A Wish Too Far

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Mississippi folktale of a desperate fisherman who is granted a wish from a mysterious sea witch. And you know what they say about wishes. Written by Harris Tobias.

Once, on the Gulf coast of Mississippi, there was a poor fisherman who had five daughters. These daughters were very plain and could not find suitors so they lived at home with their mother and helped her keep the house and sell their father’s catch. They were a great help to the family but also a great burden. With so many mouths to feed, the old fisherman was at sea every waking hour trying to catch enough fish to keep his large family fed and clothed. Those few hours when he was home his old wife gave him no peace. “Whatever will we do for money. Without a big dowry no one will marry our daughters. You must work harder and catch more fish.” And on and on she drove him. It was only at sea that he could find any peace.

One day when the fishing was extremely poor, the old fisherman sailed his boat further from home than ever before. A dense fog fell and covered the coast and when it lifted the fisherman found himself in a strange cove where he’d never been before. He was about to cast his net when the tide changed and a great whirlpool grabbed hold of his boat and spun it around and around. Faster and faster the boat spun until it traveled down the funnel of the whirlpool like a bit of dirt down a bathtub’s drain. Eventually the boat came to rest on the bottom of the cove. The fisherman saw a small hut and an old woman hanging clothes on a line.

“Hello good wife,” called the fisherman, “what place is this and how come you here?”

“I am the witch of the cove,” the old woman said, “and this is my home. No mortal has ever been here before. If you keep my secret, I will grant you one wish.”

“I wish I could catch more fish,” said the fisherman without hesitation as he thought that having more money would silence his scolding wife.

“It is easily done,” said the witch. “When you throw your net you must say ‘Damma damma dammaree Fish of the sea come to me’ and you will have as many fish as your boat can hold. Now you best leave before the whirlpool closes.”

So the fisherman climbed back into his boat and rode the whirlpool’s funnel back to the surface. When he got into familiar waters, he tried out the witch’s chant. As he threw out his net he called “Damma damma dammaree fish of the sea come to me.” Sure enough he soon had as many fish as his boat could hold. He hurried home and told his wife of his great good fortune.

Fishing Boat

Day after day the same thing happened and every day the fisherman’s catch was as much as his boat could hold. Even though the family had more money than before, the old fish wife was still not happy. “You know,” she said, “if we could marry off our daughters without having to pay so many dowries, we could live very well you and I. Why don’t you go and ask your witch to work some magic to make our daughters comely so they could marry wealthy suitors?”

Day after day the old woman nagged the fisherman so that he again had no peace. Finally he could stand it no longer and set off along the coast in search of the secret cove. After many hours a thick fog enveloped the boat and obscured the shore. When the fog lifted, the fisherman again saw the secret cove and he waited for the tide to change and the again he rode the whirlpool around and around to the sandy bottom.

This time the old witch was sitting on her porch rocking and smoking her pipe. When she saw the fisherman she said, “What, you again? Aren’t you catching enough fish?”

“Oh yes. The fishing has never been better.”

“Then what brings you here?” The old crone fixed him with her black and twinkling eye. “What more do you need?”

“It’s my daughters. I have five daughters and while I love them dearly, they are homely creatures and cannot find husbands. Have you some magic that can make them beautiful?”

“It is easily done,” said the witch, “but you must not come here again lest you make me angry.”

“I promise not to bother you again,” said the old fisherman.

“When next you cast your net, you will find five blue fish amongst the catch. Take these fish home and tell your wife to cook them for your daughters. When the daughters eat of them they will become beautiful.”

The fisherman thanked the old witch over and over and as the whirlpool lifted him higher and higher he heard the old witch say, “Remember your promise.”

That night when the fisherman returned to his home he bade his wife to cook the five blue fish for the daughters who ate them. Then they all went to bed. When they woke up the next morning, the homely daughters had become the five most beautiful maidens in the South. It didn’t take very long before the girls had their choice of wealthy suitors. All of the girls chose plantation owners or planters sons and went to live in great mansions with servants and fine furnishings.

“There, are you happy now?” The fisherman asked his wife.

She just sighed a great sigh, “How can I be happy when we live in this tiny hovel that smells of fish? How are we to have our daughters and their wealthy families to dinner? And what of our grandchildren? Don’t you want to see your grandchildren?”

The old woman kept on in this manner day after day giving the fisherman no peace. “So what is it you want?” he asked his wife.

“I want you to see your witch and ask her for a fine stone house or enough gold to build one.”

“But I promised not to see her again lest bad things befall us,” the fisherman protested.

“Bah. What can she do? If she refuses to help, we are no worse off. And if she helps us, our lives will be much improved.” So insistent was she that she wore down the old man’s resistance and so he finally gave in to her demands and went once again to seek the secret cove. Once again he sailed up the coast and once again he was enveloped by the fog and once again his boat was whirled around and down to the bottom of the sea. This time the old lady was in her garden planting cockle shells. When she saw who it was her face darkened and she said, “You again. Didn’t I tell you never to return?”

“I’m so sorry,” said the fisherman, “It’s my wife. She won’t leave off nagging me to come to you with one last request.”

“And what do you want now?”

“We want a fine house so we can meet with our well married daughters as equals. We want a house of stone with many rooms. A fine house as befits a wealthy man.”

“It is easily done said the witch, “If it’s gold you want, it is gold thou shall have and a fine house to dwell in.” and with that she stooped down and picked up a stone and handed it to the fisherman. “Plant this stone where you wish your house to stand. Tell your wife to go into the cellars with a basket and find the gold that is there. Tell her she must go alone. This is your last wish. Thou hast broken thy word and I am sorely vexed. You shall find me no more.” And with this she turned her back upon the fisherman and went inside her hut. As the fisherman rose higher and higher on the whirlpool he heard the old witch call, “Remember, true happiness does not come from magic.”

Happy and relieved, the fisherman sailed home and told his wife what the old witch had said. Together they planted the stone in a hole in the backyard and went to bed. The next morning they could barely open their door as one wall of a great stone house was pressed against their hovel.

“Oh come and see,” exclaimed the wife, “see what a fine house we have.”

“And you are to take a basket and go into the cellar and retrieve the gold that lies therein.”

“Gladly,” cried the wife overflowing with joy and she found an old fish basket that her daughters once used to sell their catch in the town and hurried into the big house and down into the cellar. She climbed down and down winding stairs and through twisting hallways with many branchings until she lost her way entirely. She called to her husband and often her cries could be heard echoing through the great house but of the fishwife could not find her way out. And of the old woman and her gold nothing was ever seen again.

The fisherman and his neighbors went into the cellar looking for her and found only a single chamber empty save for an old basket. For many days the fish wife called, “Help me. I am lost. I have gold much gold but I would give it away for a single breath of air and the sight of a blue sky.”

The daughters and the rest of the town considered the great house cursed and no one would ever set foot inside its walls. The old fisherman spent the remainder of his days a sad and lonely man. The great stone house stands there still, you can see it to this day along the Mississippi shore just east of Biloxi.

-THE END-

Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of The Greer Agency , A Felony of Birds and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Dunesteef Audio Magazine, Literal Translations, FriedFiction, Down In The Dirt, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and many other publications. His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com/


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The Cupcake

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Tennessee Halloween story of a creepy old woman giving strange treats to neighborhood kids, including one you may not want to eat! Written by Harris Tobias

Springfield, Tennessee, 1995. All Hallows Eve. It was a freer time. You could let your kids go door to door unsupervised and you knew who your neighbor was. Or did you?

“Trick or treat!” the eager young face of little Terry Whipple called. Old Mrs. Parker beamed her kindest smile at the elaborately costumed seven year old.

“Aren’t you just the cutest thing? And what are you supposed to be?” Mrs. Parker asked, straining to keep her pleasant demeanor.

“I’m a witch,” replied the little girl who, with her wig and pointy hat, looked like a cartoon version of the Wicked Witch of the West right down to the hairy mole on her chin and miniature broom.

“You don’t really believe in witches,” the old lady asked. “Do you?”

Terry shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Well, you’re so cute, I’m going to give you a special treat,” Mrs. Parker said as she reached around and handed Terry a cupcake. “I baked these this morning especially for us witches.” She slipped the cupcake into Terry’s goody bag. Mrs. Parker chose one of the little cakes from a tray that must have held a dozen of them. They all had orange frosting and a face made of candy and sprinkles. The expression on little cake’s face matched that of Mrs. Parker’s – a person not used to smiling. Terry thanked her and went to the next house on the street.

Halloween Cupcakes With Bats

Ever since Mrs. Parker moved in to the old Spencer house, strange things had been happening in the neighborhood. First the Spencer family were all afflicted with some bizarre allergy and were forced to sell their house and move to Arizona. Mrs. Parker bought their house the very day it went on the market. The Whipples became her next door neighbors. Terry had been introduced to Mrs. Parker when her mother brought her a plate of cookies and welcomed her to the neighborhood.

“It’s so sad about the Spencers,” Terry’s mother said. “We’d been neighbors for such a long time. It’s so strange them getting sick like that.” Mrs. Parker just smiled her not-quite smile and said nothing.

Then the Bartlett boy disappeared. The police were still looking for him.

Now it was Halloween and Terry was allowed to visit her neighbors and ring their doorbells all by herself. Terry knew all the families up and down the block and they all knew her. Everyone gave her something, mostly it was candy but sometimes coins. When she got to the Bartlett house she hesitated, wondering if it was okay to disturb Mrs. Bartlett what with Billy being missing and all. But after some small deliberation, she rang the bell. Mrs. Bartlett answered. There were dark circles under her eyes, it was obvious she had been crying. “Trick or treat!” called Terry, sorry she was there.

“Well, aren’t you the cutest thing,” said Mrs. Bartlett making an effort to be happy and handed Terry an apple. The Bartletts always gave out apples on Halloween. They believed that sugar was bad for children. Then, quite unexpectedly, Mrs. Bartlett burst into tears and had to close the door.

When she had been to every house on the block, Terry returned home and dumped her loot out on the kitchen table. She had an assortment of miniature candy bars, thirty eight cents in coins, Mrs. Bartlett’s apple and Mrs. Parker’s cupcake. Terry liked cupcakes. What kid didn’t? She examined it closely. The face looked different. The candy mouth was open and its little sugar teeth were pointy. It didn’t look that way before, did it? She figured the cupcake had gotten squashed in her bag. She didn’t like the looks of those teeth.

Putting the cupcake aside, she reached for the apple. That was one snack her mother wouldn’t mind if she ate. She was about to take a bite when she noticed that the apple had already been bitten into. The apple’s white flesh was already turning the color of dried blood. She didn’t remember the apple having a bite missing when Mrs. Bartlett handed it to her. She threw the apple in the garbage. Maybe Mrs. Bartlett was too upset to realize what she was doing. That must be it, poor woman. It must be hard to lose a child like that. One minute he’s playing in the street and the next he’s gone.

Terry looked at the cupcake again. Now the face was smiling, a nasty satisfied smile, the kind of smile you get when you’ve done something bad but it feels so good. This was too much. Terry picked up the cupcake and tossed it in the garbage. She noticed a blob of orange frosting on her hand. She licked it off reflexively without even thinking. It tasted sweet but also vaguely odd like hamburger cooked very rare. It gave her chills.

She washed her hands, brushed her teeth and got ready for bed. She slipped into her pajamas and kissed her parents good night. She lay in bed for a long time before sleep would come, and when it came it was restless and filled with nightmares. She dreamed she saw the Bartlett boy, his skin blue and frozen. When she touched his shoulder he turned toward her, his mouth contorted in a silent scream. He had no arms.

She screamed herself awake. Her parents came running. They put on her light and dispelled the darkness her mother stroked her hair and comforted her until she could speak.

“That’s what comes from too much candy before bed,” her mother said.

“I didn’t have any candy,” Terry said in a tiny voice.

“What’s all this then?” Terry’s dad said pointing to an orange stain on her pillow. It was the frosting. Now Terry was really scared. She tried to explain about the cupcake and the terrible dream but it all came out garbled and didn’t make any sense. Terry made her father check under the bed and in the bedroom closet but he couldn’t find anything. When her parents finally said goodnight and returned to bed, Terry tip toed into the kitchen and looked into the garbage pail.

The cupcake wasn’t there.

-THE END-

Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of The Greer Agency , A Felony of Birds and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Dunesteef Audio Magazine, Literal Translations, FriedFiction, Down In The Dirt, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and many other publications. His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com/


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Witches On The Road Tonight

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Witches On The Road Tonight Cover

Excerpt from the novel Witches on the Road Tonight © 2012 by Sheri Holman, reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Atlantic, Inc.

