Black Petals Issue #87 Spring, 2019

Napper's Holler, Chapter 10-Gray

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God's Canyon-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Napper's Holler, Chapter 10-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Napper's Holler, Chapter 11-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Napper's Holler, Chapter 12-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
There's an App for That-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Sepia Photograph-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Chorus-Poem set by Christopher Hivner
Granite Garden-Poem set from Michael Keshigian
Cottonmouth-Poem set from Hillary Lyon

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Gray

A. M. Stickel


 

 


     Halloween in Napper’s Holler was just like any other day, thanks to Father Joe Murphy. The Holler’s children did not dress up or play pranks. Even though few of them were Catholic, they went about their chores and minded their manners out of respect for the priest.


     Ella June Ames, the good father’s twenty-eight-year-old housekeeper, had been the first child baptized in the tiny parish. Pappy Ames, who preferred his likker hard and his sermons soft, had appreciated what none of the itinerant preachers seemed able to deliver. He’d not wanted to hear about hellfire and brimstone, but paradise and real-life parables. Having the child he’d found abandoned in Piney Woods baptized, he’d figured, guaranteed him a front row seat for sermons, if not an in with St. Peter himself.


     St. Elmo’s was a clapboard chapel supported by its proximity to the sturdy brick cottage serving as Father Joe’s residence. For fifteen years, Ella June had kept both scrubbed and orderly. Always a cautious child, she’d dedicated herself to the Lord’s service. She’d made this vow at thirteen—the year Pappy Amos Ames (God rest his soul)—left the gangly youngster alone in their drafty cabin next to the cottage. Many miles from any nunnery, she’d done the best she could, given the Holler’s isolation.     


    


     Knock, knock!


     Ella June sat bolt upright, her bedsprings squeaking, sure she’d imagined the raps on her cabin door. A greenish radiance, unlike familiar lantern light, crept around the door’s edges.


     “Who is it?” Ella June asked, her quavery voice startling her in the pre-midnight stillness. Fumbling for her lantern, she lit it, pulled on her threadbare robe, and padded barefoot to the door. Slowly, she put her ear to the wood, but quickly pulled it away from the chilly surface.


     “Open up…or else!” The gargled warning made her skin crawl. Vapor formed as she breathed.


     Ella June gasped and crossed herself. Her hands trembled as she draped her rosary beads around her neck and grabbed the Lives of the Saints Father Joe had given her after her Confirmation. For insurance, she found and lit her white baptismal candle, dripped a pool of wax near her closed door, and stuck the candle where it could safely burn down.


    Then Ella June sighed in resignation, thinking, It must be a prank. Well, I’ll just show those little scamps a thing or two. Running lightly to her bed on her long legs, she stripped the top sheet off and tucked it around her, then pushed up the window beside her bed and climbed out, dropping to the mud below. I’m going to scare the stuffing out of ‘em.


     Suddenly, the sacred candle light poofed out, and Ella June heard, Slide…plop. Slide…plop.


     Tempted to peep over the windowsill, she obeyed her instincts not to do so. The moonlit clearing showed an area around her cabin full of gray corpses—skunks, possums, deer, boar, and even a bear cub.


     “Sweet Savior! This ain’t no youngun’s prank,” said Ella June before she could stop herself, her big, bony feet slipping in the mud and tripping over the pitiful, bloodless bodies of critters.


     Having left her window ajar in her haste, she now regretted the oversight. A glowing, pulsating, amorphous mass dripped over the sill, its slimy, sea-stinking tendrils seeking the ground.


     Like a white ghost, the terrified housekeeper fled in her flapping sheet to holy ground: St. Elmo’s chapel. She dared not scream again, lest her pursuer hear. With no trick-or-treaters or their folks about, and Father Joe away seeing a sick granny deeper in the woods, Ella June knew she was on her own.


     Praying silently, the woman pulled her mop from the back corner of the dim chapel, where only the red eye of the sanctuary candle burned in its glass holder. Moonlight filtered through one stained-glass window. She stomped on the mop to clean her muddy feet, not sure the creature could detect her tracks, but not about to chance it. The aroma of incense and beeswax soothed her heart enough to slow it. She mounted the pulpit. Once there, she rested her hands on the old, worn Bible.


    Tick…tick…tick. Father Joe’s clock at the back of the church counted off the seconds as Ella June listened for, and finally heard, Slide…plop.


     A shimmering green film enveloped the windows, and the roof creaked under an unnatural weight, as if the chapel were underwater. The housekeeper groaned a prayer of thanksgiving for the sturdy old beams and secure door. Her ears rang, however, and an uneasy weariness settled upon her.


     “You just git!” What Ella June meant to holler bravely came out a harsh whisper. She gripped the Bible harder.


     “I’ve come to save you from Devouring Darkness.” The terrible watery-voiced thing had heard her!


     “I’m already saved, thank you,” Ella June snapped in a clear voice, adding, “and I don’t trust no ‘missionary’ what goes about killing helpless critters.”


     “Your kind kills them for meat. I needed their primitive essence to form my own here, so I could bring you an important message...and request a special favor of you.”


     “Pappy always said, ‘If it ain’t good news, it ain’t worth hearin’.’”


     “I’ve traversed vast Deeps, at great risk to my own salvation, with this news: You and your adopted world have been judged and found wanting…unless a representative is willing to bear the Truth. I’ve come to tell you, daughter—you’ve been selected!”


     “You ain’t my kin,” objected Ella June. “If you was, you’d know Napper’s Holler ain’t like the rest of the world. We already have and follow the Truth, born of the Virgin ages ago. It teaches us not to judge folk the way everyone else does. Those who do can just go right back to where they came from.”


     “This is the very reason I’ve come to you. Napper’s Holler being a reality apart means you can all belong to a future reality where you could evolve to a state of perfection like mine.”


     Before Ella June could say how not evolving was fine with her, the clock struck twelve. Bowed beneath the overwhelming weight of Otherness, she stepped from the pulpit and sank to her knees before the altar, the Bible cradled in her arms. For the first time since encountering the Alien, she felt warm, even hot, as brilliant green light bloomed from her to fill the chapel. Not fear, but inspiration, now gripped her. Using a bloody finger, Ella June began to write of her encounter...


     The next morning, on the Feast of All Saints, Father Joe found his housekeeper’s gray husk, wrapped in the sheet, at the foot of the altar. Her essence having hastened the unearthly missionary’s exodus, her glorified soul had departed the Holler…beyond the reach of Devouring Darkness.

Of the Alien there remained not a trace, save for Ella June’s simple sketch and vivid testimony in flowing green script on the brittle, gray flyleaf of the old Bible.



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