Friday, October 16, 2009

Halloween -part 2

(part 2 -Phantom Limb)

Night in the country was loud. Summer in the country was hot. Dust and unfamiliar flavors hung in the air, captured beneath the canopy of leaf covered branches. Reptiles, lonesome birds and insects frantically called in desperation and terror in the dark, then settled into a black, hidden silence.

Nothing was comfortable and each breath oozed its way out of their mouths like wood smoke.
Drowsy, but dreamless they listened to their aunt in the next room snore, babble and pass gas.

They were used to the heat, but also accustom to the cool comfort of air conditioning. Cecelia only had a fan, a big, cheap box fan, she kept parked during the day next to the open screen door, aimed at her sagging armchair.

“You think it’s hot now,” she laughed when they complained in the morning. “You wait until August. You’ll get used to it.”

None of them believed that.

Cecelia sent them outside.

“Go play,” she said. “I’ll call you back when it’s time for lunch.”

It was too hot to play. Peggy and Jack took the gifts from the preacher, settled under oak trees in the yard and followed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer down the Mississippi. Amy measured the dirt road, saw where it began at the mailbox then passed her foot. It ran farther, snaked past the house and climbed up the hills.

“You know what’s up that way?” Amy asked.

Jack shrugged. “No idea.”

“You want to go check it out?”

Jack shook his head. He was already committed.

“Why are you reading that?” Amy asked.

Jack didn’t look up.

“It’s something to do.”

“So is figuring out where that road goes.”

“No thanks,” Jack said and went back to his book.

Peggy was at least as unenthusiastic about moving from her spot. They were a matched pair.

“But where does it go?” Amy wanted to know.

“It probably goes to one of the back fields,” Peggy told her. “The farm is pretty big, like a hundred acres. You could get lost if you don’t know where you’re going, which you don’t.”

“Not if I stay on the road.”

“Suit yourself.” The issue was settled.

It wasn’t permission, but good enough. If Cecelia asked, she’d blame her brother and sister. Half an hour down the rain-gutted and rutted road, her leg beagn to bother her. The wound was healed. A mass of scar tissue pressed against the snug cradle of the prosthetic. She’d get used to the uncomfortable pressure. The doctors said she would, but she’d never like it and walking like this under the growing heat of the sun, she was reminded how much she resented the leg, the limp and how she got it.

She needed to rest, let the stump dry out. If she kept walking, the tender skin would break against the smooth plastic, but the grass on either side of the road was high, hiding bugs and burs and wild animals. Amy frowned. Jack or Peggy should have come with her.

On the verge of tears, Amy sat in the middle of the road and unlaced the prosthetic. Miserably, she thought, if some wild animal were to approach, she’d beat it back with her plastic leg.

Just a short rest.

For the comfort of it, she fished the ungainly pocket knife from her jeans and flipped open the blade. Cecelia said she and Peggy could wear jeans on the farm, but to church, to school, to anywhere else, they had to wear skirts and dresses.

“You’ll get used to it,” Cecelia promised.

Everybody was always saying that. You’ll get used to it, but she didn’t want to get used to it. Amy wanted to wear her jeans every day. She wanted to go home. She wanted two real legs and two real parents.

The blade of the cheap knife gleamed in the light. She held it up and watched a sunbeam bounce off its silvery blade.

As she sat there, watching the knife cut the light, with the artificial foot next to her, a scrawny looking boy in a dirty t-shirt pushed through the high grass and stepped out onto the road. He gasped when he saw her. They both gasped.

“Wait,” he said and clutched the sack he held, close to him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
Amy lowered the ridiculous knife to her lap.

“You scared me.”

“I scared you?” He exclaimed. “You just about gave me a heart attack.”

They looked at one another for a moment, then laughed.

“Sorry,” she giggled and he shook his head, grinning.

He was about her age, but funny looking: too thin, underfed and pale under the dirt. His shirt was just a rag, riddled with holes and black stains.

“Why are you sitting in the road?” He asked.

“What are you doing here?” She asked. “This is my aunt’s farm.”

He shrugged. It didn’t seem to occur to him he was anywhere.

“Just passing through,” he repeated.

“Where are you going and what’s in the bag?”

The boy looked out distantly at the wall of weeds surrounding them, looked back at where the grass had spat him out and where he was going. He didn’t seem to know.

