Black Petals Issue #88, Summer, 2019

Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 13
Home
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Place of His Own-Fiction by Dorian Sinnott
Blood on the Riviera-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 13-Fiction by A.M.Stickel
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 14-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 15-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Conclusion-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Red Dress-Fiction byTrisha McKee
The Dead Are Not Lonely-Fiction by A. L. Hodges
The Taxidermist is Hatching-Fiction by Michael Mulvihill
This Isn't You-Fiction by J. David Thayer
Love River Forever-Poem by Hicham El Qendouci
Fire Rages from Her Fingertips-4 Poems by T. B. Kelley
Sheepsquatch-3 poems by Richard Stevenson

jesus.jpg

Jesus

 

 

     Napper’s Holler folks know you can find Jesus there if you just look hard enough. The day he became a man, Will Throckmyer Jr. discovered you’ll most likely find Him when you find His cross.

     Willie was the son of an albino girl and a youth with skin so black you could see yourself in it. Ma Angel Skye—a ‘Smiley cross’ between twins, a ghost and a ghoul—had wed Pa ‘Keeper Will’ Throckmyer (former revenuer and present handyman to Father Joe Murphy) when she was twelve. It had been a hasty wedding because her pa, J.J. Smiley (the ghoul), was about to rot away completely and wanted to see his first grandchild before he was worm food.

     Luckily for Willie, his ma turned thirteen and was delivered of her only child just in time. Keeper Will became a widower at twenty-five with a son who took after him in body, but whose spirit was attuned to Higher Realms. This meant Will Jr. could still see his ma, Angel Skye, and spend valuable time with her when he wasn’t helping his pa with chores.

 

     Grampa J.J. had become a bed of daisies, and provided a pleasant common ground for Willie and his ma. Her girlish ghost always perched on the wooden cross marking her adjacent grave. Willie, as usual, flung himself down on the flowers.

     “I like Pa’s wife, Rachel Ann, but not my half-brothers,” he admitted. “They won’t help me with chores and they act like I’m their servant. What can I do about it, Ma?”

     “I know, Son. They don’t deserve to be named for the Seven Who Stand Before God. Ariel, Cassiel, Gabriel, Galadriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel are more like demons than seven archangels. I feel sorry for Schoolmaster Ed. He has his work cut out for him.”

     “I kinda wish Grampa J.J. was still here, Ma. He could surprise them on dark nights, and maybe bite their behinds too. They’re sweet lil angels when Rachel Ann or Pa are around. But, the minute I’m alone with them, they gang up on me.”

     Angel Skye giggled and swung her legs, then remembered she had to behave herself if she was to guide her son on a righteous path. “What would Jesus do?”

     “Well, Pa told me to ask Father Joe. So I went to Father Joe, and he said my brothers are my cross. Unless I carry it, I’ll never be the man I was meant to be.”

     “Willie, you have to figure out how to shoulder your burden. I’m not the one who kens being a man… leastways, not how a man would. But I know the Lord helps those who help themselves. If I was you, I’d help myself by hightailin’ it outta here right now.” Wincing, the ghost pointed toward the Throckmyer stead, and disappeared.

     Will Jr. turned around just in time to see his pa approaching with a fat switch in his hand, and bad news to boot. “Sarah Jane got out and run off with Smarty, that big old wild boar what took Snort’s place.”

     “Pa, chasin’ Sarah Jane and Smarty with a switch isn’t going to get her back.”

     “This switch isn’t for the sow who saved my life. It’s for the fella who left the gate to her pen open. It’s wide enough for the one who sneaks scraps to that Satan’s spawn, Smarty. It’s long enough to reach the backside of the one teachin’ his brothers to make pets outta bad ol’ boars who’d as soon gore and stomp ‘em as eat their scraps.”

     Before Willie could say anything, his pa had him by the collar and lay into him. The switch rose and fell thrice in sympathetic syncopation to the worries pulsing through Keeper Will’s brain. No Sarah Jane meant no piglets; no piglets meant no pork for the family except for what they had salted away, which wasn’t much with eight hungry boys to feed. Game had been scarce lately, foxes had gotten to the chickens, and the wily Smarty had helped himself to the Throckmyer corn and other vegetables too often, trampling and rolling on what remained…   

     On the third blow, the switch broke. Keeper Will dropped the stub and stood over his fallen son, chest heaving and eyes tearing, shocked by his own rage. He held out his hand to help Willie rise, to tell him he was sorry, to hug him and lead him home.

