“Brother Reynolds, by your own account, you deem worthy of your passenger’s seat a drug-crazed teenage girl who emerges on a back road in the dead of night, and then of the occupancy of your bed in the Jesuit Residence?”
“Why Monsignor, it’s not at all like that.”
“Bring her in, we shall question her together.”
A young woman, darkly tanned and solidly built, but with a downcast expression entered clothed in an alb.
“Reverend Father, would it please you, I would make confession. It has been close to a year since I...”
Glancing at Brother Reynolds, the monsignor added: “Proceed, but first, your name, my child.”
“Eula, Eula Grayson, reverend father.”
Her humble beginnings, and recent ordeals quickly told, Eula paused to tearfully beg forgiveness.
“You shall learn that there is always hope for the repentant sinner, continue...”
“But, father, have I not committed a mortal sin, how can hope...?”
“All in good time, child, all in good time, now tell me how you met Brother Reynolds.”
“Well, father, when I left Roseau, I thought to hitchhike down to some cousins in Texas, for they’d not have heard anything of...” she paused, and wiped her eyes.
“Leaving the bus in Rippey, IA, I headed for the closest diner. Holding the door for a gaunt, elderly man who paused breathless at the threshold, I followed him in. A paper bag he was carrying fell to the ground, scattering some leaves. Picking them up, I said: ‘Got bronchitis bad, eh? Jimsonweed'll take care of it, but you gotta be powerful careful, that stuff can kill ya.’
“His eyes perked up. ‘Where’d’ya learn o’ the Devil’s Trumpet?’
“‘Grammy, she taught me of the medicines grew natural-like ‘round the fields an’ woods — not much for doctor’s pills, she was.’
“Moving over to a booth we began talking over our meals.
“‘Sadie, that were my wife, never put no faith in momma’s medicines, called ‘er an ol’ witch, but Lillie, like me, she’d follow momma inter the hollers where the bloodroot an’ maidenhair grew. Sadie’d get awful angry at Lillie — she were a fey one, just like you — my Lillie’d stay home and make up my soothin’ syrup, ‘stead o’ have boys a-courtin’ her at the barn dances. Sadie said it weren’t natural.’
“When the miner’s lung had got real bad, Sadie’d left, taking their daughter — no goodbyes, no explanation. He’d traced them up north and found them in a mining town, Angus, Iowa — dead of the fever. ‘Left me dyin’ ’mongst the coal pits of Kentucky, just to die ’mongst those of Iowa, ha, ha ha!’ he said, with a cackling laugh interrupted by his coughing.
“When I told him I wasn’t sure about Texas, he offered me free room and board if I’d take care of him ’til the spring — I hesitated. Sure, I’d had a bad streak with men, but somehow I felt comfortable around him, and nobody else wanted me.
“‘No offence Mister...you don’t look like you eat much, I don’t wanna impose on your hospitality, I got money if you need some.’
“‘Don’t you fret none, miss...,’ he said, placing a gold Half Eagle on the bill. “We left and we followed the Des Moines and Ft. Dodge Railroad right-of-way into Angus. The place was mostly a ghost town, but he’d made a home for himself in the old Climax Coal Co. offices.
“‘Found a gambler’s hidden stash fixin’ up the place next door,’ he explained, handing me another half eagle. ‘Out back, take care — thar’s a coal pit, where they put those what died of the fever an' some quicklime — cover’s done rotted away.’
“He showed me a room with a cot and a couple of old linen chests. A simple kitchen — water pump, wood stove, a well-stocked pantry, and a roughly-made table — separated our rooms. That’s how it was the few weeks I was there.
“He was quickly wasting away, larger doses of jimsonweed making his speech erratic, but not doing much for his breathing — at these times he’d insist that Lillie would come to him before his time came.
“It’d been raining for a couple of days. A peek outside, showed everything to be soaked — even the old mine shaft had begun spilling over. The humidity made breathing unbearable for him. A large dose of the jimsonweed had put him into an uneasy sleep. Breathing in powdered leaves all day had made me dizzy — I laid down.
“Waking, I saw the chests in my room were open — a girl — was it me? — at the kitchen table — no maybe it wasn’t — would I be wearing such antiquated garb? But I felt wet — I was in my room wasn’t I? Wet, soaking — but her dress left no spots on the dusty floor. Bracing myself in the doorway — no wait, against the table — I crushed a handful of green nightshade fruit and a head of poppy in half a glass of bourbon — ‘not a healthy drink at all, at all,’ I thought. Straining it into his cup she headed for his room, and I followed — well he was calling for me wasn’t he? ‘Lillie, Lillie!’ Kneeling by his bed she said ‘Papa, drink this papa, momma’s waitin’ for you outside, an’ we can all be together.’ I left her with him, his smile told me it would soon be over.
“I stumbled to the table and drank some bourbon, but it only worsened my dizziness, and that sobbing, was that in my head? that sobbing from his room — was I back there? — what door had I gone through? — wait, it was raining. I just kept going — Lillie would be alone now, she would take care of everything. I walked and walked looking for some light. A light from a house...then there it was, and it was getting closer, ha! the whole damn house was coming to me, with two shiny windows — and there he was — Brother Reynolds.”
Copyright: © 2010 Georges Dodds
Published in strong competitors to The New Flesh like International Agrophysics and Estudos de Literatura Oral, Georges Dodds has until recently kept his weird writing under mouldy cerements. His recent genre activities include textual resurrection for a publisher of Gothic novels, unearthing and presenting in an e-library some thematic precursors of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, translating early French science-fiction to English, and preparing a collection of American dime-novelist William Murray Graydon's earliest adventure stories. Georges and his 3-species family (4 with the goldfish), lives in a former bus garage, on the now relocated site of an18th century cemetery -- so far tilling the garden hasn't revealed its past.