Black Petals Issue #86, Winter, 2019

Next Stop-Napper's Holler-Chapter 8
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Napper's Holler-Chapter 9-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Not This Time-Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Our Neighbors, The Zombies-Fiction by Jon A. Park
The Art of Dream-napping-Fiction by Mark J. Kevlock
The Night Side of Eden-Fiction by George Rosas
The Sump-Fiction by Anthony Lukas
Tingles-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Winter's Gnome-Poem by Janet C. Ro
Saucer, Schmosser-Four Poems by Richard Stevenson

nappershollergoner.jpg

Goner

 

 

     Gamie Sue Studdart owed her name to her daddy’s second favorite pastime. She was home-birthed while he was out saving Cassie Rae Hobb, who’d been treed by Old Snort, leader of the local boar herd. Snort ran away with Cassie’s rag doll in his jaws, leaving pieces of it all through the woods to show just how he felt about being interrupted by Day’s buckshot. Day charmed the chubby simpleton with honeyed words, saving the rough stuff till later.

     “Don’t you want a real live baby doll of your very own, darlin’? Come on down, take off your clothes, open your legs…and close your eyes, if you want a nice surprise.” Frail Ella Lou delivered his daughter and slowly bled to death at home while Day begat his son.

     Arriving home flushed from his fun, Day, seeing she’d borne him a girl, shook his young wife by her scrawny shoulders until her teeth rattled. “You never could do anything right, could you, Ella?” Her slack jaw, drool trickling from it, and his hounds lapping at the pooled blood on the floor, finally clued him that she was not going to answer, ever.

     Her clothes forgotten, Cassie had followed her lover to his stead, staying out of sight. She watched from the woods as Day put his second wife in the ground next to his first, Mabel, who had not even made it halfway through her pregnancy. The baby cried herself to sleep, her daddy telling her as he laid her near his hound bitch, “Yer a goner anyway, you gamey-smellin’ thing. I didn’t sell my soul to Satan just to beget shit like you.”

 

     Waiting for Day’s snores, Cassie retrieved the flea-bitten, filthy infant from among the hounds. Sue, the hound bitch that had accepted the newborn, bared her teeth and snapped at the odd girl the folks in Napper’s Holler called ‘tetched’ and ‘half-wit’. Day Studdart, who knew quality, baby-boy-making flesh and didn’t care about smarts, woke up and smacked Cassie’s round bottom as she bent over for the live baby doll. “Leave that Gamie Sue be. She’s a goner.”

     Cassie stood up quickly, rubbing her stinging buttocks, tucked the squalling infant under her arm, and grabbed the half-empty jug of moonshine beside Day’s bed. She swung it and clomped him hard up alongside the head. “Spankin’ is for bad girls. I done what you wanted, the way you wanted it. You’re the goner, Studdart.”

     Day came to that evening. Cassie Rae, his hounds, his clothes, and his guns were gone. Staggering outside to soak his throbbing head under icy pump water, he cared that his daughter was also missing for one reason: not a single living, feeling thing was within reach of his fist. He thought about what to do to fix that, but not for long. He felt Old Snort’s hot breath on his balls, just before the boar put a crimp in Day’s womanizing forever. Day only lived because, when he passed out from the pain, his attacker thought he was dead…

     Gamie Sue was three months old when Cassie Rae and her belly showed up at Day’s for a shotgun wedding. Afterwards, Daddy Hobb and Cassie’s uncles got a little carried away and buried the drunken groom, passed out but alive, by moonlight. Snort put him out of his misery.

 

     By the time precocious Gamie Sue was walking, Day’s widow had gotten up the nerve to take her by the Studdart plot. Her chubby arms full of Day Studdart Jr. and with Gamie Sue clinging to her skirts, Cassie kicked at the churned earth of Day’s grave.

     “See honeys, there’s your dada. Looks like Old Snort had a hankerin’ for dead meat, though.” Cassie spat on Day Studdart’s headstone. The epitaph was her brother, Johnny’s, handiwork: Here lies Day Studdart, age 20, rightly stomped by Old Snort and God’s will.

     Junior woke up, bawled, and nuzzled for a nipple. Cassie nursed him while the little girl played in the dust. Her growling stomach made her remember her picnic basket, packed by Aunt Suke. “Let’s have vittles afore we head home, Gamie. It’s a long hike.”

     Cassie put down a blanket on the rickety front porch of the Studdart stead and enjoyed a picnic of cornbread, beans, fried chicken, and well water. She and Junior were fast asleep by the time Gamie Sue toddled over to peek behind the rustling bushes by Day’s grave.

     “Dada?” Old Snort and Gamie Sue eyed each other. He decided the child wasn’t worth charging, and went back to his roll in the dust.

     “Piggy!” Gamie Sue threw Snort the last of her cornbread, and laughed when he gobbled it down in one bite. With a huff that said, “Don’t follow me,” the boar sprang to his trotters and disappeared among the trees.

