Candace Craig owns copyrights: Tumbleweed Press ©
A car rolled east toward Concord Township where farms used to roll on into the great woods that kept mysterious silence. Now these fields terminated in someone’s well-lit talkative backyard, a driveway, another road, and changed the fiber of those people whose predecessors once broke the silence and the long stretches of wild grass, corn and wheat and clouds and distance with talk and business. There was one noticeable farmhouse left upon a hill and set far back from the road. It was the last to keep its acreage, and not long ago one could watch the cows graze in its wild grasses. The old farm now stood fallow in striking relief against the rows and rows of developments that had, from their inception, increasingly trespassed upon the bucolic scene.
She laid there in the dark, listening to the radio. The nocturne tempted her back, to dream, but she fought the urge to give in to pillow and to reverie. She must sit up, she thought, and lay her bare feet on the cold floor and wriggle into her outworn pink and padded slippers. She recalled the smell of coffee, how its nutty fragrance would permeate the house and make her feel warm and comforted. There was the new recliner and the morning television show for company, like breakfast with friends. Her back was rigid and sore, but she rose steadily and moved cautiously until her gaunt figure stood in the middle of the room. The robe draped her fallen breasts and wrapped tightly above her swelling stomach.
She had been robust once, handsome, strong and flexible, and with the fortitude of a soldier. She had survived the depression and the Second World War; and as a youngster she helped support the family, slinging hog slop and milking the cows. She recalled fondly the summer nights there when she and her siblings went swimming or fishing in the pond stocked with bullheads, or meander through woods, streams and meadows to the cold spring to drink icy water from a pipe that ran deep into the earth. The land was hilly and rocky, broken only by a state road and a patchwork of part woods, part pastureland, and part fields of wheat, corn, barley, and hay. Summers were very busy as planting gardens, crops and harvesting took a great deal of work. Her parents, a hired hand, and even the neighbors would come to help. The children were not allowed near much of the heavy equipment, but they could rake loads of hay in the fields, gathering every drop the tractor rakes left behind. Her siblings, like most children, found ways to sneak in their fun by climbing up the tall silo, where the corn was turned to silage for winter, or by jumping into the tall piles of hay.
She recalled the early morning winters on the farm when they dressed themselves quickly and scurried out into the deep snow, coats flapping like little demonic forms that held sway while the rest of the world slept. They were headed before sunrise toward the forty cows waiting and lowing in their stations. It was 4:00 a.m. But the children didn’t allow themselves to think about that. They had chores to do before eating breakfast and running off to school, and they didn’t waste any time. Hazel and Larry cleaned the gutters, while Lori and Harriet threw down the hay and Lyle forked it to the cows. The stalls were especially smelly, for the blustering snow had kept the cows in the barn overnight, chewing their cuds and leaving a mess behind. In all other seasons, the animals roamed the pastures all night until they sensed a threat in the cowdog’s menacing growl.
Her sleepy eyes smiled, remembering the time her father had lightened her chores with a brand new milking machine. Now, she watched eagerly as her father applied the new surge milker to the udders. The next oldest children followed up to get every last drop, pouring it into fourteen-quart milk pails, which they carried to the cold house and poured through strainers into large cans.
On the way they passed by the Jersey bull, that snorted and stammered and bellowed relentlessly, as if he warned them of his own importance and will to power. She now recalled a particularly innocent conversation with her brothers and sisters.
“Stay away from the bull, she could remember instructing the younger ones. “If you get him mad, he might get loose and gore us to death!”
“Why is he so mean?” Lyle asked.
At the time, she saw perfect logic in gendered interpretations, delivered an explanation as a matter of science. “Because he’s a boy and boys are aggressive, and he only respects other men, like himself.”
“Is that why Dad is the only one who goes near him?”
Larry, who was beginning to assert his own personality against his father, qualified, “No, it’s only because he uses that long metal pole with the hook.”
“Why does he need that?”