LISTEN: Sheri Holman reads a chapter exclusively for The Moonlit Road.com:

The hearse’s headlights rasp the dark as they speed along an unfamiliar road, scattering rabbits and turning the night-grazing deer to statuary. The windows are down, the radio off. They pass empty fields and glassy obsidian ponds that float upon their gauze of reflected clouds, repeating pearls of moon. They ride for miles in this hushed, rolling darkness, not talking, Wallis trying hard not to think about her mother greeting the guests—You know Eddie, always unpredictable, that’s what we love about him—sucking the ice cubes of her third drink to delay pouring herself a fourth. Wallis has failed her mom but the paved road gives way to dirt and there is the music of cracked gravel and the night-sweet smell of honeysuckle. She lets her body relax until her shoulder brushes Jasper’s. The ride has softened him, too, he doesn’t lean into her but he doesn’t flinch away.

About ten miles out of town, Eddie pulls the car onto the side of the road and cuts the engine. There is still the aroma of honeysuckle, but now it is accompanied by orange and brown trumpets, sweetly rotting into the decay of swamp. They’ve taken the back way, which is why she didn’t know where they were. In front of them is a rusted NO TRESPASSING sign hung on a chain across a path. Her father cuts the headlights and they are plunged into darkness.

“The trains have always run by this swamp,” he says, and his voice hangs disembodied. “Twice a day and twice a night, they’ve been coming by for years. Once, long ago, an old conductor rode this route, a bitter, gaunt old man. He had no wife, he had no child. His whole life was this trip, up and back, up and back, hauling freight. Nothing had ever happened to him—he’d lived a tight, ordered, solitary life, and now he was close to retirement. I suppose there are some men who can slip through life without a single tragedy, but mostly we don’t like to hear about them. We like our stories to be full of bad luck and undeserved misfortune, don’t we? So here’s this old conductor, on the verge of retiring when, suddenly, late one night, he spies a bundle left right in the middle of the tracks. Oh no, he thinks. It can’t be. Truly, it was too far away to know for sure, but then, as fate would have it, the bundle began to squirm.

Train wheels from novel Witches On The Road Tonight

Hit the brake! he shouted, but you know how long it takes a train to slow to a stop. And this was a heavy, barreling old thing. The squeal was deafening. The conductor fell, the coal in the hopper slid to the ground, they shuddered to a long, aching stop. It was too late, they had passed the spot where the baby had lain. What kind of mother would have walked off and left her child on these cold metal rails? What monster would have made him—an old and blameless man—responsible for the death of a child? He put his head in his hands and sobbed, knowing his life was over. He could never live with the guilt. Just then, suddenly, in the dark, he heard a tiny desolate cry. He was saved—the baby lived!

“The conductor snatched up his lantern and leaped from his post, swinging his light all around. It flashed on the tall swamp grasses and glittering black eyes of bullfrogs. It flashed across the green scum of pollen and lily pad on the swamp below, the sickle heads of snapping turtles. He swung his lantern under the carriage of the heaving train. Was it there? He heard it crying louder. Was it there? He peered deep underneath, reaching along the rail, when—

“SNAP! The train rolled forward and off came his head.”

Her father bolts from the hearse and leaps the NO TRESPASSING sign. Suddenly, it’s all a game, and Jasper bounds off after him with Wallis close behind. She hops the chain herself, following the wake of them in the dark. This sign was here back then, Wallis knows from her father’s telling and retelling of her parents’ first kiss, before Captain Casket or the weather or Sailor Eddie or any of the characters he’d played over the years, back when he was just Edward Alley, an intern hailing from the mountains, judging by his flat-foot accent, who was determined to get a job at the new television station. Even then, he wooed with ghost stories, and her mother, the daughter of his boss, sat cross-legged and enraptured, not believing a word he told her, yet wanting to believe, and falling in love with this odd looking, not-tall, plastic-faced boy, who would not even tell her his age.

One evening when she was sitting in the station manager’s office he’d brought her a cup of coffee like she liked it—black, which was charmingly pretentious in a schoolgirl of seventeen—and he had leaned against the gunmetal desk where she worked. Her yellow hair had been pulled back in a ponytail and her sleeves were rolled up. There was a story he’d heard, he told Ann, about a decapitated conductor who walked the railroad tracks of an old line just west of here. Ann had shivered and smiled up at him from underneath her bright hair and he had invited her to come with him to look for those lights and she had accepted without hesitation. The next night she had concocted a lie for her parents about sleeping over at a friend’s house that came out so easily and well she wondered why she hadn’t thought to tell one before; and then she was speeding down the same dark nothing that the three had just driven, hopping the same NO TRESPASSING gate that they just hopped, onto the same private property, already known as a make-out spot, for who wouldn’t want to press tight together when faced with a decapitated conductor wandering a desolate track?

Jasper and Wallis scramble down the embankment to the tracks where Eddie waits, a shadow among shadows. That night, hand in hand, he and her mother had walked the line, talking softly about the lives they’d lived before this night, for both felt themselves to be in the midst of the most glorious reincarnation; they’d walked and talked for hours, despite a light drizzle that pulled at her mother’s ponytail and brought out, like salt in a soup, the vegetal highlights of the nearby swamp. Then, wanting him to kiss her but not knowing how to make the request, Ann had stopped and, with eyes full of trust and complicity and something just a little challenging, asked Eddie the question Jasper now poses like a smart-ass, here, years later, in place of her whom they had left alone with guests, humiliated and drunk now, asking Cary once more what time he left, if Eddie had ordered dessert. Jasper asks the question Wallis knew had been her mother’s part of the script that night, Are we supposed to believe this? and her father answers it in the same way he had answered her mother that night, as they stood in the center of the railroad tracks that disappeared in each direction off into the woods; he said, and he says: Now, once a year, on this very night, the conductor walks these lonely tracks, swinging his lantern, searching for his missing head . . .

As if on cue, far away, a point of light appears in the woods. And as her mother and father watched, as they watch, it advances slowly, flirtatiously, bobbing like a cork on water. Wallis has heard of will-o’-the-wisps and swamp lights, but nothing prepares her for this inexplicable thing coming straight toward her, growing larger with each bounce. It is a light like a rubber-band ball with no edge or ending, luminous, diffuse, just a brilliant exhalation of the night.

Sweat breaks out on Wallis’s forehead and under her armpits. She tries to remember how the story of her parents’ first date ended, but fear has erased memory and all she can see is her mother back home pulling her sweater around her, watching the children of her guests racing from tree to tree in their backyard playing Ghost in the Graveyard—one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, the children shout, on till midnight—her eyes scanning the road for Eddie’s car. At Wallis’s side, Jasper stiffens, trying to make sense of what he is seeing, willing himself to hold ground. It has passed through and swallowed her father. The light is mere feet from them now, taking up their entire world. It should be thrilling, but it is too real and she can’t let it touch her, she doesn’t know what it is, so she turns and runs like a little kid and remembers now how her mother had, too, that night, racing down the railroad tracks, leaping the wooden ties. It is not after her, it just is, but she can’t help running. There is pounding close behind her, then beside her, then overtaking her, and then she is running after his shadow, Jasper the bold, and he’s lit by the staccato flashes of moon on the worn metal tracks. She runs, not glancing back, running in a straight line as she always screamed at people in the movies never to do—you can’t outrun it, use your head, leave the path and lose it in the woods—but she can’t think, she can only try to keep up with Jasper, whose legs are twice as long. In the story, her father caught up with her mother and spun her around to face the conductor’s lantern, the headless man himself, who dissolved into the mist like the light, which was coming, which had definitely been coming, but which no longer existed, if it had ever existed; and in its absence, he had kissed her, as the rain picked up, no longer a drizzle but fat, cold drops, and he kissed her for a very long time until her heart raced not from fear but from his kisses—though for the rest of her life, she would later tell Wallis, the two feelings would be too closely intertwined for her comfort.

Wallis slams into Jasper, who has stopped. She hits into him sharply and he grabs her to keep from falling over, holding her tight. Together they stare down the tracks to see if they’ve outrun it, whatever it was, but instead, like her mother, find themselves staring into a stretching darkness that holds only the vibrations of their footfalls. No light. No conductor. Nothing.

Jasper could let go but he doesn’t. “What was it?” she whispers.

“Swamp gas, maybe,” Jasper says, his eyes wide and black. “Lights from the highway. Where is Eddie?”

“You were afraid,” she says. “You are afraid.”

He tries to let her go then, but she doesn’t move, because this night will get them in so much trouble already, why stop now? And so as it must be done, as they both finally know it must be done, he leans forward, and his lips are yeasty, his breath sweet.

He pulls back and she sees the look of dismay on his face. Still she doesn’t move, but this time he pushes her, hard, and disappears into the funnel of trees toward the swamp and the conductor’s lantern. She is alone with that kiss. The night is still and finished, everything is suspended in that kiss. Slowly she follows, making out in the moonlight a field, a pickup swallowed by kudzu, the wreckage of what had once been a farmhouse, its windows target practice for decades of boys who had brought their dates to this place. Beneath her feet, she feels the vibrations before she hears the whistle, high and plaintive. Into her open bedroom window, when the wind is just right, she sometimes hears this far-off whistle and, as a little girl, she used to imagine a brightly colored train carrying cars full of tigers and elephants off to tented circuses across the country. Now, she can think only of the conductor, and even as she imagines him swinging his light, looking for something that doesn’t exist, the train’s head beam blinds her. She steps out of its way, feeling the shock waves of crashing metal, melting into its own force and noise, oblivion, it’s rackety freight and rattling gondola cars. She had thought to tell the ghost story tonight, but she should have known her father would not allow it. She could never compete with the master.

Ahead she sees her father in the laser of moth flutter down the tracks. He is waiting whole and unhurt on the embankment, knowing what he has set in motion by bringing them here. Jasper walks toward him, his face the carving of a lover’s initials into a tree. Jasper was brought here to feel what he had never felt, and learn what must be feared, and now her father opens his arms; Captain Casket, who has spent the last twenty years of his life teasing young boys with ghost stories and whose idea of seduction is a ball of vanishing light.

– THE END –

Q&A with Sheri Holman, Author of Witches on the Road Tonight

Sheri Holman

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sheri Holman’s latest novel, Witches on the Road Tonight, has been praised by Jennifer Egan as “immediately engrossing….a tour de force of meticulous research brought urgently to life by headlong, transporting prose.” Her first novel, A Stolen Tongue, was translated into thirteen languages. Her next, The Dress Lodger, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, one of the New York Public Library’s Books to Remember, and long-listed for a Dublin IMPAC award. Her third novel, The Mammoth Cheese, was short-listed for the UK’s prestigious Orange Prize. Sheri is a founding member and currently serves on the curatorial board of The Moth.

Train photograph by Jon Kownacki, used by permission.



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Witches of Methville

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Creature story of a small town, desperate to stop meth abuse among its youth, that turns to some local witches for help. Be careful what you wish for! Written by Kevin E Lake

“Hi Susan,” the old man said, tipping his top hat to the young lady in her early twenties passing him on the sidewalk. She walked by as if he wasn’t there, sniffling as if pestered by an unseen allergen, truth being, her sniffles a sign of her addiction. Her face was pale, boney and gaunt, her eyes sunken. Her once flowing, long blond hair was now a rat’s nest. What had been the homecoming queen of her senior class five years before was now zombie like; the walking dead.

“Oh God, Susan. Not you too,” he said, turning to watch her pass, taking the handkerchief from his hip pocket. He wiped the sweat from his brow, brought about by the humid July evening. The girl continued down the sidewalk, completely unaware of her surroundings. He doubted she knew the time of day, the day of the week or what world she was in. He knew she had two babies, three years and one year old, somewhere. Was anyone with them?

The old man continued walking into the sunset, the city hall of the small town of Mettsville, Kentucky his destination.

“Bob,” his friend Dan, Mettsville’s mayor, said as the old man entered the small office in city hall. “I’m glad you could come on such short notice.”

“No problem, Dan. I’m ninety one years old and this is Mettsville. It’s not like I had other, pressing issues to attend to. The only things I attend much at all anymore are friend’s funerals.”

He took off his top hat, placing it on his lap as he sat on the other side of the mayor’s desk. Though quite hot here in southern Kentucky during the summer months, he wore his hat any time he went out. It was a custom he had gotten used to when he was a young man in simpler times. “So what can I do ya for?”