     “Mama, Mama—piggy!” Gamie Sue called as she ran back to the porch.

     Cassie sat up with a start and rubbed her eyes. Her clothes were gone, even though she didn’t remember taking them off. She felt cold all over and sticky between her legs. “We’d best be on our way afore your dada’s ghost chases us home. He already took my duds. This place smells haunted ‘nuff so’s I wouldn’t want to be here come dark. Don’t go playin’ with strange piggies, Baby Doll. One of ‘em might be Old Snort.”

 

     Bundling Junior into it before picking up Gamie Sue, Cassie slung the picnic basket across her back, and walked over for a last look at Day’s grave. Sure enough, the dirt showed hoof and tusk marks.

     “I’d better have Johnny come stack stones, and Aunt Suke sprinkle Catholic holy water.”

 

     A month later, a nightmare voice refreshed Cassie’s memory of her visit to Day’s grave. “That was quite a nooner, Cassie Rae. I knew it’d been two weeks since your last bleed, and you were ripe for plantin’. I had another go tonight while you slept, jest in case…” The voice was charming, the throbbing wet she felt below very real. Cassie squinted into a glare. The tall, dark figure bending over her reeked of mold and semen. “My parts may be rotten, but their seed is immortal, thanks to Satan,” he boasted. “I want another son by you, this one in his image.”

     “Old Snort fixed you. My uncles buried you. You can’t have your fun with me anymore, Day. Besides, I already birthed you a son.”

     “You keep Gamie Sue, and I’ll keep you swellin’. That’s how my first wife was when I put her in the ground. How do you think it’d feel to be buried with a live thing inside you, chewin’ on your innards? Gamie paid off Snort with cornbread because that damn pig came to my grave and ate my guts. If you don’t want refillin’, feed me my spawn.”

     “You want me to feed you my angel? You reek of evil, Studdart.”

     “Then be ready for worse and worse,” the ghoul hissed. “You been warned, Cassie Rae.”

     Gamie Sue awoke to her adoptive mama’s screams and her baby brother’s howls. As Cassie’s brothers clambered up the ladder into the loft, the tot reached out to the fleeting shadow, calling, “Dada, Dada!” The baying hounds foamed at the mouth and threw themselves at the downstairs kitchen door.

     Johnny calmed his younger sister, sending Willy, Joe and little Jimmy for Aunt Suke. “You can tell me, Sis. What did you get up to down at Studdart’s? Did you meet a fella? Pa will be madder’n Old Snort if you’re in a family way again.”

     A breeze from the open window blew out Johnny’s candle. The full moon shone through the same window, turning Cassie’s red hair and lips the color of blood. Her eyes were dark wells of fear in her wide pale face. Spooked, Johnny jumped back and made the warding sign against the evil eye…

 

     Aunt Suke, rousted from her hut in the woods, sent her nephews back to bed, quieted the two little ones, and had Cassie tell her about the nightmare. “Cassie Rae, child, I thought you’d learned your lesson from this sorry business with Day Studdart.”

     “Can a ghoul get a woman with child, Aunt Suke? Day says that unless I give Gamie Sue to him, he’ll do me, if he hasn’t already. Pa will kill me if I birth unwed.”

     “Now you’re talking like you really are tetched, Niece. I think you and the babies had better move to my place for awhile. When I look at you I see my sister, Rosie Rae. She was high-strung like you. I know she’d be proud of you for protecting Gamie Sue. She birthed Johnny young, just like you did Day Junior. Too bad she died young too.”

     “Mama Rosie died on the same day as my baby’s daddy, but she stayed in the ground.” The girl snuggled against her aunt just like Gamie Sue cuddled with her. “Having us five kids so close together must have killed her. Day could make me die the same way. Please don’t bury me near him. And if I die with his baby in me, cut it out so’s it won’t eat my guts.”

     Aunt Suke didn’t reply. She just held Cassie until she fell asleep again, and then placed a silver charm around her neck to ward her. The charm had been dipped in holy water.

 

     Two more months passed, and Cassie’s body began to show the proof of Day’s curse. She was forced to wean Junior early. Gamie Sue and Junior took turns crying all through the night. Even Aunt Suke’s patience was tried.

     “Cassie, honey, I’m sorry I was wrong, and we’re going to have to do something about the little ones,” said Aunt Suke one night. “I need to find a stronger spell.”

     All her attention focused on her ever-present nausea, Cassie hardly heard her aunt. Her bloated body was one huge ache, unable to expel the unnatural pregnancy forced upon it. “Give me something to get rid of this baby inside me, Aunt Suke,” she begged.

     “You know that’s not right, Cassie. It ain’t your little baby’s fault. And it won’t work. Day will return to claim this one. And I’m not ready to fight him yet. Neither are you.”