“So he can hook it onto the ring in the bull’s nose. Then the bull does what he wants.”
“And that’s why he’s angry?”
“No. The bull.”
“Wouldn’t you be angry if someone stuck a ring in your nose and yanked it?”
“Maybe if he could go out in the pasture with the cows, he’d be happy.”
The oldest laughed at this suggestion, as if they had always known the answer, but Hazel, protecting the boy’s innocence, remarked that bulls liked to pick fights with other bulls if they can find them, and if they can’t find another bull, they might even pick a fight with a cow.
But it was not long until Lyle learned of the main reason, because during the very next season, the neighbor’s Holstein bull broke into the pasture.
“Why do the calves have to go to auction?”
“Because our cows are purebred Jerseys and have to stay that way. But when the heifers gave birth, their calves came out spotted. We can’t breed them or show them at the fair because they’re not purebred. They have to be pure Jersey. Not Holstein mixed with Jersey.”
“Because of the neighbor’s bull?”
“How did he get out?”
“Because he smelled out the heifers and ran down the fence.”
“Even the electric fence?”
“Sure, any bull can do that if he wants to.”
“Why does he smell them?”
“Because of the heat, which means they’re ready to get pregnant, but they’re not. Dad says just because they can have babies doesn’t mean they should. But a bull will find any female in the heat and make a baby with her. When it’s cold, the bull can’t smell them. But when it starts to get warm, watch out!”
“How does he do that?”
“Get her to have a baby.”
Hazel thought carefully for half a minute. “He jumps on top of her and a tube comes out and plants a seed in her.”
“No, dummy. Animal seed.”
“Then do beans jump on each other?”
“No. Plant seeds go in the ground. But animals have to jump on each other to put in the seed, and bulls jump on the cows.”
“So if an animal jumps on another animal, it can have a baby.”
“So cows can give each other a baby because they jump on each other.”
“No. They can jump on top of each other, but they can’t give each other a baby. They need a bull with seeds in his pocket. And we only use our Jersey bull when we want the cows to have babies, because we want only Jersey calves, and our bull carries only Jersey seeds.”
“How come Dad doesn’t get Holsteins?”
“Because he likes Jerseys the best.”
“Why does Dad like Jersey cows so much?”
“Because they are very pretty and nicer than Holsteins. And their cream is yummy.”
“Dad says that children who eat Jersey cream never have to go to the doctor.”
“What about Larry? He went to the doctor.”
“Well that was when he ran into a barbed wire fence and tore open his ear, not because he was sick. Sort of like when I split open my lip on that rock when diving into the stream. It was an accident.”
“What about me? I eat cream and I still get sick.”
“You have allergies, probably from the wool and dust. I don’t know. But it’s not like the flu or a cold or something like that. It’s different”
Her mind wandered upon their favorite Jersey cows, each one with its own personality. Some were affectionate and tame. Others were independent and wanted to be left alone. But then, her sweet melancholy turned sharply to pain, with no less a feeling of remorse and outrage than when it happened. She was thinking of Echo Bindle Fancy, her favorite cow. She was more like a person than any other cow. She would often seek out Echo’s kind eyes, look into them, and tell them of her feelings. Echo always let the children hug her big head without protesting. In fact, she welcomed it. She was a butterscotch, patchwork cow, profoundly lopsided, with silly, knobby knees, big brown eyes and long beautiful lashes. She could remember passing her little hands across her swollen belly and folding her head upon her back. Echo seemed to understand, and nudged her with affection. It was often this way with many of the cows, but especially and consistently so with Echo, which explains why the family allowed her to live a bit beyond her practical usefulness. For this reason, she seemed matronly and nurturing, as if she could, solely by her own affection and acceptance, raise the children successfully into adulthood, or perhaps inherit the farm someday. She behaved as if she had a special purpose in the life of the children and a special heaven reserved for her, a cow that was different from the rest, with a kind and very old soul.