“We had our monthly city council meeting last night,” the mayor said, adjusting his position in his chair. “Things are not good.”

“Ah,” said Bob, reaching into his chest pocket, pulling out his checkbook. “So you need more money?”

Bob had owned and operated the largest coal mine in southern Kentucky before he retired twenty years before. When he decided to stop working he sold the mine, getting the equivalency of most third world countries total GDP for it.
People wondered why he simply hadn’t retained ownership of the mine, living off of profits, or pass the mine on to his son who had been living on the west coast for the past twenty years. Since he single handedly kept the town of Mettsville afloat with his personal wealth during hard times few people asked any questions.

“No Bob,” the mayor, early sixties, said. “It is bigger than that.”

“Do tell,” Bob said, leaning back, becoming more comfortable in his seat.

“Look,” the mayor said, spreading his arms body width, jazz hands. “We’ve lost two more small businesses. People are tired of the break-ins. They can’t afford the losses.”

“More business break-ins?” Bob said, eyes wide. “I thought the trash was pretty much sticking to robbing us old people on medication these days; digging through trash cans for prescription bottles so they’d know who to hit.”

“Oh, there’s still plenty of that,” Dan said, putting his hands on his knees, his head down. “It’s gotten so out of control. No one is safe. The worst part is what this crap is doing to our young people here in Mettsville. Hell, they call us ‘Methville’ in most places in this part of the state.”

The mayor stood up and walked to a shelf behind his old friend. Bob turned to look as Dan took a picture of the graduating class from Mettsville High School twenty years before. Dan’s son had graduated third in the class.

“There are one hundred and twenty kids in this picture, Bob. I can go through the faces and point out twenty teachers, six lawyers, four doctors, nearly three dozen business owners- even an actor.”

“Yeah,” Bob said, a smile tugging at his mouth. “Bill and Karen’s kid. I saw his last movie. Have you seen that singer he married?”

“Yeah,” Dan said, putting the picture back on his shelf, taking up another. “Billy J. told me he’d introduce me to her if he ever brought her here.”

Dan made his way back to his chair at his desk, looking at the picture he had taken from the shelf.

“This is the graduating class from five years ago,” he said, turning it so Bob could see it. “There are only sixty kids in this picture. The town’s population has suffered so much because of the economy. We can directly attribute the economy’s decline to this drug problem.”

“Yeah, I’ve been here most of my life,” Bob said. “We’ve had tough times before but we’ve always made it through. This mess. This pill problem and meth nonsense; it’s killed us.”

“Out of these sixty kids,” Dan said, turning the picture back around, “I can only pick out three that I know have finished college. Twice as many as that are already dead. Twice that amount are in jail.”

Bob rose from his seat and walked over to Dan’s desk. Peering over his shoulder at the picture, he found a beautiful blond girl, tapped her head with the end of his index finger.

“I just saw Susan here on the street on my way down,” he said. “I’ve known this girl her whole life. She grew up right across the street from me. She always won all the beauty pageants in the county. She’s a druggie now; moved back in with her folks a year or so ago.”

“Worse than that,” Dan said, turning to look up at his friend. “For twenty five dollars she’ll rent you her body for any purpose you desire. All so she can get her next fix.”

“You are kidding me!” Bob said, disgusted. He walked back to his seat. He sat silently, as did Dan for several minutes, both men deep in thought.

“So what are we going to do about it, Dan?”

“That brings me to why I called you here Bob. Is your grandmother and her sisters still alive?”

“No,” Bob said.

“They’re dead?”

“No, they are not dead. They are still very much alive. What I mean is ‘no,’ we can’t go that route.”

“It’s the only avenue we have left, Bob. Even my police force will do nothing. The handful of doctors left in the county, the very ones handing out these pain pills have paid the cops off to look the other way.”

“It’s the only remaining auto dealership that’s bringing the rest of the garbage in from all across the eastern seaboard. Hell, it doesn’t take a genius to see that every morning they take out the exact same cars they trucked in the day before. They haven’t taken a car off a carrier in a year. All they do is change the tires. That’s where they’re hiding the drugs. They take their meth and pills and other garbage out before sending the truck back for another load. I can’t even begin to tell you how many meth labs are within a five minute walk of where we are sitting! The state troopers took dogs into the high school last month to sniff lockers and had nine lockers turn up positive just from the scent of the labs on the kid’s backpacks and jackets! That’s the home life so many of them go home to every day.”

“You remember what happened the last time we went to my grandmother and great aunts for help, Dan.” Bob looked up with his eyes only, his head still down. It was an ominous look that matched the tone of his voice.

“We were not specific enough with them that time,” Dan said. “We just told them that the largest bumper crop of marijuana was due to mature in a month and it would destroy the town.”

“And they destroyed the town instead, killing nearly a dozen people in the flood.”

“Oh, they didn’t cause the dam to break! That’s crazy.” Dan said, referring to the former earthen dam that blocked the river ten miles above the small, secluded, Appalachian town, providing its water shed. “It wasn’t a strong structure. It had rained so much that spring, hence the success of the marijuana farmers. The dam simply wasn’t constructed to hold that much water. It was old and should have been replaced a generation before anyway. It was all merely a coincidence.”

“It was no coincidence,” Bob said, his head now rising, his voice lowering. “They have a sick, twisted sense of humor. You always have to be careful what you ask for with them because you’ll ALWAYS get it. It’s been twenty years since that flood. People are still reeling from loses.”

“Minus the deaths,” Dan said, his right hand waving in the air as if he were trying to erase Bob’s thoughts. “Look at the good it did. The marijuana crops were destroyed. The governor declared a state of emergency. We even got federal money for it. We got new buildings, new streets and sidewalks; even two new schools. Not to mention a new, state of the art dam. People had jobs due to the reconstruction. Hell, if I remember, you got a couple ‘pity business contracts’ from the state that made you an even richer man by the time you retired.”

“Are you willing to live with the fallout of our actions if we call on them?” Bob said, his voice now higher, one eyebrow raised.

“Yes,” Dan said. “Besides, no one will know we’ve gone. They are just the subject of an old, local wives tale anyway.”

“If you can live with your conscience, then I’ll take you to them. We’ll ask them for help.”

“Can we go tomorrow? Do you get up early?” Dan was excited.

“Of course I do,” Bob said. “I’m ninety one years old. I rise with the sun to make sure it’s not the bright light at the end of some tunnel.”

“Great,” Dan said, rushing over to shake Bob’s hand. “I’ll pick you up at 6:00 a.m.”

#

“You know this old woman isn’t really my grandmother, don’t you?” Bob said, riding shotgun in Dan’s old four wheel drive Ford. It was the ‘beater’ he used for such purposes; driving into rough, secluded sections of the surrounding Appalachian forest, be it to hunt, fish or camp with the grandkids. They were certainly traveling to a secluded part of the forest today, but not for recreation. “Her sisters are not my great aunts.”

“Common sense would lead you that that fact,” Dan said just before taking a sip from his coffee, fresh and hot from the seven eleven. “I always just assumed they were family friends who took care of you when your parents died. There is no way they could be two generations ahead of you. That would make them a hundred and fifty years old. They are not a hundred and fifty years old.”

“No, they aren’t,” Bob said, sipping his coffee as well. The truck left the hard top, traveling now on a graveled county road.

“So how old are they?” Dan said, placing his coffee cup in the console of the old Ford. “A little older than you?”

“No,” Bob said, slowly taking another sip from his cup, a pause for effect. “They are three hundred and fifty years old.”

The truck bounced hard. Dan missed swerving around a large pot hole, having looked to his right as his friend spoke last.

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” Bob said, still looking straight ahead through the windshield. “These old bones have grown soft.”

“Did you just say they were three hundred and fifty years old?”

“Yup.”

“Are you senile?”

“A little I guess. Who isn’t at my age?”

“Ok,” Dan said, facing forward. “That explains it.”

“Explains what?” Bob said, now looking toward his friend.

“Your comment. How old are they really?”

“My mental health or lack thereof has nothing to do with their age. The old hags are at least three hundred and fifty years old. Hell, they might be older.”

“What are you talking about Bob?”

“Listen,” Bob said as the truck left the graveled county road for a dirt path heading up a steep hill. The road was barely more than a deer trail. Dan locked in the truck’s four wheel drive as he began the accent. “They are of no relation to me whatsoever, and trust me they are no friends of anyone.”

“That’s the story I always heard. When your father and mother were killed somehow during the great depression one of their friends and her sisters took you in to raise as their own.”

“Maybe I should fill in the holes of the stories you’ve heard about me and these women before we get there. You might just change your mind about all this and decide to turn around.”

“What?” Dan said, maneuvering the old truck through the trail, unnecessarily ducking his head as limbs scratched the top of the cab. “What story?”

“My father drank too much. My mother came to the old women pleading for help. She had heard about them from someone who claimed they had cured her husband of the same malady a generation before. I suppose they were the subject of an old wives tale back then as well. They were old then too by the way.”

“Seriously?” Dan said, slowing down to fjord a small stream. “So they were thought of as Shaman? Witch doctors?”

“Witches, more like it,” Bob said, grabbing the ‘Oh my God’ handle above the inside of the truck’s window, supporting himself as the truck bounced on the rocks on the bottom of the stream. “Listen for their New England accents when we talk to them. I believe they fled south during the witch trials.”

“So, why did your mother go to them? She must have had her suspicions?”

“She was at her wit’s end. She heard they could help. They told her that they would make sure my father never drank again. The condition was that if anything ever happened to both her and my father that they could have me as their own.”

“So what happened?” Dan said, making a sharp turn at the top of the mountain, now driving downhill, a steep hollow.

“You are not going to believe this,” Bob said, looking out the side window again, water splashed there from the stream streaking down like strands of a spider’s web.

“I’m kind of having a hard time believing any of this, Bob.”

“That was January 16th, 1920. Does that date ring a bell to you? It should. You’re a politician.”

“No?” Dan said, more a question than a statement.

“The next day, January 17th, 1920, Prohibition started in the U.S.”

“No way!” Dan said, looking over to Bob again, missing a rock in the road, another bump. Bob reached for the “Oh my God” handle again, wincing.

“So that’s why your father never drank again. Prohibition. He couldn’t buy it.”

“It isn’t that simple, Dan,” Bob said, his eyes glazing over with memory. “A few days after the country went dry, my father heard about the speakeasies that were popping up everywhere. He found out where one was and stormed off one night for a drink. My mother chased after him. They got in the door of the place just before the Feds.”

“What happened?” Dan asked, paying attention to the road again, though completely engrossed in his friend’s story.

“Shots rang out. My parents were killed. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, and in violation of federal law so nothing was ever done about their deaths.”

“So the old women got you.”

“Yes,” Bob said, looking out the window to his right, the area becoming more familiar to him now as they neared their destination. It was a place he had spent many years during his youth, but to which he had rarely returned as an adult in spite of all the years that had passed.

“I have never heard this story in all my years in Mettsville,” Dan said. “That would be all sixty eight of my years, minus the four I was away in college and four in the army during ‘Nam.”

“I’ve never told anyone,” Bob said. “I mean the truth about the old women that is. Everyone knew they raised me, but like you, everyone just assumed they were friends of the family. I just let people think that.”

“So what was it like? Growing up with witches?”

“Look at that,” Bob said, pointing through the windshield. A hen turkey and six half grown chicks were making their way across the trail ahead of them. “I stayed gone a lot. The older I got the more I was gone. I ran away from home at sixteen. I lied to the government about my age and joined the army. War had already broken out again in Europe. I guess our rich Uncle Sam knew it was just a matter of time before we’d get involved. They didn’t mind taking me and many others who were nothing more than boys who just started shaving. They were thankful they did a few years later when we joined in on the war. I thought for sure I’d end up in France,” his eyes glazed with memory. “But I ended up in the south Pacific.”

“But you came back?” Dan said, slowly easing forward again now that the small flock of birds had passed. “Why?”

“I was grown,” Bob said, voice confident. “I had some money in my pocket. Besides, the government started the G.I. Bill. You could either go to college or be given land. I took the land and started my coal mine.”

“So they must have helped you in some way?” Dan said, referring to the alleged witches. “Are they responsible for your success in business?”

“Unfortunately, they are.”

“How so?”

“I went to them when I wasn’t making a dime. I was thinking about selling out. I was so far in debt I would have never amounted to anything. I asked them to fix my business. They did. But they did it their way.”

