The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Chelle Storey-Daniel
Boot McKay’s yelling woke us up before the sun even threatened to rise. Sleepy eyed, I stumbled to the window in time to see him flop headfirst over the new fence Granny had paid dearly for and plant his face in the turnips. The falling was no surprise since Boot was the clumsiest thing on two legs this side of ever, but the yelling was ’cause Boot seldom spoke. Not since Vietnam, anyhow.
“Or’belle!” he yelled, still lying flat.
My grandma, Ora Belle, turned on the porch light and stepped outside. “Boot, what the hell are you doing here this time of morning?”
“I been cursed! You gotta help me!” Boot got to his knees and crawled to where Granny stood. He gathered handfuls of her nightgown and robe in his skinny hands and stared up at her.
Granny yanked herself free. “What do you mean you been cursed?”
Boot felt around on the ground and then crawled back to the garden and felt around some more. He got to his feet and rushed forward, holding something out. “It was on my front porch.”
I couldn’t make out what he was holding, but it was small and dark. Granny clucked her tongue. “You sure ‘nuff have been cursed. Keep ahold of it and come on in.”
I raced from my room and hid in the shadows outside the kitchen doorway. Granny always saw her … well, clients sounded wrong. Patients sounded even more wrong. The kitchen is where she saw the folks who believed in her ability to see unknown things.
She told Boot to put what looked like a bird’s nest on the table. Without a word, she took his hand and held it over the nest and before I could guess what was coming, she sliced the same knife she used to cut up potatoes deep into Boot’s palm.
“You just let that bleed on it until it stops natural-like.” Granny pointed at the nest and disappeared into the sunroom where she grew her herbs.
She tinkered with the bottles and I knew she was moving around the canning jars she kept full of her ‘potions and pints and poisons.’ That’s what she called them: potions and pints and poisons. Sometimes, when one of her folks showed up for a miracle, she’d have them drink from the pints, and I knew that Old White Lightning was in those jars, brewed fresh from the still up in the woods behind the house. The other stuff — I had no idea.
When she came back, she was holding several jars. She fed Boot some green leaves, and he didn’t protest, even though the smell of rotten eggs burnt my nose where I stood. The ritual went on for over an hour. By the time Boot left he had cried, prayed, sobbed, talked nonsense, and then gratefully thanked Granny and pressed a wad of cash into her hand.
Granny pulled out the spray bottle she kept full of bleach and water and began cleaning the table, carefully wiping around the nest. She put the knife in a bowl and set it in the sink. “You can come on out, child.”
I took a step forward. “Sorry. He woke me up.”
She motioned for me to take the chair that Boot had sat in. I stared at the bird’s nest and saw it contained a single egg and what appeared to be the bones of a small animal. Red drops of blood coated everything. “What is it?” I asked in a small voice.
“Death. Death hugging the life inside that egg until it blacks out all that’s good and hopeful. Until everything it touches withers up and dies.”
“You fixed it though?”
“For now. Curse like that … it’ll never be stopped full.”
“Who would do such a thing?”
“Ain’t no telling, child. But you’ll be learning soon ‘nuff to work your own kind of way, and you’ll feel just how powerful strong They are. When They scent you a-ruinin’ things … They’ll come to get you, too.”
“I don’t want to get got by nobody who curses people!”
“Some things in life you ain’t got no control on, child. This here is one of ‘em. You was called just the same as me. They’ll come and you’ll win. You have to.”
“What if I just don’t do it?” It was a question I had asked a million times.
Granny’s answer was the same. “If you don’t do it … it will do you. You won’t never make it off’n this mountain alive. You hear what I’m telling you, little girl? You do it or it does you. It’s the onliest way you keep a-breathin’ on.”
She took a deep breath and pulled me into her arms. I hugged her back, fiercely.
“Now, what do you say I cook us some nice thick fritters, and we can watch the sun wake up together?”
“’Kay,” I mumbled, drying my eyes.
“Oh – and, honey? You get the ladder and go put that dead nest as high up in a pine tree as you can. Leave the bones. Leave the egg. Reckon we oughta hope against all the hope we got that life’ll find a way and a new bird’ll start layin’ in it soon.”
“Onliest way Boot will keep on a-living, too.”
Fiction © Copyright Chelle Storey-Daniel
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
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