She knew now what her parents were thinking then, when she reflected upon how her mother stared at Echo with especially sad and troubled looks. She understood now that these were the lean years. But, still, this was the one fact of her life, with all she had experienced, that she could never accept. She would carry to her grave this one insurmountable grievance against her parents. As it was, there was little time even to contemplate how one might gently coax her into understanding. These were the facts. And facts for farm children were delivered bluntly between jobs.
Maybe she should’ve realized when she overheard her father speaking to her mother on the morning of his unpardonable trespass, “All the cows have calves every year. Male calves? We sell them. If the cows do not produce calves, they are butchered or sold for butchering. Cows are like people. They get old and no longer have babies. So long cow!”
In front of the barn there was an empty plot of grass where the trailer would come, sometimes. It was full of sharp knives, hatchets, and other butchering implements. The cows seemed to know about the trailer, for they could hear the monstrous panic of the chosen one, the confused stampede and raging battle of the chase and harness before the shot that rattled them in the dark and otherwise tranquilizing cool of the barn. So when Echo was led out of the barn at an unusual hour, she knew immediately what that trailer meant, and with astonished eyes could not believe the betrayal, as if she was saying, No, not this, not this!
Even the children, having been exposed to this sort of scene repeatedly, could never fully come to terms with their father’s choice. Yes. This was a working farm, full of beasts of burden purposed for human thriving. But to look upon this scene and not to feel a sense of remorse, even of agony was, in her estimation, a profound failure of humanity. She could remember shedding agonizing tears for her beloved friend and for her father’s betrayal. More than this, she always felt like she had failed to protect Echo, having never been able to forgive herself for not stealing her away when it counted, for not standing between the victim and the perpetrator, whatever the cost. She so wanted to believe that Echo Bindle Fancy would be rewarded in Heaven for her sacrifice, but she could never bring herself to believe it, for, despite Echo’s astonishing capacity for friendship, she had too early become a narrow scholar of the Bible, and the Bible, she learned, does not give souls to animals.
The scene was too heavy, still, for even an old woman in her eighties, and so she trained her mind upon a vivid memory of young adulthood, of her energy and ferocity. She forced herself to mediate upon her constant struggle with the soil from sun-up until sundown, gripping the plough handles and wading up and down the furrows with stubborn determination. It took all her strength just to bear down on the cultivator, deeply, so that each and every day she was utterly drunk with exhaustion. She pitched in as much as she could, and postponed some of the household chores until night. Now, having outlived all of her siblings and two husbands, her tired skin hung in folds, and her muscles had grown soft. But her frame stood tall as a monument to a full and difficult life. She must now fight encroaching fatalism. She must make the coffee.
She shuffled slowly to the thermostat. It had been a cold night, 30 degrees, she thought. She hugged the bathrobe close to her body, hoping her stiff bones would regain some flexibility. The soles of her feet ached as she ambled toward the coffee maker. It’ll be fine soon, she thought. She toiled toward the heavy oak dresser and fingered through her sweaters, laying a loose knit neatly on the bed next to her comfortable sweatpants. She would put them on when her joints loosened up. It didn’t matter that they didn’t match. No longer.
She could remember having to collect wood from the tinderbox and build up a fire. There was no need now. Peering out the window, she eyed the quiescent glow behind the rows of new homes in the valley. She could almost see God’s warm finger sliding effortlessly into yesterday’s ice, and His earlier progeny building bulwarks against time’s merciless erasure of things . . . and memories. They don’t make them that way anymore, she considered. The walls are so thin. The kitchen appliances are cheap and the plumbing will falter in a dozen years. She retreated into primeval recollections of the Old House. To be a mind only, she dimly thought. But her thoughts contracted back into her old bones, which now stood as the sole trace of archaic efforts and desires.