“I heard you guys got a big break somehow after the disaster in the early fifties that killed nearly fifty men. Is that when you went to them for help?”

“I went before that,” Bob said, resting his head in his hand, painful memories rushing through his head. “The disaster WAS the break.”

“I don’t follow you, Bob?”

“We were digging and digging and only hitting small veins,” he said, shaking his head, still in his hand. “We were extracting coal, but at a loss. I went to them and asked if they’d allow us to hit a mother load.”

“And?”

“And when the mine caved in, killing all the men, it left literally half the mountain exposed. That half just happened to be nothing but coal just below the ground’s surface. That single deposit made me a millionaire over the next two months! And that’s 1950s money! A million dollars was a lot more back then than it is now. The collapse opened a world of wealth to me but claimed the lives of the best men I’d been in company with since the war.”

A moment of silence passed. Bob looked to his friend. Dan still faced forward, not as much focusing on the road as allowing the story sink in.

“It’s why I sold the mines, Dan. I know every dollar I ever made after that was nothing more than blood money. I was not going to pass that evil on to my son.”

The truck slowed at the bottom of the hollow. One last ascent remained; half a mile straight to the top. The three sisters lived on the next flat, just out of sight.

The men stared ahead of them, up the hill. All the trees from this point on where not only dead but appeared as if they had been destroyed by fire. However, there had not been a forest fire on this mountain in recorded history. A deer’s skull hung from a tree limb in the middle of the trail; one antler with six tines, the other missing.

Dark clouds covered the sun on what had otherwise been a beautiful summer morning. Though it had begun to be another hot, muggy July day, the temperature seemed to have dropped by more than ten degrees since leaving town. Bob knew there was more to attribute to this fact than the shade of the forest.

“It’s not too late to change our minds,” Bob said, looking over at his friend, Dan’s face stoic.

“We have to do something,” Dan said, now turning to face Bob. “I have grandkids at Mettsville High. I want them to know the town we knew, not the one it is.”

“They won’t be happy to see me,” Bob said. “They think I’ve been ungrateful for rarely coming by.”

“Are we in danger?”

“They won’t hurt us here,” Bob said. “They don’t want the attention. But like I told you last night, we need to be prepared to accept responsibility for anything that happens.”

Both men stared straight ahead, the deer skull swaying in a light breeze. The breeze brought with it the stench of death. Perhaps rotting animal corpses close by. Perhaps something else.

The truck slowly moved forward, beginning the final climb, Dan’s mind made up.

#

“The child returns,” the hideously ugly, humped back woman said, her eyes white with blindness.

“We knew he would,” said another, equally ugly woman beside her. They sat at a small table in the center of a stone house, hand built only God knows when. The cabin was sparse, containing only the table with three chairs, a large mattress on one side of the twelve feet by twelve feet room, with a small shelf with assorted knick knacks beside it, and a large fireplace on the other. The fireplace contained a grill and a kettle. It kept the house warm and allowed the women to prepare their meals. A back up coal stove sat against a third wall, its vent pipe installed to join the fireplace’s chimney halfway up.

“There’s my so called grandmother,” Bob said, pointing at the old lady in front of the cabin. She appeared to be pulling guard for the other two.

“It looks like she’s been waiting on us,” Dan said, a whisper.

“She has been,” Bob said, grabbing the handle of the door as Dan put the truck in park and killed the engine.

“To what do we owe the honor, boy?” the old lady said, approaching Bob. She was petite, five feet tall and ninety pounds at most. She was slightly bent over, though not as bad as her blind sister. Dan could indeed hear the lazy “r” at the end of the word “honor;” evidence of her New England heritage.

“We need your help, Grandmother.”

“Ah ha ha ha ha,” she laughed, throwing her head back. It was the closest thing to a real witch’s cackle Dan had ever heard. Bob caught Dan shuddering out of the corner of his eye, chills running down the mayor’s spine.

The two other women came from the house, the one with sight leading the blind.

“You only come when you need help, boy!” the blind woman said, bitterness in her voice.

“I’m sorry,” Bob said, putting his head down, the scars of the child being scolded by the women returning to the surface as if they had not been buried by so many years of absence.

“Yes you are!” the original woman to greet them said. “You sold our coal!”

“That was a long time ago, ma’am,” Dan said, leaning forward as if he were going to take a step. Too afraid to do so he rested on his heels again.

“Shut your mouth, politician!” the woman said, spit spewing from the sides of her mouth. She raised a gnarled finger, pointed it in his direction, but did not look at him.

“How can we help you, dear boy?” the lady who had led her blind sister out of the house said, walking up to Bob, taking his hand in hers. Her hand was as cold as death.

“Our town has been overrun by drugs and drug addicts,” Bob said, knowing the old lady was playing ‘good witch.’ “We need help cleaning the place up.”

“Drugs?” said the blind lady, stepping forward as if she could see. Dan’s eyes grew wide, thoughts in his head telling him she COULD see, just in different ways than he. As if she needed not her eyes. “What kind of drugs?”

“Mostly meth,” Dan said, the blind woman’s head snapping quickly in his direction, giving him another chill. “It is known as poor white trash’s cocaine.”

“Meth? Cocaine?” the blind woman said. “We don’t know this.”

“It’s like white powder,” Dan said, feeling a bit more comfortable. “People snort it up their noses. They melt it down and inject it into their veins. Some of them smoke it.”

“So this white powder has destroyed your town has it, boy?” the ‘good’ witch said, looking Bob in the eye.

“Yes ma’am,” he said, looking at her uneasily. “That and prescription medications. Pain pills.”

“What do you expect us to do about it?” asked the one who had greeted them, picking at a hairy mole on the back of her hand as if disinterested in the conversation.

“We want you to make it stop,” Dan said, jumping in for Bob. “Just make it go away.”

“We need something in return,” she said, looking up from her gnarled, wart and mole covered hands.

“Anything!” Dan said without thinking. The three women looked at each other, cackling in unison at the man’s naivety. Bob threw him an angry look. Dan shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘sorry.’

“We want our coal back!” the blind lady said, barking the command like an army drill sergeant. The other two stopped laughing when she did this and wore looks on their faces as stern as hers.

“What?” Dan said, confused. “How do we get your coal back?”

“We want the entire town’s coal!” the blind woman said. “Every house on every street! Get their coal and bring it to us! We gave that to you boy!” she said, now facing Bob’s direction. “We didn’t give it to you to sell out to another man for his business! We want it back!”

“Let me get this straight,” Dan said, his speech slow. “You want us to go around, collect all the coal from anyone in town that has any, bring it to you and you’ll solve our drug problem?”

“Yes,” the ‘good witch’ said, dropping Bob’s hand, walking over and taking Dan’s. He thought her smile was warm but could feel the coldness in her touch.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” he said, his voice trembling, a nervous smile on his face.

“Then make it happen,” their greeter said, before turning and walking away. “The sooner we get our coal back that the boy here sold,” she said, turning as if forgetting something, throwing Bob a look of disappointment, “the sooner you have your problem solved.”

The other two women turned to go as well. They walked into their small home and shut the door. Bob and Dan heard the latch lock then all three women cackle again. They exchanged a quick look then got back in the truck.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Dan said, making his way back down the hill covered in dead, burnt-like trees.

“This has just begun,” Bob said. “You aint seen nothin’ yet.”

#

Over the course of the next week, the town’s city council members went about the community, door to door, explaining that a recent acidity reading of the local streams deemed the coal being burned in the area over the past few years too dangerous for the environment. It was a story no one questioned, Bob himself being the lead spokesman. The citizens were told they must surrender their coal to the government but that they would be reimbursed.

Bob had worked out a deal with the local mine’s owner, the man to which he had sold the mine years before. The man was to keep his mouth shut; no questions, no comments. In return, Bob himself would stroke a check, buying everyone who gave up any coal an entire winter’s worth by October. Being a coal town, it was considered sacrilege for anyone to heat with wood. Whatever stove or furnace fuel was left anywhere from the previous winter would certainly be coal.

“It’s the middle of July anyway,” Dan said to Bob, the two of them making their way back up the mountain to Bob’s adolescent home. “Besides, most of the folks had less than a week’s worth anyway. They were all too happy to give this up, knowing they’d get a full winter’s stock for free.”

The truck went slower this time than it had during its previous journey to the same location. It was loaded down with coal, as were the three pickups behind it, all driven by leery city council members not filled in on the entirety of the scheme.

“I’m not worried about that,” Bob said, rolling his window down, this day being particularly hot and muggy. He swatted a deer fly that had been stalking him from the other side of the glass as it made its way into the cab. “I don’t trust them. I don’t know what they are up to.”

Upon reaching the bottom of the last descent, the dead, burnt-like tree line, they noticed something slightly different. Hanging from the deer’s skull, attached to the lone antler, was a piece of paper flapping in the wind. It was tied to the antler with a bit of twine; brown, the old kind rarely seen in modern times. Dan put the truck in park and got out to investigate.

“It says to leave the coal here at the bottom of the hill,” he said, returning, handing the letter through the window for Bob’s inspection.

“Then let’s do as they say,” Bob said, getting out of the truck to instruct the men behind him. Dan turned the truck slightly, waving a couple of younger men who had ridden as passengers in the other trucks forward. At his age, he had quit shoveling coal many years before.

Thirty minutes later, the trucks emptied of their contents, everyone began the trek back to town.

“Do you feel like we’re being watched?” Dan said, he and Bob still outside of the truck, the others now driving away.

“I’ve felt like that ever since we got out here,” Bob said.

The two of them looked up the dark hill, through the dead trees. The skyline against the hilltop revealed nothing.

“KAW!” came the call of a crow. They looked up and saw three large black birds in the tree above them, one with snow white eyes. The large one in the middle let loose a sizable wad of white and black muck from its posterior. It splattered across the center of the truck’s windshield.

Bob and Dan exchanged a look, the sound of the bird’s wings flapping causing them to look up again, just in time to see the birds head for the top of the hill.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Dan said.

“Now you see why I’ve never been able to stand to listen to people crying about their childhoods,” Bob said, pulling his door shut. The truck, now lighter by the lack of a load, drove off the hill quicker than Bob, bouncing violently, preferred. He held on to the “Oh My God” handle for dear life and said nothing.

#

Bob lost a night’s sleep, his mind racing through the possibilities of what would befall the small town of Mettsville. The morning light coming through the window gave him reason to rise. Opening the curtain he was happy to see the sun peaking above the hills as opposed to some long, endless tunnel.

“I’ve cheated death yet again,” he said, making his way to the kitchen for coffee. Coffee brewed, he walked to his front porch to drink it. Stepping outside his bare foot retracted quickly upon touching the cold porch, normally warm this time of year in spite of the hour.

Returning a moment later with slippers and a light shawl from the back of his couch, he sat and watched as the paper boy made his rounds, tossing a dying form of media from his Trek mountain bike, house to house. Something was different about the boy this morning. Normally garbed in shorts and a t-shirt, he was wearing pants and a light jacket. A glance at the porch’s thermometer revealed a temperature of fifty five degrees, fifteen degrees cooler than every morning for the past six weeks.

“Oh, no,” he said, now chugging his coffee instead of sipping casually like usual. “This is not good.”

#

“This is Mayor Hedges,” Dan said, answering the phone only minutes after arriving to his office just before 9:00 a.m.

“Dan! This is Bob,” said the voice from the other side of the line. “I need to see you. Have you had breakfast?”

“Yeah, but I’m always up for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.”

“Meet me at the diner in fifteen minutes.”

“Sure. See you then, Bob.”

#

“So what’s going on Bob?” Dan asked, the waitress leaving the table with their order.

“I think something bad is going to happen tonight.”

“Any idea what?”

“No,” he said, leaning forward, peering around the room. No one else in the small greasy spoon was within ear shot. “You still have a daughter here; grandkids. You need to get them out of town for a while.”

“How can I do that without starting some sort of wide spread panic?”

“I don’t know. But you need to do it.”

“They won’t listen,” Dan said, leaning back as the waitress placed a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of him. She laid a piece of peanut butter pie beside it.

“Then have them come to my place,” Bob said as the waitress left.

“Why?”

“Dinner,” Bob said. “We’ll have dinner at my place. Just tell them that I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately, something like that. They’ll believe it. Most people think I should have been dead long ago anyway. Hell, I love my boy but I know he’s been waiting around on it for a while so they can retire and live off of his inheritance.”

“Ok,” Dan said. “What time do I have everyone come over?”