     “Pa won’t speak to me, or let my brothers come visit. He won’t even look at me. I can’t stand the loneliness.”

     Cassie felt a soft little hand on her hot forehead. “The big piggy can help, Mama.”

     Cassie wearily hugged the child, admiring her sweet face and kissing her curly head. “I wish Old Snort could help us, my angel baby girl. But not all the possums, bears and boars together could stomp Day Studdart back into the ground where he belongs. I told Day he was a goner, but I’m the goner unless Aunt Suke can help us.”

 

     “Your daddy says the only way to end the curse, now that he believes in it too, is to shoot Old Snort and eat him. Who could stomach an old wormy boar like Snort?” Aunt Suke shook her head at such foolishness, and went to milk the nanny goat for Junior.

     Gamie Sue slipped out the door and ran down to the Hobb stead, calling out to the men, “Please don’t shoot Snort.” The hounds sleeping in the Hobb kitchen jumped at and clawed the door, and joined their bays to the girl’s cries. Pa Hobb came out and smacked Gamie Sue’s behind once, sending her back up the hill with tears in her big blue eyes.

     Aunt Suke stopped her milking to take Gamie Sue into her arms to hug and kiss away her hurt, her ears burning from the words, “Grampa hit me.” Then she stormed down the hill to confront her brother-in-law, telling the child, “You stay right here, Baby. Eat this cookie.”

     Gripping her middle, Cassie waddled slowly out to the lean-to, picked up the bucket, and went into Suke’s hut to warm Junior some milk on the potbelly stove.

     No one noticed Gamie Sue heading off among the trees with the molasses cookie in her tiny hand, calling, “Here, piggy, piggy!” Hungry red eyes not belonging to anything earthly watched her from the shadowed woods.

     That night the alerted Hobb men combed the woods around their stead in vain, searching for Gamie Sue. Pa Hobb went to Cassie Rae with the bad news, “I’m sorry, Daughter, but I don’t think the little one has much of a chance; there’s snow on the ground this morning. I’ll go into town and ask for help from the rest of Napper’s Holler. You and Junior can move back home if you want, what with another baby coming and all. I don’t care whose it is. You might catch your death of cold up here at Suke’s.”

 

     “I’ll stay with Suke for now, Pa, but thanks.” Cassie, noticing for the first time that her nausea was completely gone, pulled her shawl around her shoulders and shivered. “Please, just find my Gamie Sue.”

     “I think Gamie Sue has gone to her daddy to spare you, Cassie Rae,” said Aunt Suke at one point in the following desperate hours. “But he’s in hell and she’s in heaven.”

 

     Six months passed. With Cassie’s time to deliver at hand, Aunt Suke moved her down to the Hobb stead and the comfort of her dead mama’s big bed. Then she went for the Catholic priest, warning him, “Don’t mention Gamie Sue around Cassie.”

     Cassie’s water burst when Daddy Hobb came home with some news. “Day Studdart’s stead burned down. Maybe it bodes well for once, Cassie. Old Snort and his herd have lit out for parts unknown too.”

     But Cassie began to groan. She bucked and pushed against sharpness. Her fat rippled and quivered. “I’m a good girl, Lord. Don’t let me roast in hell when I pass over,” she cried.

     At sunset, Junior, slow and fat like his mama, crawled to her bed of pain and pulled himself up. The whole unbaptized Hobb family surrounded the bed, with Aunt Suke singing out her spells and hanging her charms. White-faced, Father Joe Murphy gripped his cross, sprinkled holy water, burned incense, and chanted in Latin.

     Outside, as the full moon rose, the ghoul Day Studdart stood his ground, the bones of his innocent baby daughter burning within his corrupt belly, chafing his unholy soul. He was hungrier than ever…

     Cassie felt Gamie Sue’s angel kiss on her fevered cheek, and gave one final push. The spawn of the undead emerged, hooves first, horns and forked tail tearing Cassie’s tender flesh. Satan had gifted it with a scaly hide and God, its mama’s fiery hair. Neither male nor female, yet both, it crawled, snuffling and mewling, from between Cassie’s throbbing thighs towards her full breast. As it settled and suckled, sating itself on bloody milk, a look of peace came across her face. The family watched her spirit vapor rise from the mound of fat on the bed and take Gamie Sue’s ghostly hand.

     The hounds’ bays and Junior’s howls alerted the paralyzed family and priest just as Day’s rotten, bony arm stretched through the window. Its ghoul father grabbed the one begotten to feed eternal hunger with immortal meat. His hounds in hot pursuit, the goner fled into the darkness to feast upon the misbegotten flesh of his flesh.

     Some nights in Napper’s Holler, baying would come from deep in the woods. But, like Old Snort and his herd, no trace of Day Studdart or his hounds was ever found. A cross was planted on the site of Studdart’s burned-out stead. On it Johnny Hobb carved only these words:

WHERE THE WORM DIES NOT

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