The last few years were spent adding old pictures to frames and scrapbooks to show her great grandchildren. They peopled the intimate TV room where she sat now with her weak coffee and buttered toast. She smiled faintly back at them. She was now in the house alone with no one to care and to do for. There seemed no point to her cleaning, though she kept it up out of an inarticulate sense of duty. The house was growing increasingly gloomy and deafeningly quiet. It no longer loved her and she fell out of love with it, a place to which she could no longer return. As time froze insufferably, a feeling of lethargy crept over her like a shadow. Everything seemed to darken, the white lace curtains now iron gray, the floor smoky with dust, the walls greasy, and the dishes often left unwashed. What is the point of cleaning when there’s no one to enjoy it? I do not know how to be alone.
She made an effort, of course, when she knew someone would stop by for a visit, a church lady, the children, and perhaps their children. On these occasions, she bathed herself, changed the sheets, swept the floors, washed the dishes, and set out newly baked cookies. But when the obligatory visit was over the false cheer she had mustered had left her depleted and she laid motionless in a mindless torpor, or sat passively and just faded into a hard and fast sleep. She felt a determining sense of having outspent her usefulness in this world. So when she saw the sore, she welcomed it, sometimes admired it, but mostly ignored it. She knew what it meant, of course, and like the house, she saw no point in prolonging or reversing God’s apparent will.
The show was just beginning. Halloween would be here in another two weeks, the host reminded her. I should buy a pumpkin, she thought. But her hands were too gnarled to carve it. She might finger-paint it instead and lay it on the front steps, and when the kids came around she could give them candy and smile at their costumes. Her cheek caught the red slant of light coming through the window. In the cool, blue tint of the morning, suddenly so much warmth. If she got out now, she could enjoy a full morning, and a free one, and watch the sun illumine the fall tapestry. Surely this needed admiring. Mornings like this brought peace. She was alive still and had sense enough to see, to breathe, and to taste, perhaps to abandon the throbbing ache of memory for the pacific contemplation of the sunrise.
She stepped into the morning air now fully dressed and aided by a walking stick. The frost was melting fast but the air was still cold and sliced into her exposed flesh. She loved to crunch the fallen leaves under her boots and taste the brittle smoke from last night’s burning leaf pile. She was soon feeling fluid, better than she had in months, and headed into the only remaining woods in the neighborhood. She was determined not to sell them off to a developer for a big profit. Two years ago, the local paper ran a story on her. She couldn’t understand why. It seemed sensible to stand her ground, for she needed most of all those woods. The collection of trees, a little like the house, was nothing impressive and far from the Alleghenies, but she and her husband cut a path through them years ago. And that was worth remembering. Together, they would visit the maple trees and monitor their growth from saplings. That too was worth remembering. This month would make twenty years since they added to the surviving patch of maturing forest that would have been hewn down if not for her resolve. She remembered the year they tapped several maples for sap, and made homemade maple sugar with two of her grandchildren. A tear slid down her flaccid cheeks. These woods had stayed with her. Had given her so much. What would happen to them when she died?
The sky was almost fully lighted now and the slant of the sun blinded her. She imagined herself a colossus levitating above the earth, parting the deepening layers of decaying leaves. I should rake these, she thought. But she liked to wade through them as a child. And she knew the way; these were her woods.
She walked nearly erect now, no longer as an old woman, but with more youthful, more confident gait, still knowing better than to throw her stick aside and to rely on her own body alone; days like these were rare. Tomorrow she may not be so fortunate. And it could be another two weeks before she could move like this again. I should pray, she thought. I haven’t prayed yet today. The sunlight began to lift above the tree lofts and shone on her face. That’s nice, Lord, she mused. And with grateful and jubilant heart she began to sing her favorite hymn.
She was stepping lightly when she saw something glitter in the light. As she rounded one of her sycamores she spotted a plastic bag. Her woods would not be defiled, and no matter how it hurt, she was determined to remove the blight. She steadied herself on the walking stick, placed her hand on the stolid trunk, and began to lower herself, praying earnestly that she wouldn’t fall and that she’d be able to stand again. The stiffness in her overworked trunk and limbs demanded all her concentration. She didn’t notice the smell of putrefaction until she’d gotten down on all fours. She boldly grabbed the bag and spilled the hollowed out remains and a carving knife. All at once, she violently threw the bag aside, teetered and lost her balance, twisting her back muscles and flailing helplessly on the wet ground. “Dear Jesus, help me!”