“Six,” Bob said, leaning back so a plate of eggs, bacon and toast could be placed in front of him. A tall glass of milk was lightly laid beside it, his self imposed daily allowance of coffee already met at home this morning.

“We’ll be there,” Dan said, talking with a mouth half full of pie. “I hope you are wrong, but I get the feeling you aren’t.”

#

“We must have a cold front moving through,” Dan’s daughter Erica said, entering Bob’s two story brick home in the oldest neighborhood in town.

“I don’t ever remember a summer this cold,” her husband Tim said, coming in behind her.

“They closed the pool early,” their daughter Emma said, adding to the conversation, kicking her sandals off at the door, bending over to rub cold toes.

“It’s warm in here,” Bob said, motioning them in. Dan had been there several hours, helping his old friend prepare dinner.

“Wow!” Tim said, viewing the already set table in the dining room. “Turkey? What’s the occasion?”

“Dinner with friends,” Bob said, walking over to shake Tim’s hand. “How have you been Timmy? I haven’t seen you in weeks.”

“I’ve been good, Bob. How about you?”

“Great thanks. Every day I wake up without hearing angels sing or smelling singed souls is a good day for me.”

Dinner prepared, they took to the table. Bob had moved the thermometer from the front porch earlier in the day, placing it just outside the dining room window so he could see it from his vantage point. It now read forty five degrees.

Everyone enjoyed dinner, talking of recent events in the community, Tim’s job and Emma’s post high school plans. No one noticed the two hours that slipped by, engrossed in food and conversation. Nor did they notice the temperature dropping outside, now down to thirty eight, with an hour of summer daylight left.

“What was that?” Erica said, hearing a bang. Everyone stopped to listen, just as hot air began blowing out of the vents at their feet.

“That was my furnace,” Bob said. “It’s old. It sounds like someone knocking on the back door when it kicks on.”

“I don’t remember a furnace kicking on in southern Kentucky in all my years,” Dan said, eyes wide, staring directly at Bob.

“It’s Friday,” Bob said, rising. “No work for you tomorrow, Tim. What do you say we all go down to my bunker. The men can have some drinks and the girls can watch some movies on the big screen.”

“Bunker?” Emma asked, her face crooked.

“Oh yes, young lady,” Bob said, a chuckle following his words. “You are way too young to remember, but your parents, grandfather and I lived through something called the ‘Cold War.’ A lot of us went a little overboard and made fortresses out of our basements and cellars.”

As the party made their way to Bob’s basement Tim explained, short version, the cold war to his daughter. Bob and Dan hesitated at the top of the stairs before descending.

“It’s almost freezing outside, Bob,” Dan said, nervous tone in his voice.

“It’s gonna get worse,” Bob said. “It makes since to me now why they wanted the coal. I’m afraid this is going to be a long night for Mettsville.”

#

As day turned to night, the shadows on top of a certain mountain above Mettsville grew not only longer, but twisted. An evil was brewing on top of the hill, around the small, rock house of three sisters of whom no one knew anything other than speculation; a past thought of as only possible of being true in horror stories, movies and urban legends.

“They like white powder, huh?” said the blind woman, taking a snow globe from the small shelf of knick knacks. “Let’s give them a Christmas in July!”

All three women cackled as she shook the globe violently, white powder racing furiously inside the glass, covering the artificial village within.

#

“That movie gets better every time I see it,” Erica said, Celine Dion’s voice cooing like an angel as the credits for ‘Titanic’ streamed across the screen.

“You are old,” her daughter said, rolling her eyes. “Let’s watch something more recent.”

“I’ll be back with more beer,” Bob said, addressing Tim, who by now didn’t need any more beer. The men had finished off a twelve pack and half a bottle of scotch chased with coke while the girls had watched their movie. “Why don’t you come with me, Dan?”

“Oh my God,” Dan said, reaching the top of the stairs, the upper part of the house cold in spite of the continually running furnace. “What is the temperature now?”

Both men stopped in their tracks when they looked out the kitchen window. It wasn’t the thermometer that stopped them, they hadn’t seen it yet. It was the nearly two feet of snow that covered the ground, more blowing frantically in the chill wind.

“Five degrees,” Bob said, pulling his eyes off the white powder, viewing the thermometer. “We have to do something!”

“What are we going to do?”

“We need the coal,” Bob said.

“But our agreement?”

“To hell with our agreement. You can’t have a town anyway without people. People are going to die tonight! This is only going to get worse!”

“How do we go about it?”

“Get on the phone! Call the council members! Get the trucks and go back for the coal. I’ll call Richland at the mines, see what he can do.”

“Got it,” Dan said, pulling out his cell. Bob made his way to his land line on the kitchen counter. Having already been retired and his wife dead for years when it came, the advent of cell phones was something he had felt he didn’t need to participate in and had chosen not to.

#

The snow was already two and a half feet in the woods. It did not keep the three, four wheel drive pickup trucks, Dan’s in the lead, from making their way to the recently deposited pile of coal.

“Oh my God,” Dan said, one bend away from the coal. An orange glaze painted the white backdrop ahead of them.

“Fire!” the young man riding shot gun said as they rounded the turn. The entire pile of coal was on fire, the forest ablaze. The fire’s reflection from the falling snow made it look like hell was raining down on earth.

“Let’s go back,” Dan said. He turned quickly, his truck sliding out of the trail. “Oh no!”

The truck behind him had been too close. It could not stop in time as Dan’s truck left the path. It rear ended it, pushing it further into the woods, getting stuck in the deep snow itself.

“I hope he can pull us both out,” Dan said, looking in his side view mirror at the trail truck, the only one not yet stuck. “Before it gets colder or this snow gets deeper.”

#

“The number you have dialed is either out of service or has been disconnected,” the computer’s voice came across the line for the seventh time.

“Damn it!” Bob said, slamming the phone.

“Where’s Dad?” Timmy said, staggering up stairs with a half empty bottle of beer. Bob had given him another six pack before starting his call session.

“He went to get some coal,” Bob said, pointing toward the kitchen window. Even drunk, Tim could tell something was seriously wrong as he peered outside, the snow lit up by the street light.

“Oh my God,” Tim said, suddenly sober. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m not sure,” Bob said. “But we’re better off downstairs.”

Tim turned and began making his way back to the basement. Bob followed, but not before turning to look at the thermometer again.

“Negative thirty degrees!”

#

“I’m freezing,” Emma said, already covered with two blankets, lying on the long section of the L shaped couch in the basement.

“It’s burning as fast as it will burn,” Bob said, shoveling more coal into the coal stove. It was the backup heat source for the house, installed when he had finished the basement, turning it into a bunker in the 1960s.

“It’s almost gone,” Tim said, head tilting to the small pile of coal Bob had kept in reserve behind a wooden wall. He had conveniently forgotten about it when taking the rest of the town’s coal to the women in the woods.

“We’ll run out in an hour,” Bob said. “We have to make it till morning.”

Thinking quickly, he looked at Tim, his face lit up by the idea in his head. “Come upstairs with me!”

The two men went upstairs, Tim having to push forcefully on the door.

“It was frozen!” Tim said, astonished. “There are icicles in your damn living room!”

The men gazed, shivering, though they were wearing blankets around them like robes.

“Grab anything that is wooden!” Bob said. “If it’s too big to fit in the stove, break it!”

They both began grabbing anything fitting Bob’s furnace.

“Gang way!” Tim yelled downstairs before tossing an antique rocker down the stair case. It shattered on the way down. “Makes less work,” he said to Bob, shrugging.

“Good idea,” Bob said, tossing down a matching end table.

“What are you looking at?” Tim asked a couple minutes later, seeing Bob staring out the window, across the street. He pulled up beside him and looked as well. “Oh my God!”

The two men stared across the street, the sight of two very small children on the porch of the house across the street.

“Whatever happens, stay inside,” Bob said.

“You can’t go out there,” Tim said, grabbing the old man by the shoulder.

“No,” Bob said. “This is all my fault. I’ll go. Whatever you do, don’t come outside.” He grabbed his top hat from the rack by the door and went outside, the snow now four feet deep.

“What do you mean, this is all your fault?” Tim yelled as the door slammed, snow coming in, dancing around his feet before coming to a halt. The house was so cold it did not melt. Tim grabbed a picture off the wall, wooden frame, and tossed it down the stairs.

#

“Come to me,” Bob said, to the three year old boy, lips blue, playing in the snow on the porch. The child was too cold to move. His little sister was lying on the porch, shivering. Both of them only wore diapers. Bob grabbed them both, one arm each, and began wading through the snow, waist deep, back to his house.

“Take them!” he said, handing them off to Tim. He had kept watch while breaking Bob’s lifetime collection of furniture, framed memories, antiques, anything wooden. “I’m going back for their mother.”

“You can’t!” Tim said. “She’ll fend for herself. Just like we are.”

“She hasn’t fended for herself in years,” Bob said, heading back out into the snow.

“Why do old people always have to talk in riddles,” Tim said, carrying the children downstairs.

#

“Oh my God,” Bob said, the sight of Susan’s parents huddled, frozen to death on their couch. “Susan!” he yelled through cupped hands. “Susan!”

He quickly made his way upstairs. He opened the door to the first bedroom on the right. Susan, high as a kite, was sitting on the floor, huddling in a thick comforter, a crack pipe lying beside her on the floor. The room was freezing, revealing to him his breath when he exhaled, yet it still reeked of the stench of the rat poison he and Dan were trying to rid the community of.

“Come with me,” he said, bending over.

“Huh?” she said, nothing more than a groan. She looked at him, or rather through him. He could tell she had no clue where she was, what was happening around her.

“I can’t carry you,” he said. “I’m too old. You have to get up and walk!”

Slowly, he was able to guide Susan to her feet. She fell once, before they reached the bedroom door, but was able to stand again. He focused on keeping the comforter wrapped around her.

“Whatever happens,” he said, stepping onto the porch, the wind blowing forcefully in their faces, “keep going straight!”

It was almost white out. And black out. The street lights were no longer on. The ice, too heavy now, had snapped the lines. Bob and Susan stepped off the porch, now up to his chest and began the arduous task of walking the next twenty yards to safety.

#

One Week Later

“The Kentucky National Guard has finally made their way into the town of Mettsville, Kentucky,” the attractive brunette, an on-the-scene correspondent for FOX News said, “in what is definitely the most freak snow storm in U.S. history, if not world history.”

“What have they found there?” her partner, the most recent defector from CNN said from back in the studio said.

“It is a tragedy,” she said. We are getting reports that so far, there were only six survivors.”

“Six?” he said. “Who were these people? Was it one family or was there more than one household?”

“We’re not sure,” she said. “They are being taken by helicopter to the hospital on the other side of the county. The roads are still impassable except for the military vehicles we came in on with the National Guard and other emergency personal. I’m told there was one man, two women, a teenage girl and two babies.”

“It looks like there is still a lot of snow behind you,” he said. “Can you pan the camera for the folks back home?”

“Certainly,” she said, giving the unspoken order to her cameraman with the wave of a hand.

The camera spanned as she spoke into the microphone. “You see behind us here the house were the only survivors were found.”

The camera showed an old house, one of the first in the community, snow still up to the porch, at least four feet high. Three crows on top of the snow picked at an old top hat.

-THE END-

From the Author:

“Witches of Methville” is only one of twelve stories in my anthology of horror/paranormal stories titled, “A Demon’s Dozen.” I have also authored Amazon’s #1 ghost novel based on customer satisfaction, “From the Graves of Babes” and the thriller “Serial Street.” All of my books are available in print or Kindle from Amazon. Kindle versions are only $2.99. As a disabled Iraq War vet, now pursuing my post military career and life’s true passion, writing, I thank you for taking the time to read my work! Please join the Kevin E Lake fan page on Facebook!