     A tight-eyed, slightly smaller version of Will’s own pa refused the offending hand and stared up at him from the trampled daisy bed. Despite the stings making Willie’s lips quiver, no moan or sob emerged. His stillness said he’d rather die than plead for mercy or admit guilt. Finally, closing his eyes, arms over his chest, he curled up in the dirt.

     Napper’s Holler held a cross too heavy for Willie. I’ll be thirteen in two weeks. By then, I’ll have my raft finished, and float down Eagle Creek to the sea. Pirates don’t scare me anymore. I may even join them. But I’ll give my share of treasure to poor people and orphans…

     Willie didn’t hear his pa’s murmured apology, or the slow shuffle back down the path. He didn’t see Sarah Jane and Smarty watching him from the nearby bushes as night fell either.

 

     The moon rode high in the sky when Willie awoke and looked around. His ma’s ghost had settled a cool mist on his backside to quiet the hurt. Then she’d rounded up Sarah Jane for the boy to ride home, while Smarty’s beady little boar eyes followed their every movement.

     “Git on home, Son. Sarah Jane was always mine, though my powers won’t hold Smarty here in Wolf Meadow for long. Rachel Ann has supper saved for you. Your pa’s really sorry now ‘cause he’s found where Smarty chewed the rope holding the pen gate closed.”

     “Thanks, Ma. I’m going to miss your help when I turn thirteen and can’t see or hear you anymore.” Willie tied his kerchief around Sarah Jane’s neck and gingerly climbed aboard. I don’t dare tell Ma about the raft, or she might let Smarty leave Wolf Meadow too soon just to make me stay in Napper’s Holler.

     Sarah Jane gave a lovesick sigh, then moved her trotters steadward. Besides, she was as hungry as Willie.

 

     Willie arrived home to the creak of the porch swing holding the angular shadow of his stepmother, a covered basket on her lap and a jug by her side. She watched him drop off of Sarah Jane’s broad back, then secure her in the sty, where the pig greeted her trough with happy squeals, her love of grub erasing all else.

     Loud snores came from the stead, courtesy of Rachel Ann’s husband, and sons—ages ten, nine, eight (twins), six, five, and three. Her lean, calloused hand lay on the warm bump of her belly, over the kicks of what she hoped was a daughter. Her other hand reached for her stepson as Willie reached for the jug, hoping it was something stronger than apple cider this time. It wasn’t.

     Before digging into the bread-and-bacon sandwich, Willie gave silent thanks anyway—OhLordJesuswethankyouforthisfood. Pa wouldn’t have approved, but Rachel Ann’s flower-scented hug said she did. She rose from the swing, saying softly, “Don’t forget to go wash up, Son. I’ll know if you don’t. You smell like daisies, and I just made lavender-mint soap for us. See you at sunup. G’night.”

     “G’night…and, thanks, Maam.” Willie listened for the floorboard-and-bedspring squeaks before obeying Rachel Ann. A twinge in his heart made him realize how much he’d miss her. At the thought of never seeing the new baby, he felt even worse, and had to squeeze his eyes shut over sudden tears.

 

     The great water snake had waited, hungry all day. Finally, at a commotion along one bank of Eagle Creek, she sprang into action, weaving her way gracefully through the water with hardly a ripple. She avoided the probing, pushing pole and the rough underside of the log raft, inserting her sinuous form invisibly into the wavelets and ripples in its wake. She knew these waters well, and rode the rapids with ease towards the rocky falls where she often caught fish. Today’s catch promised to be bigger, much bigger. The strange, meaty scent on the air was tantalizing. Yes, she could wait a little longer…

 

     “Where are your brothers, Willie?” Will Senior stood frowning and blocking out the sinking sun.

     “Dunno, Pa…been busy.”

     “They shoulda been home from school two hours ago. I thought they might be here helping you.”

     “More likely, playin’ in the woods…and with my new birthday stuff.” Willie shrugged and kept sweeping, thinking, Tonight’s the night! No more sweeping ever. Those seven can have my stupid ol’ stuff.

     “Rachel Ann’s worried. She even checked your ‘stuff’—it’s there, but they ain’t. We’d better go look for ‘em.”

     Willie groaned, set the broom aside, and followed his pa into the woods, both of them calling out the seven names he despised…until the thought hit him—he knew where they were. The raft! Got to tell Pa.

     After Willie confessed, Pa stopped walking, turned and said calmly, “Go to Rachel Ann. I’ll head for the crick. I pray to Jesus it’s not too late.”

     Willie sprinted for home without looking back, and hollered down the hill, “Halloo the stead!”