Word spread to neighbors fast. There were many opinions about who’d left the bag, and why. But someone had seen the old woman enter the woods that morning, had seen her fail to return forty minutes later. It was her business always to watch over the surrounding houses.
Mrs. Lawler’s husband owned a successful construction company, and this left her free to be God’s agent. She’d marched each year in Washington against abortion and stem-cell research; she had prayed for the reinstatement of prayer in the classroom; and petitioned recently against the use of the radio in art class at the private school, where she and her husband had decided to send their daughter. She reported her efforts at weekly prayer meetings, prefaced with “Halleluiah” for a battle hard-won against malevolent forces, likening herself now and then, with shows of humility, to little David with a mere slingshot.
There was spiritual war to be fought, and Mrs. Lawler took on the enemy with two fists and a mysterious prompting from the heavenly side, and knowing the subtler workings of the satanic principle. She hadn’t considered, not deeply, how she would manage if she didn’t have a cause to pursue against the emptiness and the silent hysteria, a feeling at once menacing and fruitless.
She had only a dim recall of that shadowy, dank basement and the creatures that sometimes gnawed at the soles of her feet. She wanted light, but there was none then. She could hardly remember her aging mother running naked through the neighborhood, banging on doors and barking in the wind: “They’ve hurt my son! His penis is blue!” This her mother’s only son, source of remorse at first and finally of madness, a life that could have seen the light of day more fully, really seen it, had the doctors decided more wisely not to deliver him vaginally, not giving her the choice. Now he was All, at once crucible and crucified, and aware of nothing. And the girl, who saw all and knew all, was herself nothing. More in mind, always there, were the men her mother brought home to feed, to clothe, to pet, these men that stank of smoke and sweat and urine, the ones who loved violence, who might improbably be moved, or persuaded, to play father, men whom she found repulsive, men she remembered against her will.
She took the initiative to remedy what her own mother ignored, having registered deeply the difference between the way her mother lived and the typical homes of her friends, whose feet walked always on padded warm carpet on the way to their beds at night, who had clean toilets, sinks, and bathtubs, and never had to sleep among the roaches and the rats. She built her own dresser out of two old crates and a board, pasted discarded pictures to the walls. But, despite her efforts, her eyes lifted beyond the stink and neglect of her home life and her feet soon followed. At 13, she packed her bag with two good will dresses and left home forever.
And so she was on her own prematurely in the world, working as a live-in nanny, feeling more like a servant than a sibling, more out of doors like a rootless, lonely drifter detached from all human affinity. She didn’t know that her fear of loneliness and poverty was already crystallized and would pursue her relentlessly in the form of quiet hysteria. In truth, it drove everything she did and would ever do. It was church that kept her from turning to desperate acts as other virtually homeless young girls might have done.
It seemed natural, then, that she eventually go to bible school on a scholarship. The farther away, the better, for the more distance she put behind her, the more turning back grew less likely, and finding a means, any means, to survive, an ever-growing reality. She didn’t realize that it was more a matter of going somewhere that promised a sense of security, than of serving the Lord. Her college years were busy and generally rewarding; the holidays were the cruelest, since when all others fled to comfort of their homes, she waited it out alone in the dorm room or with another student’s family, which compelled her only to retreat further into a tragic state of dejection.
During those times, the familiar began to choke her, which intensified her growing belief that this life of care and retrograde desire would never improve by her own hand. And so, when she got word that there had been a terrible fire and much of her childhood home was burned to the ground with her mother inside, she could now more freely deny her past and the mistake that was her brother, now permanently and safely confined for the rest of his life to an institution. It seemed, she chose to believe, a sign that God was moving in her life, that He had paid attention. Besides this, God had provided for her a job further west, where she soon headed, trailing the sun, and away from the industrial, insidious hell of her childhood.