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The MacCaffertys

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Turbulent ghost story saga of Savannah’s MacCafferty clan – witches, ghosts, psychic powers and women with tragic tastes in men. Written by Rebecca Ferdman

(Note: Some Adult Content)

Catherine Leigh was the great-great-granddaughter of Bella MacCafferty who was still seen, on occasion, haunting Oak Knoll. Everyone – the housemaids, the chauffeur, the current generation, and the next door neighbors, Jenkins was their name – would all see the long red hair and mens trousers and whisper respectfully, “Bella’s guarding tonight.” She was the matriarch of Savannah’s MacCafferty clan and a strong witch in her day. It was said that no one could hide a thing from her, and her thirst for retribution was legendary. Once, a pack of boys had tried to cheat her out of some money in a card game, and she unloaded all her Confederate notes on them, which she knew would be worthless by next noon. Then there was the soldier’s body, which was found, hanging, tangled in the Spanish Moss from an oak tree in back. It was Bella’s doing and the soldier had his eyes gruesomely gouged out to prove he was creeping around Oak Knoll looking to bring evil upon her house. Because the town judge back then was a second cousin to the MacCafferty’s and the people of Savannah feared a similar turn should Bella be hung in retribution, nothing ever came of the matter. Catherine Leigh said that Bella’s ghost still walked around to protect her kin and their old plantation, Oak Knoll. It was true, because once the ghost winked at her while passing silently by and once it had appeared before bolting up the front door.

Plantation House

“Hurricane’s coming,” Bella said, before the ghost disappeared and the peach trees were ripped right out of the ground and scattered about like sticks.

Catherine Leigh always left a bottle of scotch whiskey out for her great-great-great-great grandmother, and it always came back empty and thrown somewhere else after a night of Bella’s visits.

“It’s her favorite,” Catherine Leigh would say scooping up the bottle for the Monday trash collection, before kissing aged Aunt Ginnie and her twin brother Uncle Billy on the cheeks, who were fixtures in the parlor, and pouring them mint juleps while they kept on at their never ending backgammon game. It had been several years, and whenever one would get close to winning, the dice would just turn on them and they’d be back to the start of it again. Though close to senility, Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Billy had always had psychic powers and weren’t afraid to use them for parlor tricks. They’d chortle:

“We’d hate to hurt each others feelings by winning, so we figured out a system where no one loses. Now how about some more bourbon, Catie Lee?”

Catherine Leigh attended college at the Savannah School for Women and was studying to become a nurse. It seemed like a nice job for a young lady, and she’d always had a bit of the healing gift in her, even if she was a MacCafferty, whose line of matrilineal and eccentric women were prone to violent outcomes. Each generation going back to Bella had killed a man, though once or twice it was done with witch’s telepathy.

Catie Lee’s mother Darcy MacCafferty got it the worst of them all. Worst luck that is. She fell in love with a handsome devil, the handsomest man in town, and she, being a shy, bookish schoolgirl who’d never so much as kissed a boy, went to seventh heaven when he started winking his black eyes at her, following her around and taking her for rides on his motorbike. Practically scared Nana Koreen out of her wits.

“One of these days you’re going to fall off of that motorbike,” she’d holler. “I can see it coming.” And they did, because Nana Koreen had the sight. One day Jeb the Devil, that was the man’s name, hit a flying rock and the pair took a dive down into the swamps where they both got pretty banged up and Darcy broke her arm and collarbone. Jeb the Devil sponge bathed her every day while Nana Koreen ran around town, and he did lord knows what else with her. She thought they were going to be married and have babies because he had seduced her and she had fallen into bed with his promises that he was in love, big time love with her. Then one lazy afternoon, she found Jeb the Devil in bed with her brother Beau. She had never seen two men together and Darcy snapped like ice cubes in their freezer tray and howled like a wounded banshee. She ran down to Papa Johnny’s den and took his loaded shotgun down from the fireplace. Then Darcy ran right back upstairs and shot Jeb the Devil’s handsome head off and blasted Beau’s manhood in a bloody mess, making him an eunuch in a moment of sweet revenge. Jeb the Devil died instantly. Beau just howled and wept, and clung to his dead lover’s body, for he loved Jeb the Devil as much as Darcy did. Only when Darcy got her head back, and saw the damage from her shooting spree did she have enough sense to dial for help. But that was the extent of it for she never spoke another word again. Beau’s life, but not his testicles, were saved and Jeb the Devil was mourned by half of Savannah. Darcy, had she been more worldly and seasoned would have known, that she was not by a long shot his only love. But when she turned up pregnant with the Devil’s child, the town judge, now a distant MacCafferty cousin, who had remarried into the clan to Darcy’s first cousin, Rebecca MacCafferty the schoolteacher, gave Darcy a lifetime commitment to the Savannah Asylum for the Criminally Insane. He could do no better for her, because the MacCafferty’s were not what they were in Bella’s day. She brought Catherine Leigh there, into the world, alone, with a frosty, disapproving psychiatrist and howling demented patients for companions.

Nana Koreen, immediately came to take Catherine Leigh and raise her as her own, with a good bunch of MacCafferty’s at Oak Knoll. Darcy would languish and die young in the asylum of a so-called heart attack that Nana Koreen said was the result of ‘psychic self-infliction,’ which was really a broken heart. All the MacCafferty women died at will like that, when their anger got bottled up so tight and they had no more enemies to fight or life to live, and it sometimes just exploded in on themselves and ended things quietly in that way. But Darcy was special. She was grieving for her lost love, her lost family, her lost baby, and her lost freedom. Darcy’s life had been a quiet tragedy and now, she was at will, ending it.

Anyway, for the short tragedy that was Darcy’s life, Catherine Leigh’s was turning out pretty good. Nana Koreen was a wonderful nana and had never killed a man, save for the time she had, as a young, outspoken hippie, traveled to Vietnam to force the VeitCong to make peace with the Americans, and they had shot down a whole platoon of 2,000 infantrymen to tell her what they thought of that idea. After that she stayed out of things like that.

Nana Koreen’s husband Johnny Horse, as he was called, for his love for breeding and jumping thoroughbreds, also spoke equus, he joked, and would sit out by the stables having long conversations with his mares. Johnny Horse was Nana Koreen’s twin brother, born of the dreamy Rose, a beauty who never learned to read or write her own name or make change for a dollar. In fact, Rose, Bella’s daughter, never had an inclination to do much of anything except glide around the rose garden and peach field in her chemises and knickers with her Himalayan lap cat in arm. One day a traveling evangelist came up to Oak Knoll and saw the beautiful Rose in her corsets, picking a ripe peach and eating it, so that the fuzz brushed her lips and the juice ran down the corner of her mouth. He told her that he was God’s prophet, come to take her out of the valley of barrenness and make her a mother for Christ on high. Rose had not the slightest idea what he was talking about, her mother Bella was dead and she knew nothing about religion, but she liked his crooked smile and the attentions were pleasant. Robert Langham took her for a roll in the horse’s hayloft and promised he’d come back to make her a proper husband when he’d had enough money saved. The prophet never came back, because Rose yelled at him day and night, and though he was not there in body, heard her in spirit. One day she gathered up all of her psychic energies and gave him a mighty push. Off the cliff he was driving on with his horse, that is. Mr. Langham tumbled into the sea. His blue, bloated, body was found by a fisherman, washed ashore a small, deserted island off the coast of Georgia. And that was the end of that.

Koreen and Johnny were born in the spring, and if it had not been for Bella’s favorite lover Annie Roux, who had stayed on at Oak Knoll after Bella’s death, once she learned that Bella’s ghost still visited, the twins would have perished for Rose’s dearth of commonsense. Bella’s ‘husband’ was her own daddy, Jackson MacCafferty, who had forced himself upon her when she turned sixteen and her hair turned the color of apples. Everyone knew, and knew that was why Rose had no brains, but in spite of all that, Bella still loved Jackson and simply kept a frying pan with her at all times, should she need to crack his skull and snap the lechery out of him. Then she learned to shoot and she was never bothered again. When Bella’s daddy finally died the town could see the flames leaping up from hell, a veritable bonfire and hear the devil himself, laughing from the MacCafferty graveyard as he dragged him down to his fiery inferno. They also heard Jackson scream and kick as he wrestled with Satan but eventually lost the fight.

But back to Catherine Leigh… she had Uncle Beau’s choir performance to see tonight. His unnaturally high eunuch’s voice, for he had been shot in his youth, made him a star in the Savannah boys then mens choir. He sang like a young angel, all these year’s later, and he always got asked by the homosexual men in town to visit with him in his dressing room in the back of the church.

She’s in the kitchen now, helping Nana Koreen make Vicksburg tomato sandwiches with the white crusts cut off and what Nana Koreen called Louche Lemonades when someone knocked on the door.

“Gee, I wonder who that could be,” Nana Darcy declared as she put down her mixing bowl.

“It’s a stranger,” Catie Leigh said. She could always tell if it was someone she knew.

“Well the gun’s in the silverware drawer if you need it.”

“Ok. Well go ahead and answer.” Catherine Leigh moved over to the sink where she could get a good view of the foyer. The women of Oak Knoll had a legacy of attracting the strange and occasionally malicious intruders.

Nana Koreen opened the door and Catherine Leigh fell in love. It was the nicest boy she had ever seen. He was quiet and well behaved, with pale skin and clear green eyes. He had a sweet little smile on his face and held out his hand in introduction.

“Are you the lady of the house, ma’am?” he asked with all the polite and respect of good breeding.

“I am, my granddaughter and I are. What can we do for you young man?”

“My car broke down right outside of your…house.” The boy was about to say plantation but Oak Knoll hadn’t been used for anything but peaches in a hundred years.

“You don’t say,” Nana Darcy motioned behind her back to Catherine Leigh, cocking her thumb and forefinger in the shape of a pistol. Catie Leigh moved over to the silverware drawer, but something in this boy’s sweet honest face told her that he was good and meant no harm, far from it in fact.

“I hate to intrude on you ma’am, but would it be alright if I stepped in to use your phone? Just to call the towing company? I won’t stay long.”

“How about I lend you my cell phone? “ Nana Koreen negotiated smoothly.

“How about I accept,” the boy held his hands out in the open. They were pale and smooth just like his face.

“You wait right there,” and Nana Koreen ran off to find her purse.

Catherine Leigh looked up at the boy shyly, as she stood behind the drawer with the sharpshooter in it.

“What’s your name, boy?” she called out from across the room.

The young man looked up startled. He hadn’t known there were two of them.

“Michael Milford,” he answered evenly.

“I’m Catherine Leigh MacCafferty. My family’s been here for ages. We never leave, you know.”

“I didn’t know that,” the boy answered uncertainly.

“You from around here?”

“No-ooo. I’m just passing through on my way to Raleigh. That’s where my convention is.”

“Your convention?”

“Yes, I’m a young restauranteur. It’s the biggest event of the year. All of the vendors and up and coming restaurants of the South are going to be there. I’m planning on setting up shop soon, myself. I’ve already got the backers and sous chef in place. All I need now are the gas and electric, so to speak.”

“Well that’s fascinating, Michael Milford. What’s your concept?”

“Concept?”

“Yeah, for the restaurant?”

“Well,” he scratched his head, “I think kind of a modern, high end southern barbeque and grille.”

“Wanna come in here and cook me something?”

“Excuse me?” the boy seemed confused.

“Nah, never mind me. I’m just pulling your chain. Would you like to come in? We just made some Louche Lemonade and Tomato sandwiches, made right.”

“I’d love some.” The pale boy, with what Catie Leigh thought were beautiful green eyes, took a step forward to advance but Nana Darcy swiftly blocked his entry with her open cell phone in palm.

“Here you go stranger, you take your time,” she smiled hospitably but he would have had to chop her down with an axe to get past that woman.

“Tha-anks, I’ll make it quick.”

“You do that,” Nana Darcy smiled.

Catherine Leigh had never liked a boy before, and never this much! She felt she was floating as she plated the sandwich and poured the lethal lemonade, spiked with a heavy dose of vodka.

“Don’t you dare, Catie Leigh, he’s a strange man!”

“It’s ok Nana Darcy, he’s a good boy, I can tell. And I like him. I want to marry him.”

“Are you sure?” Nana Darcy said slowly and sternly, like a mother scolding a very young child.

“I’m sure,” Catherine Leigh replied calmly.

“Well then I guess it’s ok. If he is to be your husband.”

“I think so too.”

And she grabbed the refreshments and walked regally to the front door where just outside, she found the boy sitting down on an iron lattice bench, redialing against a busy signal.

“Sorry ma’am, I just can’t get through. I’ll keep trying. This lousy towing service we joined. Should have kept my AAA membership.”

“They’re the best,” Catherine Leigh agreed.

“Would you like something to eat?” She pushed the plate towards Michael Milford’s lap and the glass into his free hand.

“Oh sure, very hospitable of you.” He took a bite.

“Wow, this is good. I should use it on my menu. What is this?”

“A Vicksburg tomato sandwich.”

“That’s tasty.”

“Thanks. I love to fix things to eat. I do it all the time. I can make catfish and slaw, and au jus sandwiches and crawfish, any old way you like them.”

