wanted to run but he couldn't stand.
Across the way, he saw that Roy had stopped struggling under the deer.
A dozen or more of the pale, cold girls -- it was them casting the
light Joel saw -- shrugged and stretched, then loped over to the tree
where Roy lay trapped.
One of the taller ones gazed down
at Roy. Joel saw that there wasn't any color to her at all. Her hair
and her lips and even her eyes were that cold white. Even then, he
felt like he should know her, should know all of them. The way they
held their shoulders, their clothes, they looked like his cousins
and Roy Barlowe's sisters and like any of the girls at the church.
The tall one moved her hand then,
a quick flick like she was shooing a fly. The deer laying over Roy
shuddered, then stood. It hesitated, blood dripping out of the hollow
place where Roy had cleaned out its guts, then sprang into the dark.
But Roy still didn't move.
Didn't until she moved her hand
again. Some of his old strength must have come back to him because
he leapt to his feet. "What?" Roy said again. Then he said it over
and over in a queer hiccuping rhythm. "What? What? What?"
They didn't answer him, just swayed
around him and stared him down. Then the hand again and Roy Barlowe,
big, stodgy Roy, danced.
He fought it, Joel could tell.
Roy fought his own legs and arms with all the strength that was left
him. But the girls swayed, so Roy did, and he spun. He circled and
swooped and stomped across the cemetery, hurdling their torn open
graves. He slammed against the stones and wore the wild eyed look
of a man who didn't know himself. But then it stopped.
It stopped and he was on his knees
before a grave that Joel knew, that they both knew though neither
had dared visit it. There was no writing on the headstone, Miss Erskine
didn't have any money left for the carving. Dried flowers were strewn
Those girls, too, they were all
around, still quiet, still staring. Roy sobbed, choking on air. And
the ground in front of him trembled a little. Was the light streaming
from that grave a little warmer than the lights of the others, wondered
Joel? Did this hand hesitate, shy away from scratching in the cold
Whether she wanted to or no, Joel
couldn't judge. She came, though. She lurched up out of the earth
the way the others had. And by the time she stood before Roy, Joel
could hardly pick her out from the others. White, all white and cold,
even her eyes.
Then it was her hand that moved,
and she danced with Roy.
She didn't draw breath, though,
she didn't gasp in the chill. She didn't stumble, her legs didn't
give out time and again. She didn't half climb up from the ground
to keep numbly moving and turning. Her face stayed white, it didn't
grow redder and redder.
She didn't blink fast at tears
that wouldn't stop streaming. She didn't fall. It wasn't her that
Joel stared at where Roy lay face
down in the graveyard, unmoving in a pool of light. The he realized
that his arms and legs were tingling, that he could move them again.
He didn't wait. He lurched to
his feet and stumbled away from the clearing. The girls made no move
to follow and for a minute he felt hope. Then a shape flew out of
the darkness and Joel was stunned by the force and pain of a tearing
at his face and a blow to his chest. He was on the ground again, under
the unmoving carcass of a deer. His head was bent to the ground so
he didn't see her when she approached. He saw her light, though.
He was trembling a little, tensed
up, but he moved the way she guided him.
Originally published in Realms
Force Acting on the Displaced Body
by Christopher Rowe
Christopher Rowe interview