For the next two years, she was, for all intents and purposes, a poor, single missionary who worked from Sunday to Sunday without an hour of solitude, serving God without flagging. Yet He who “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” had still not provided her with an acceptable Christian husband. The church where she worked proved to be a haven for unmarriageable misfits. She was positively old fashioned, but not in these years when she needed to find a husband. Insular church ladies don’t get cute and urbane husbands. And so she quit, vowed never to leave the house without make-up, and subsisted daily on only a single candy bar eaten on her walk to her new job, one that would give her better exposure to an acceptable pool of young bachelors. She made herself fashionable, thin, and capitalized on her own elegant face. A year later, she was pregnant and engaged. Who said, “God helps those who help themselves”? Not the Bible.
Ultimately, though, she intended to remain in the safety of the church in the same sleepy town for the rest of her life. If she made it into old age, she’d be added to the list of shut-ins and feel the warmth of fervent prayer around her, even if only from a tattered recliner; she’d receive serenades from Christmas carolers and eat home-cooked meals prepared by church mothers with soft and tender hands. If her children ever abandoned her, her dying limbs would still be touched by dutiful brethren singing her to sleep with soothing hymns, at which time she would pass peacefully into eternity having forgotten her frustrated desires in the abject suspension of nihilism. Mrs. Lawler wanted all of this for her own children as well as for herself, to quell her persistent anxiety and aggressive fears, and had clung to her married life and the church as her only rock on shifting sand.
She convinced herself that she felt more for living than for survival and flung herself in times of panic into her religious domestic life. So she quit all other life and retreated to her nest, her home, and imbued it with all of the delights and comforts she, herself, never knew. She filled it with the scents of spiced apple pie, pictures of Jesus telling stories to little children, and an overcrowded Christmas tree that was perennially glowing, year round, in an otherwise dark corner of the living room. She continued to cling to her religion without question, though there seemed always to be a silent scream stirring beneath all of the slogans and tenets she felt bound to echo and to trumpet, a felt, but unrecognized knowledge that came from a human life lived with intense longing for what is reliable and safe.
And so it was God who saved her, she thought, from the darkness and the violence and the insanity. It was the same god who now sent her to protect the innocent and the feeble, who had sent her into the woods that morning to save Mrs. Rabluski’s life, to help the victim, or hers, toward the hospital, and to stay with her as they waited for the tests.
Later that night, after she left her spiritual patient at home, Mrs. Lawler picked up the phone, and dialed throughout the evening.
“You know, if I hadn’t been there, Mrs. Rabluski might have died of shock. The poor woman was lying on the cold wet ground when I found her. I laid my hands upon her and asked the Lord to comfort her. I felt the Lord was guiding me, telling me to look for her. To see if she was okay. I told her to just wait upon the Lord. That he would lie his own hand upon her, that where there are two the Lord is there and that he would work even through doctors who were lost. I stayed with her the whole day as a sister in Christ to make sure she was treated right. They needed to know that this was one of the Lord’s own. I told them, Claire, that it is not for the doctors to save lives, only God decides that; he is the miracle worker, and they are His vessels. She was in such a state, the poor old thing. I was shocked when I saw the bag. There was a knife in it, too, clearly some kind of satanic ritual. It doesn’t surprise me that even in our town there’s this thing. Halloween is Satan’s holiday. So we’re going to see a lot more of this soon. If something isn’t done about it. I think we should have the day banned. It is a Pagan holiday, you know, just a chance for Satan to get a foothold. Next it’ll be the children. Satan won’t stop until he has the children.”
Mrs. Lawler delivered this monologue with slight variations to several neighbors, each offering plenty of fuel to stoke the fire.