“Maybe I should hire you to cook for my restaurant,” he joked nicely.

“No, I’m going to be a nurse,“ Catherine Leigh replied quite seriously. “But I would make a good wife.”

Michael Milford choked on his tomato sandwich. “I beg your pardon?”

“For the right man, you know,” she smiled sweetly.

He looked at her askance from his seat. “I’m sure you will,” he said evenly.

“Well, Michael Milford, why aren’t you married?”

“I, oh, uh, I have to establish myself first. Make my restaurant a success. You know. And I guess I haven’t found the right girl.”

The sky was turning from purple to black. A net of constellations began to rise in the evening sky and a whole moon shone above their heads.

“Well, if you were to marry someone, what about me?”

Michael Milford paled. “Sorry?”

“Well, what about little ol’ me? I’m willing and able and I cook a mean etouffee.”

“But, but we don’t even know each other!” Michael Milford spluttered. “We’ve just met!”

“And the way it’s looking with your luck, you’ll need a place to stay for the night.”

“That’s true,” he conceded glumly, looking around like a river rat that’s just figured out its being caught in some hunter’s net.

“Well think about it, Michael Milford.”

“Oh, we’ll have to date for a few months first,” he said, a bit exasperated.

Catherine Leigh giggled and felt her heart leap giddily with delight. So they were dating! Oh joy! “How about I fix your room for you?” You can call AAA in the morning and become a member. Then they’ll come out and tow your car.”

“Oh, ok,” he said. His pretty green eyes starting to look around nervously. His back stiffened as Catie Leigh led him by the scruff of his sleeve toward the house. She thought of him as her pet now, and would dote on him and give him all of her attentions.

Michael Milford found the whole thing a little disconcerting, but went along with it because Catherine Leigh was nice and pretty and had a soft, sweet Southern drawl. She also smelled like peaches, a very becoming scent, and figured he could do worse than her.

He made it in again past Nana Koreen keeping guard whose smile was like flint. He felt an involuntary shiver go through his spine and then noticed the pair of old folks in the parlor who were gently laughing, playing some strange kind of board game.

“Would you like to come with us to our Uncle Beau’s choir concert? He’s an eunuch. Not by choice you know. His sister Darcy shot him. But he has the prettiest voice in town. Sings more beautiful than the girls, and he’s 82. That’s why everyone likes him.”

“Uh, sure, I’d love to,” Michael Milford answered politely, not quite knowing what to say.

“Great, then we’ll get our coats and go.”

She put out her forefinger as if giving a maternal order to a child.

“Now don’t go anywhere.”

“I won’t.”

Catherine Leigh smiled and left, now certain that she had bagged the boy of her dreams.

That night Uncle Beau shone at Our Lady of Redemption Cathedral and impressed even Michael Milford with his golden soprano.

“I’ve never heard singing that good,” Michael offered involuntarily to Catie Leigh as men threw long stemmed red roses at Uncle Beau’s feet.

“Neither have I,” Catherine Leigh sighed. “That’s why we and all the town comes out to hear him every time he croons.”

They saw Uncle Beau disappear behind the curtains after his encore bow and song and the men begin to file discreetly past the event ushers toward his dressing room where the homosexual orgies took place.

“Hey Nana Koreen,” Catie Leigh drawled on their ride home. “Michael needs a place to stay for the night.”

“Fine, you take care of him Catie Lee.”

“Oh, I will, I will!”

For the first time that evening, Michael Milford looked grateful.

That night, alone in his bedroom Michael had a weird dream. There was a woman with long red hair in men’s trousers, staring down at him over his bed. He thought she was going to kill him, then a small smile spread on her features and she backed down, looking at another woman on the other side of the room. She was in old-fashioned underclothes but was quite beautiful.

“I like him,” she said dreamily, but he could see by looking at the far away look in her face, that she wasn’t all there. “Looks sweet and smells nice.”

Then she turned her head toward another woman – small, and shy and reticent – who didn’t say a word, but gave him the once over and nodded her head primly. An approval.

“He’ll make a good husband for our Catherine Leigh,” the woman with the long red hair said, and the others nodded in assent.

He could have sworn he was awake and someone was opening his bedroom door. It was Nana Koreen and Catherine Leigh, smiling happily. Nana Koreen was less steel and more magnolia now and Catherine Leigh was radiant, just glowing.

“Welcome to the family,” they both said.

And then the pair shut the door and all the women surrounding him vanished. The one with the red hair was the last to go.

Michael Milford lay in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling, considering what had just transpired. He thought he knew but it was too supernaturally impossible to believe. So he just tried to shut his eyes and go back sleep.

In the morning he tripped over an empty whiskey bottle on his floor and hit the wall. There, in front of him, were old sepia photographs of all the women from his dream last night, each in the period dress of their day, save for the one with the long red hair who wore men’s trousers, horse boots, and shirt.

“Must have seen them first. Must have dreamt it,” he muttered tiredly.

This was one odd family, even the well-bred Michael Milford had to admit to himself. But he could tell Catherine Leigh liked him a lot and wanted to take care of him. She grew on him more and more, and if the ghosts of her deceased relatives had come all the way back from the dead to welcome him to the family, than this was indeed a genuine invitation. He decided to accept it graciously.

“I’ve fixed some chicory and grits for breakfast,” he could hear Catie Leigh’s voice drawled up across a high winding staircase. It sounded as if she were throwing her voice and she was right in the room beside him, giving Michael Milford a jolt.

“Thanks, be right there sweetie.”

“I’ll keep it warm, honey pie.”

“How did you sleep?” Nana Koreen stepped in between him and his descent down the stairs. There was something slightly menacing about her. The corners of her lips kept turning up in a twitchy sort of motion.

“Fine, thanks.”

“I want to know your intentions toward my granddaughter, young man.”

Something about the way she said ‘intentions’ scared the hell out of him. He could tell there was a restrained but wild look in her eye, a pistol hidden not too far out of reach should she need it.

“She’s a virgin you know.”

“Oh, I, uh, Mrs. MacCallough…”

“MacCafferty.”

“Sorry, Mrs. MacCafferty.”

“And my granddaughter’s name. It’s Catherine Leigh MacCafferty. She like to be called Catie Leigh by those she loves. She’s got her mind on marrying you and if you don’t do her right, I can find a way to put a hole through yours.”

Michael Milford’s pale skin turned ashen.

“How’s tomorrow?” he croaked.

“Sounds good to me. Now you enjoy your breakfast. And forget about your car. You won’t be needing that for a while.”

Michael Milford ate every last bite and made sure to compliment his new bride-to-be on her fine culinary skills. He found he had a throbbing headache due to nervous tension and when he mentioned it to Catie Leigh she said, “let me help you with that,” and she put two soothing hands on either side of his head. Within moments the headache was gone, and he felt lighter than air.

“How did you do that?” he asked in amazement, looking at Catherine Leigh with new respect – and a little fear.

“It’s just something I’ve always had. That’s why I’ll be a good nurse.”

“Good?” Michael Milford’s green eyes practically bugged out of his face. “You’re a miracle worker. You could probably bring the dead back to life.”

“Yes, I probably could, but it’s not recommended. Something always goes wrong,” she sighed. “And it doesn’t last. So I hear we’re getting married tomorrow?”

“Uh-huh.”

When no one was in earshot, Michael Milford picked up the old rotary phone in his bedroom and called his family in Macon to tell them he was happily engaged to a wonderful girl and if anything should happen to him he was last seen at Oak Knoll, the plantation off Oglethorpe Road in Savannah. The convention in Raleigh would have to wait till later.

The wedding was a small but joyous ceremony held in the rose garden of Oak Knoll. Catie Leigh wore Nana Koreen’s wedding dress, the one she wore when she married her twin brother, Horse Johnny, who had long since passed away after a gelding threw him. The dress was long sleeved and timeless with lots of lace and a long lace train to match with real pearl buttons.

“It’s time we got some new blood in this family,” Nana Koreen said to Catie Leigh as she buttoned up the fabric so delicate it seemed the wind could tear it.

In the rose garden shiny blue dragonflies fluttered around, hitting Catie Leigh and Michael on the face while an egret flew overhead. The hundred or so guests gathered in the backyard were MacCafferty relatives and plenty of first and second and inbred cousins, old friends, neighbors and business associates from the gun factory that Bella had started on the eve of the Civll War and had made the MacCafferty’s their money. Uncle Beau sang, making everyone weep, and a priest married them because Michael came from Catholics and they insisted on having something some say in their only son’s wedding.

“You sure this is the right girl son?” Old man Milford asked Michael in a slow, paternal sort of way.

“Oh, I’m sure dad, she’s the one.”

“Alright son, if you’re sure we’re happy for you. But you did just meet her yesterday.”

“It’s ok dad,” Michael’s voice was shrill, “It’ll work out just fine.”

Poor Michael Milford never had a chance. But it did work out – the marriage, that is.

Savannah Street

After the wedding Michael got his car fixed and moved into Oak Knoll with Catie Leigh and Nana Koreen. Catherine Leigh got pregnant the first time they tried. “Another MacCafferty girl child!” she sighed dreamily, as the pair walked through the shaded courtyard squares of Savannah, planning their future and watching Catie Leigh’s stomach turn into a round, ripe fruit. Michael no longer feared Nana Koreen as he did before, who now got out of his way and really ignored him. She had her own fish to fry.

Nana Koreen was chairman of the board of MacCafferty Guns and the whole enterprise gave her a mighty headache. Cousin Clyde wanted to get in on the semi automatic weapon market, and Nana Koreen disagreed wholeheartedly. She prayed that one day Catie Leigh would take over, but she had her doubts and was looking for a trusted replacement, Maybe Auntie Irma, who still had all her hair and wits about her and collected MacCafferty guns like lladro porcelains. Michael, who never expected this much happiness in his life, was able to make some headway in getting his restaurant started. It would be called “The Flying Pig Tavern,” and would open in June downtown.


Catie Leigh finished nursing school and started a women’s quilting circle for friends and classmates where they each tried to sew the most unique blocks made of the best fabrics to contribute to the artwork. Catherine Leigh stitched a picture of Oak Knoll with the peach trees in back and a blue heart in a cradle and a pair of wedding rings out of real shiny gold fabric. Her next square showed a pair of hands, representing her healing palms, which she would sometimes lay on arthritic or ailing friends and relatives, a starched nurses hat and little likenesses of all the matriarchs of the MacCafferty line, including Bella’s red hair. She served spiked peach iced teas and sugared lemon loaves soaked with brandy and fried dill pickles which Michael would put on his menu. The quilting circle came to Oak Knoll every Wednesday until some of the older relatives began to die – Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Billy, who died on the exact same moment, ensuring that no one one the backgammon game. The quilting was replaced with funeral services in the parlor. Catie Leigh was too depressed to continue without them and Auntie Stella and third cousin Rachel so the quilting stopped.

Bella continued her nightly visits and saved one of Johnny Horse’s stallions from a pack of hungry wolves. Michael was the one who saw Bella pull the horse out of the mud and ride him back to his stall, which she shut herself.

“Hey, that lady with red hair is here again. She’s getting that horse away from those wolves.”

“Oh, that’s grandma Bella,” Catie Leigh said. “I’d better get the whiskey out for her.”

“I thought Nana Koreen was your grandma.”

“She’s my great, great, grandma. She’s a ghost.”

“I see.”

“She haunts, I mean visits Oak Knoll to watch over us.”

“Oh boy,” Michael Milford sat down on the bed and put his head between his legs. She welcomed me to the family one night with a bunch of others. He was shaking now.

“I know,” Catie Leigh said. “I was there.”

And then she put her arms around Michael and said, “Don’t worry, Bella really loves you. You have nothing to worry about.”

He looked out the window again and there was Bella, with her long red hair and men’s trousers, stroking the hair of the stallion. She looked tranquil. Then she looked up at Michael Milford’s window and looked him straight in his beautiful green eyes. A jolt of electricity went through him and he fainted onto the bed.

When he came to, Catherine Leigh was screaming, pushing a vial of sodium carbonate under his nose, and Nana Koreen was slapping his cheeks.

“It’s ok boy. What? Never seen a ghost before?”

Michael stared at his Catie Leigh whose belly looked ready to pop and Nana Koreen who stood over him with mild concern.

“Oh Michael, I’ll love you longer than the moon will shine.”