     “What is it, Son. Have you found the seven?” Rachel Ann’s hands twisted her apron, her eyes wide.

     “I think they took my raft down the Eagle. Pa’s gone to see if he can spot ‘em.”

     “Raft? Oh no…wait! We have one chance. Come to the barn and help me.” In spite of the baby weight, Rachel Ann lit out for the barn like a deer afire. Willie had a hard time keeping up with her.

     Once the pair reached the barn, the woman ran to the back and moved some old Indian blankets. Under them lay her father’s canoe, the black and red and yellow symbols on it still bright.

     “Lift this with me, Son. It’s not as heavy as it looks.” Willie, who watched in disbelief as his stepmother took up one end of the canoe, soon found himself under the other end, and the two of them trotting uphill into the woods. Night was falling, but the figures on the canoe began to glow brighter and brighter, lighting their way along the path to Eagle Creek.

     “We forgot the paddles!” said a dismayed Willie as they reached the steep bank.

     “No paddles—this is a special canoe, blessed by my ancestors first, and for me by Father Joe. We hid it from you children because this can be used for mischief—just like your raft—as well as good…”

     “I didn’t build my raft to hurt my brothers…I promise!” sobbed Willie. He wanted to add how they always managed to ruin everything and how much that hurt him, but knew by the sad look Rachel Ann gave him that he’d be wiser to keep his peace.

     The terrible sound of a man thrashing in the water and cursing met their ears as they set the canoe at the top of the bank. It was Will Senior. “Now is not the time for curses, but for prayers,” admonished Rachel Ann, making a motion with her right hand. The colorful bracelets on her wrist clinked and clanked. In the left she held up the gold cross she wore on a leather thong around her neck.

     Willie had opened his mouth to call out to his pa too, when a profound silence settled over the trio; they watched the glowing canoe float up from the bank and ease itself into the water without a splash.

 

     Pa was the first to reach the canoe, since he was already in the water (having fallen there in the dark). Rachel and Willie slid down the bank to a dry spot the canoe bumped against. They easily boarded the bobbing boat, then let the current carry them.

     Soon the three in the canoe heard, “Halloo…HELP…anyone!” Their shiny craft had rounded a curve in the creek and moved rapidly toward the top of a steep, rocky falls. Stretched across a gap in the falls was what looked like a rope at first, the boy-filled raft—tilting and rocking—wedged up against it.

     Water poured over and around the raft. The seven boys, soaked and shivering in the wash, clung to rope loops along the edge of the raft. One of their poles had caught the water snake and held her pinned against a clump of rocks. Yet she was so large that her tail reached and wrapped around a submerged tree stump near the bank. A portion of her upper body was still free enough to let her head and snapping jaws move quite close to the twins, who held the pole pinning her. Next to the twins, six-year-old Michael gripped the ragged stub of the second pole in his free hand, and kept trying to stab the snake with it when her head swung his way.

     “Do just like the Archangel Michael did with Satan, Mikey!” hollered Willie from the canoe before he could stop himself. He watched Michael turn at the sound of his voice, and saw his lower lip tremble. His lips moved to form the words, “I’m sorry.” But, he was sobbing too hard to say those words.

     The canoe gently nudged the raft, and their parents pulled the first five boys aboard. Somehow, the canoe grew large enough to hold them all. Willie reached over and grabbed the twins. As he did so, the snake, released, sprang up in a geyser of water. Instead of closing her jaws on prey, though, she caught the edge of the raft, and, reflexively, released her tail from the stump. The raft teetered briefly, and, snake and all, tumbled over the falls into the gray, oily mist below.

     Like a living creature acting on instinct, the canoe turned from the perilous gap. Yet, for an instant, Willie experienced what lay beyond the mist. In the land below the falls, not a tree stood. Smoke rose from foul ground which held not a living thing. Beyond the land lay the river bed, dry as dust. From beyond that dust-dry place rose terrible howling in a language a mortal’s ears weren’t meant to understand. A white-hot heat rolled over him and took his breath away; Willie covered his ears and closed his eyes, willing it to end. He could almost feel his flesh begin to fry! Michael bumped him and the nightmare died. 

     Will Throckmyer Jr. bumped Michael back and grinned at him. He looked at his family, safe in the canoe, and realized they had neither seen nor heard what he had. He was glad their attention was upon a radiant Rachel Ann, who, as she labored to give birth, cried out, over and over, JESUS!

     Today I am a man…no…thought Willie, shivering, I mean AMEN!

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