Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Key-hole and the Tobacco Witch (1).

The backside of a mule wasn't a great view, but wasn't cause for distraction either. He could only remember the last five or six summers with clarity. This one was like the those few before it. The tobacco plants stood tall, as far as his eyes could see on those rolling Tennessee hills. The sky was hazy today, and yet so bright that he had to squint. Crows were chasing overhead and seemed to mock his labor. His days began before the sun, although not before the roosters. As typical of every morning, he awoke to the sound of his mother's footsteps outside of his bedroom door. His senses would come alive with the reality of the dawning day... breakfast sounds against plates and his mother's voice. He and his brothers would crowd around that old, rough-hewn table and fight for each piece of food.  After the last crumb had been swallowed, they would follow their father down the path and over the fields to where their work would began like the day before, and also like the endless days to come. This was the life of a tobacco sharecropper's son. Work just as hard as it was honest.

The day would end with them carrying the consequence of its labor. The dirt was ground in skin deep over the course of days, clothes would wear ever thinner, and then there was the aching. Simple and unending aching from head to toe. His hands from gripping the leather straps, trying to compensate for his small stature with the harness wrapped around his waist and threaded through his grip. His arms and abdomen were now burning from holding the leather taunt, his legs were stiff from stepping over the broken earth all day, his shoulders still hot from the sun, and his feet swollen and numb. His mind floated in between keeping the tip of the plow straight down the row and thinking of the evening to come. The small frame house would be crowded and hot with his mother, father, and 13 siblings. He looked forward to the small relief of when sleep pulled the cover over his body and mind.

But for now he felt the sweat gather and hang on the tip of his nose, blasted it away with a puff from his lips. The mule seemed to feel the drag of the day along with him, slowly planting each hoof in the hard ground before straining his haunches to break the earth. He looked toward the top of the hill and could see the scarecrow silhouetted by the waning sun. One of the crows defiantly lands on one of the outstretched arms and mocks him with loud defiance. In the distance he hears the ringing of the dinner bell. He can hear his mother calling him to the house. The day had finally come to its end.

Dinner was spent in the kitchen with the hot evening air slowly moving through the doorways. Candles cast  their movements on the four close walls. The meal was typical and very filling. Heavy fresh baked biscuits and a few pieces of salt pork, along with boiled potatoes and fresh green beans plucked from the garden. Father would maintain order with spittle-flecked shouts and the occasional thrown fork. He had his fill and washed it down with a very thin tea. His mind was far away, thinking of the cool water of the creek in the spring, and the deep shade that could be found in the holler below.  As the shadows lengthened, the family began to quiet and they made their way to the beds.

Wil wasn't the youngest, and he wasn't the oldest. He was smack in the middle of 11 other siblings. He shared this room with his four brothers. The other two had bunks, but his bed stood alone, nearest the bedroom door. The room had only two small windows, barely large enough to allow the air to move, and high near the ceiling. If he tilted his head just right, he could see the moon for a few hours each night. He fell asleep.

He didn't know why, but suddenly his eyes were open. The moon was reflecting directly onto his face. The light seemed to consume him as he tried to focus. In a house full of 13 people, it was never quiet, but at this moment he noticed that he could not hear a sound. His heart began to race and he felt his throat tighten with fear. Something was not right. The air was so hot and thick it felt like liquid pouring down his throat. He had never felt so threatened. It was then that he noticed the smell. It reminded him of the old scarecrow, a dank wet smell of decay and putrid remains. The images of the crow laughing on the arm of the staring scarecrow cascaded his mind with revulsion. He started imagining the scarecrow unhinging himself from the pole and crawling towards his bedroom door. He heard a faint click from the door and spun his head away from the moonlight. He could see the beam from the moon focused directly on the keyhole. He couldn't stop staring at that keyhole.  He thought he could see a shape slowly pouring from the bottom of the keyhole. He strained his eyes to see through the darkness.  The air was getting thicker, and heavier as his eyesight began to blur. His chest and head felt compressed while his fear built. Adrenaline shot through his body and his stomach seemed to jump up his throat as he opened his mouth to scream.

The room went black as the blanket was ripped off his bed.

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