“What’s in the bag?” She asked again.

The spell was broken. He shook his head and said, “Nothing.” He opened it for her. The bag was empty.

Amy didn’t know what to make of him. He was acting peculiarly, wouldn’t tell her where he was going and hadn’t volunteered his name.

She sighed then slipped on her leg. He stared, but everybody did.

“Do you mind?”


She rolled her eyes and asked him his name.

He smiled. “Albert. Albert McCoy.”

“Well, Albert McCoy,” she said tightening the leg to her stump, “You going to help me up or not?”

He nodded and pulled her to her feet. Amy stumbled and he caught her in his arms. The knife blade in her hand pointed toward the sky between them. They stood that way for a moment while Amy’s heart pounded.

“Sorry.” He pulled away, embarrassed. “I probably stink.”

She nodded, not that she noticed. She folded the knife and pushed it into her pocket.

“So, what’s supposed to be in the bag?”

He shook his head.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you.”

“What? Is it some kind of secret?”

He laughed. “Oh, nothing like that. I just wouldn’t want to scare you.”

Amy crossed her arms and frowned. She wasn’t frightened of a scrawny little boy holding a beat-up bag.

“Fine,” she said and turned to walk away.


A cold shiver ran up her spine. She stopped and turned around.

“Snakes? Why on earth would you want a bag full of snakes?”

He laughed, then said, “Well, I don’t. I got me a deal with this preacher, from one of them snake handling churches? He said if I brought him thirty snakes, he’d give me sixty dollars.”

Amy shook her head. She knew nonsense when she heard it.

“Oh, you’re full of it.”

Albert shook his head. He was serious.

“No, really. Mr. Cruise from over at Holy Assembly asked me and my brother to bring him snakes for his church. We just got a week to get them, though.”

Amy had never heard of such a thing, but then again the one church she’d been to since she’d come to the farm had been stranger than anything she’d ever seen, what with the shouting and the twitching.

Cecelia had tried to explain to them when the spirit moved some people, they spoke in tongues. Cecelia called it a holy language, a miracle. They spoke in the language of the angels and God. It was a blessing for the whole church to hear it.

“Why would anybody want snakes in a church? That’s crazy.”

The boy didn’t disagree, but this wasn’t about what he believed in.

“I’m really more interested in the money,” he told her. “Times are kind of tight, you know? Sixty dollars is sixty dollars.”

And he was right, of course.

“But isn’t that dangerous, I mean, picking up snakes?”

The boy nodded.

“But I got fast hands.” He frowned. “My brother Randal was supposed to come along, just to hold the bag, but he ran off before I got up.” He was disappointed. “Randal is kind of a chicken. He’s not like us. He’s still little.”

Amy didn’t think she’d be exceptionally brave either. In fact, Randal sounded like the smarter and saner of the two.

Before the boy could suggest she might help him, Amy told him she had to get going. “My aunt will wonder where I am,” she said. “Good luck with your snakes.”

He nodded solemnly and started back into the weeds.

“Hey,” he said suddenly. “What’s your name?”

“Amy,” she told him. “Amy Foster.”

He waved at her and grinned. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe,” she said, hoping.

Amy hiked “home.” Her leg throbbed all the way. His name was Albert McCoy. He talked to her. He said she wasn’t little, not like his brother. He didn’t think she was a kid.

She couldn’t help but smile. Her leg hurt, but she didn’t care.

Jack and Peggy, of course, were still reading, though now they sat under the same tree. She’d only been gone for a little over an hour. It only seemed longer, but Aunt Cecelia hadn’t noticed.

Jack looked up. “You find anything?”

She almost told him, about the boy, about the story of the snakes, but then shook her head.

“I didn’t get too far,” she said. “My leg, you know.”

Her brother looked guilty after she said it.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I guess I should have gone with you.” He closed his book and stood. “If you want, I’ll go with you next time.”

She shook her head. “No, that’s okay. It’s probably good for me. The doctors said I have to get used to walking on it.” She looked up and down the road. “I think we’re going to be doing a lot of walking around here.”

Jack frowned and nodded.

“I don’t think I’m going to get used to this place,” he said. “I don’t know if I want to.”

Amy smiled. “Oh, it’s not so bad.”

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