He looked at her oddly then went downstairs to make himself a double mint julep. He slept fitfully, his head full of dreams of cradles and ghosts. He awoke in the morning to find Catherine Leigh sitting beside him in bed holding a new rosy infant. She had Michael’s beautiful green eyes, Bella’s red hair, and Catie Leigh’s ski-slope nose, and had little appendages of such smallness and delicacy, they brought tear’s to Michael’s eyes.

“I’ve named her Susannah Quentin, after my beloved great uncle and favorite horse growing up,” Catherine Leigh told him matter of factly “But I think we’ll call her Susie-Q.”

“Oh, Catie Leigh, you’ve made me so happy,” Michael sighed as he watched his baby nurse.

“She is wonderful,” Nana Koreen said smally from the back of the room.

“Nana Koreen,” Catherine Leigh gasped, startled to see that the fat had melted from her bones overnight. She was almost a breathing skeleton.

“It’s my time honey. It won’t be long. Bury me next to Johnny Horse if you can find some space and get someone to replace me on the board of directors. I hoped it would be you, but Auntie Irma’s my second choice.”

She passed that night into the world of spirit, and they buried her body the next morning beside her twin and husband Johnny Horse according to her explicit instructions, only she and Michael and their Susie-Q there. Absolutely no clergy were called. Nana Koreen couldn’t stand those self-righteous men, really anyone for that matter, standing over her and telling her how to live her life. Catie Leigh immediately sent a telegram to Aunt Irma who didn’t want the responsibility of the chairmanship of MacCafferty Guns, but was bribed handsomely by the family and melted at the sight of little Susie-Q.

“Ok, Catie Leigh,” she said, “as I see you’re in no position to do it, I’ll step up.”

“Thank you, Auntie Irma, you’ll do great.”

The Flying Pig Tavern opened up as scheduled in summer, when the sweltering humidity made water droplets fall from ladies armpits. Susie-Q was babbling and crawling then. She had developed a taste for The Flying Pig’s fried green tomatos and crawfish gumbo and had an almost magical ability for finding shiny things. Pennies and loose change, a lost golden cufflink, Nana Koreen’s diamond stickpin, and when she got older, gem and mineral deposits in abandoned mineshafts, in which she’d descend with boys to make out in the dark. She’d go back alone with hammers and chisels, and carve chunks of treasure out of rocks that the world had forgotten.

When it was time for Susie-Q to go to college she picked out mining science and technology as her major, and upon graduation, went around the country buying up old abandoned silver mines in Idaho and the like with MacCafferty Gun money, to make a fortune and build a prosperous enterprise in its own right. One day while inspecting her Dakota gold mines she fell in love with a miner. She didn’t know if it was the cold black air of the mineshaft that made his voice echo deeper than a baritones’ or the way his hat light made his eyes glow like coffee. Susie-Q couldn’t even see half is handsome face or tell if he was shorter than her, but she yielded like plywood and that was that. It was the days of her youth revisited and he swept her up in his arms in a torrent of muscles and passion. Susie-Q was lost. All she could think about was her miner and the touch of his dark skin.

She hired a manager to look over her mines and ran off to the local justice to marry her lover. Because very handsome men make notoriously bad husbands, she was devastated to find him the following year, in bed with two prostitutes from the local brothel. When he asked her to join them, she got her rifle and fired a warning shot into the chandelier. Much like Darcy had done, with her devil, Jeb. They fled and escaped with their lives. Susie-Q got her marriage annulled but not before she found herself 9 weeks pregnant. It was a blessing and a tragedy. She had plenty of money but no daddy for her baby, so she went home to Catherine Leigh and Michael in Savannah for comfort and reassurance and to figure things out.

“We love you and support you, whatever you choose to do,” Catie Leigh told her only daughter.

“That’s right, Susie-Q, we’re right here behind,” Michael added.

Depressed, and still half in love with her cheating husband who she would rather run over with her truck than take back or send so much as a telegram to again, Susie-Q sold off her mining enterprises to DeBeers and settled into life at Oak Knoll as she grew more rotund and docile. Susie-Q moped around the property, eating peaches and helping Catie Leigh make them into pies and cobbler and canned syrupy gifts for kinfolk and friends and neighbors.

Catherine Leigh, who went back to nursing after Susie-Q left, had hardly noticed that her young plump skin had turned grey and small crows feet now spread from her warm eyes and small lines had cropped up around her mouth. She worried about Susie-Q, whose troubles always unfolded before her in dreams, worried about Michael’s health, and worried about her patients, whose touch seemed to alleviate pain and prolong life. Michael did not appear to have aged a day, however, because he was swathed in love and happiness and had made his Flying Pig Taverns into an international chain. The next one was set to open in Hong Kong next Wednesday.

Susie-Q would go down to the Flying Pig and sit in the bar, eating plates of jambalaya pasta and fried onion strings, watching her belly grow fatter and her dreams wither like a winter vine.

One day a man tried to sit next to her.

“Mind if I sit down?” the nice and kind looking blue eyed man with a baby face asked.

“It’s taken,” she responded glumly without looking up.

“Look’s pretty empty to me,” he replied with some humor.

“My invisible friend’s already there,” she replied seriously. “Don’t bug her.”

“Fine, I’m Jesse,” he extended his hand, still standing up.

Susie-Q shook it half-heartedly.

“I’m Susie-Q MacCafferty. I’m four months pregnant and left its daddy. I’d like to see him burn in hell like all the other men in my family all did.”

“I’m charmed,” he smiled genuinely.

“You can sit down now,” Susie-Q said evenly.

“Bella’s gone.”

And that was how Susie-Q found Loren’s daddy.

The only trouble with Loren, from Susie-Q’s perspective, was that he was not a girl. MacCafferty’s always were girls. Except of course Johnny Horse, Nana Koreen’s twin and husband. Buck was a spitting image of her miner, too handsome for life itself. It made her sad to think she had borne Satan’s child, bringing it into the world to raise for such an unworthy creature. From the first time she looked him over and saw a little male doll, a miniature of her adonis ex, Susie-Q knew she had trouble. But in Jesse she had none. He worked in an insurance office and was unshakably kind. His only vice was that he drank a bit much, but then, so did the MacCafferty’s. Sometimes he fell asleep on the porch, sprawled out without his shoes, snoring loud enough to spook the horses. But he was a vegetable of the mild variety.

As Loren grew older his ways grew more wild. He would get into fights at bars and leave half the boys in town bleeding out of their noses. He’d spent so many of his nights in jail, the police force and warden knew him by name. “Back again Loren, what happened to those anger management classes?” And worst of all, with the MacCafferty Gun money and Susie-Q’s mining money behind him, seduced fifty of the liveliest girls in town. There were at least a hundred babies born, listing Loren MacCafferty as the father on the birth certificates, and Susie-Q had to pay for them all.

She was mortified at her son’s life but she always kind of new it would come to this. When he was younger she’d threaten to cut him off without a cent, but now it was too late. He’d just go live off of the girls the MacCafferty’s supported. Besides women and getting rowdy, Loren had scant ambition. He didn’t like to work or take direction, and he had no real goals. He did like horses like Johnny Horse and Bella, and would be seen riding around the ring or out about town on one of the thoroughbreds.

The night Loren was murdered in his bed at Oak Knoll, Susie-Q dreamt she saw the ghosts of the MacCafferty matriarchs fighting with the devil on who was to keep him. It was no surprise to Susie-Q when the devil won and she saw the gates of fire open up to claim the town’s biggest sinner. The next morning Loren lay bloody in his bed, with his eyes open and throat slit. Ashes were scattered all over the place and the MacCafferty’s swiftly buried their most troublesome heir. Susie Q shed no tears but stood morosely above her sons body as some hired men lowered him into the earth. Part of Susie-Q, the dark side that she didn’t like to look at too long, said ‘relief’ that her Loren, who lived as an open wound was gone at last. She thought inviting a preacher would be a mockery of Loren’s damned life and death, so she just brought Catherine Leigh and Michael and Jesse and seventy five wailing women in black hats with about two hundred kids who, as soon as they saw Loren covered in dirt, started fighting with her like cats and dogs over who was to inherit what.

Susie Q assured them all that they would get their checks in the mail, just as before, and they all left quietly, like proper ladies again.

Life went on quietly at Oak Knoll with Jesse and Michael and Catie Leigh and it was only a month after Loren’s death. Susie-Q never did find out who snuck in past Bella to commit the crime. The police were never called, and frankly, no one was surprised. No one but Loren’s women and children would ever miss him.

“It’s time he got what was coming to him,” they all thought.

But had Susie Q looked closer she would have noticed a bloody peach knife, the kind in the downstairs pantry, hidden under the rug in Loren’s room. And had she looked even closer, she would have noticed a faint shiner over Catherine Leigh’s left eye, that she thought was shadow from lack of sleep.

“Never cross a MacCafferty gal,” Bella had always said. “They’ll send you straight to hell.” How true it was.

Susie-Q was in her middle age and Catherine Leigh was ancient. The daughter was again confounded as to what to do with herself. Jesse had retired from the insurance office and Michael had died peacefully in his sleep one night. It was the first time angels were seen flying a MacCafferty man up the other way. He left the Flying Pig Taverns to his widow who had no strength left to manage a chain. She decided that Susie-Q would take the post. Showing little interest in Loren’s extended family she agreed to diversify the Flying Pig into an umbrella corporation of pig restaurants. There would be the Piglet’s Bistros, the Little Pig bakeries, Big Pig Southern drive thrus, and so on and so forth. It was a great money-maker and continued to support Loren’s enormous brood in the style they were accustomed.

One day the doorbell of Oak Knoll rang and Susie-Q, who now fed Catie Leigh through a straw, answered the door.

There were two of them, identical girls. They had black hair and black eyes and olive skin. They looked like her miner and her son.

She said, “I knew you’d come,” and she turned around and walked into the kitchen, leaving the front door open behind her.

Once Catherine Leigh heard the arrival of the girls, she knew she had been adequately replaced and died immediately. She went peacefully and neither angels nor the devils, but the ghosts of the MacCafferty women came. Apparently Catie Leigh chose her own society and shut the door.

The girls were Carline and Chloe and their mother had just died of the yellow fever after a holiday to San Domingue. They thought of nowhere else to go and unfortunately, their mother spent all the MacCafferty Gun and Flying Pig money as quickly as she got it. The twins were fifteen and ready to tumble into womanhood.

They paid no attention to Jesse who sat around the house like a well- trained lap dog sipping gin and tonics until he passed out, a placid grin never leaving his face.

Now Susie-Q had the daughters she wanted. Thank heavens something good had come from her two devils. Between chairing the Flying Pig industries and shuttling Carline and Chloe around town to malls and swim practice, high school and friends – just normal stuff – Susie-Q again felt purposeful again.

The girls were wound up like a yarn ball. They came as a pair and finished each other’s sentences and predicted each other’s steps. They ate the same dishes, read the same books, and wore the same dresses. They sat together in the same class and where one went, the other came too. So it was no surprise to Susie-Q that when they turned 16, they fell in love with the same boy in the same second. He was a waiter at the Flying Pig Tavern, a college boy studying to be an architect. His dreams were made of glass and steel, wood and stone.

After setting down their fried chicken salads they smiled their Siamese smiles and Trent Jenkins, who happened to live next door to the MacCafferty’s, took up a scrap of check with their numbers. He whistled a low catcall and by Monday, the three of them went everywhere together forever after.

Trent graduated college and went to architecture school where he learned to make structural confections of the four elements. He only had to go next door to check on his folks who talked death blue in the face until it finally came. Carline and Chloe also finished school and enrolled in culinary school to learn a skill ,which would please Trent and their family as they became breeders whose offspring came in identical multiples of twins, triplets, and quadrooplets. They realized that family was the only thing that you could rely on so they organized huge parties for the MacCafferty siblings and cousins at Oak Knoll. Trent had moved in with them and Susie-Q and Jesse. They got a found a financial advisor, Jake MacCafferty, and started trust funds for the women and siblings of Loren, and then second, third, fourth, and fifth cousins varying by their strength of kinship.

Susie-Q died with three hundred MacCafferty’s surrounding her bedside. She had made peace with her past and place in the world. She saw that the best and brightest MacCafferty’s were picked out to take over MacCafferty Guns and the Flying Pig Industries to ensure that the next two hundred years were as profitable as the last. Susie-Q went on to join Bella and Rose, Nana Koreen, and Darcy, and her beloved Catherine Leigh. They welcomed her into the life and in between world of the spirits. And they all lived on richly, forevermore.

– THE END –



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