“I think it’s the culture today, Beth. Parents don’t really love their kids anymore. They’re all going away from the church and away from God and divorcing now; and their kids are just going to pot. No one pays any attention to the children anymore. And we wonder why they join these cults. I think love is what they’re looking for.”
“I read that they found a few goats sacrificed in Kirtland. Keep the kids away from Kirtland, that’s what I say. You know, I think all of this might be coming from that Unitarian church up there. It’s such a weird place. I knew a lady who called on them once for something, a welcoming service, I think, and she said that when she walked in, they were all dressed like witches.”
“I’m not sure if it’s satanic,” another responded. “But I do wonder how the bag got there and who was behind it. Is there anyone suspicious who lives near those woods? Maybe it’s some miserable, angry teenager. I think that person needs to be investigated, if you can find him out.”
Mrs. Lawler now believed she had intelligence enough to name Satan’s instrument. She’d seen several dubious public school boys at one of the houses on the other side of the Rabluski woods twisting shirtless, shamelessly on a trampoline. She knew, or at least had heard on credible authority, that they’d frequented certain neighborhood parties where “devilish things held sway,” as she often liked to say. The Lord had, she thought, led her straight to the source. She never had to question her conviction about who it was or why they did it. This suspicion was enough for her to wage another holy war—for Satan had chosen her neighborhood for no other reason than because she was there, because her presence was effective for Christ. Satan and his angels wouldn’t waste their efforts on souls already ensnared. She knew it was because of her testimony and that God’s Enemy knew it too.
Mrs. Lawler felt rattled just thinking about it all after so many hours of being alone with nothing to do but think. She stood in the middle of the kitchen washing dishes and suddenly felt something brush against the back of her neck, like a swift breeze. Her mind began to race; and in her fatigued fanaticism she turned and glimpsed the face of Satan glaring at her from a glass wall hanging. The veins in her forehead pulsed violently with blood; fear assumed a horrible shape. She sensed demon-angels circling around her, pressing against her orifices, looking for an opening. At first, she covered her ears and refused to breathe them into her lungs. Then, she erupted into wild paroxysms, roaring like a dragon and blasting Hell’s angels with her insuperable faith. A transcendent army of monsters, giants, serpents, and gewgaws had prowled from their medieval moors at nightfall to join Satan’s attack on Mrs. Lawler in her kitchen that evening. But the ruler of Heaven decided the victory, and with resolution, Mrs. Lawler donned her war-gear, pointed violently at a cracked window and screamed Heaven’s orders to the thump of her stomping foot: “Get thee hence, Satan! . . . Go on! . . . Get!!!!
Officer Jay Anthony Vincent Passerella felt the pressure of his belt tighten against his expanding stomach. He swirled the last of the dregs in his coffee mug and threw the tepid sludge to the back of his throat. For two hours, he’d been watching Route 84 dissipate into a flat and hazy western horizon, and now the sun was just beginning to set. He needed just one more. A half hour left before moving on to another post. Could he afford the time? Should he go? Just then, he felt a stomach cramp turn over like a scorpion’s nest and saw a blaze of red in his mind. There was no quarreling with the red, and so he switched on the lights and veered the car onto the road. The music played like string cheese on the radio. It wasn’t helping. He hit the off button abruptly and tightened himself against the awful pressure of his bowels. The cars in front slowed to an anxious crawl before he nudged them over with a desperate increase of speed and sound. He was nearly there when a call came over his radio.
“We’ve got report of an ADW at 0000 Chillicothe, do you copy?”
He was just two miles from the scene. The nest now churned into a buttery consistency. His frame grew suddenly cold and the hairs on his arms stood up in attention, as though some uncanny visitor from the world of wet shades was sliding past slyly behind. To be a mind only responding to the call, he dimly thought. But his thoughts coiled themselves into a few feet of coiling rebellious flesh, in what seemed like the mind’s dark inscrutable interior. The voice on the radio came through again. This time imploring, or so he thought. He hesitated to answer. But he couldn’t afford to avoid the summons. Not this time.
End of preview . . .