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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Short Stories Mississippi Queen
Monday, 20 August 2012 04:14

Mississippi Queen

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A willow's leaves fell softly on the form digging below it. It scattered the moonlight on his back as he strained in the hot, humid air. The sound of little feet along the dirt road nearby triggered alarm. He stowed his shovel and hid behind the tree. He stilled his breathing. His lungs burned, but he wouldn’t dare move, not even a breath.


He stared out at the cobalt horizon set against the flurry blowing in from the cotton fields. Clouds piled upon each other on the horizon, like drifting mountains. He closed his eyes, burying the image deep within him. When he open his eyes again, a boy’s silhouette emerged between the fields and road running at a sprint. He halted and stood before the tree, then turned and ran off down the road again. His small footsteps were replaced with a cicada buzzing somewhere in the muggy night. From the outline Charlie was positive it was his little brother.

Charlie returned to his work. He plied at the damp, black earth until his shovel hit metal. He dropped the tool and reached to uncover a small box partially buried in the soil. He pushed the dirt from the container and studied its faded bronze facade.

He opened it. His meager savings sat tucked into one corner. If his mother had found it, she would have bought meth with it, he was sure. A family photograph lay buried beneath the bills; he dropped it to the ground. On the other side of the box a silver locket rested. 

He set down the box and lifted the heart of silver to eye level. He opened it. The song Dixie drifted out in tinny, simple notes. 

He closed the locket quickly and placed the precious heirloom gently back in its place. He rose, left the shovel and tree, and set off down the road. 

His footfalls carried purpose as he ran over a small bridge crossing a creek. A surge of sadness passed through him and he lost his breath. He knew it would be the last time his gaze would fall upon its muddy bank. He sighed and looked back.

His resolve set, he began running again. He made for Zion Crossroads at the edge of the county. The night was rarely broken by sound or sight, covered in a heavy, unnatural silence. He sung softly with the rhythm of his footfalls.

After an hour’s travel, he neared the four-way stop in the road. He arrived to nothing. A line of telephone poles stretched into the flat, endless horizon on one side of the road and the wind stirred the cotton on the other. A crow sat perched at the top of a nearby pole and eyed him as he approached.
He gritted his teeth, fighting impatience. The old voodoo woman in the swamp promised him someone would be here to help. He calmed his breathing, sat in the cool grass and waited. A gust of wind blew from behind him. He rose to meet it. A woman walked towards him.

Not a woman. Something.

She had a razor smirk and eyes washed in blue flame. Her leisurely gait accentuated every supple curve of her body. “Why are you here?”

“The old woman back in the swamp told me I could meet someone at this crossroads to help me run away.”

The woman continued to approach. “What are you running from?”

“My Mama's on meth or drunk all the time and never around. If I stay at my Daddy’s trailer he beats me. I just need to get away.”

The woman walked within two feet of him and savored his adolescent frame with the eyes of a predator. She reached for his bruised cheek and when her hand met his face, a ripple of pleasure shot through his body. The peach fuzz over his lip stood on end and his heart pounded in his ears.

“Poor boy. You're just the dark horse, aren't you?” Her hand rested on his swollen bottom lip.

His body was a puppet and she held the strings. It was bliss, but something else deep within him pulled on him to run. He inhaled through clenched teeth and fought back the feeling.

Her hand fell from his face and with it the surge of ecstasy. “Can you help me?”

“Didn't anyone ever teach you patience? I suppose at your age it's only normal to be hasty. Well, the same can be said for all humans. Don’t fly off the handle, there’s still time.” The woman smiled playfully.
“Who are you?”

“Who do you think I am?” The woman spoke with a melodic, soft tone. She walked behind him and caressed his back.

“I don't know. My Grandma told me the devil meets people at the crossroads, but you don't look like no devil.”

“There is no devil. What a silly thing to say. You don't believe that do you?” The woman walked from behind and faced him again. Her ebony hair cast shadows on her alabaster skin as it softly moved in the faint breeze. She bit her bottom blood-red lip and waited for him to respond.

“Maybe. No. I don't know. I guess not.”

“Good. I thought you were smarter than all that nonsense and I'm glad to see it justified. Did you love her?”

“My Grandma?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, she was ‘bout the only person in the family who ever gave a shit about me, but she died.”

“What's your name young man?”

“Charlie. I'm fourteen. What's yours?”

The woman laughed and then her mouth returned to a smirk. “Aren't you just something. Morning Star is my name. I can only guess at my age.”

She reached for his hand and a rush of animal passion stirred within him. His breath quickened and his teenage body flared into life. She shook it delicately and then released it.

“Nice to meet you Charlie. So, you want to run away?”

“Yeah.”

“Many have stood at this crossroads before and all of them ask for something different. Some want to be rich. Some want to be powerful. Some even want love. Isn't that sad Charlie?”

“Yes. A little. I guess.”

“The artists are always my favorite. The writers. The musicians. I am muse to them all. But, you are the first to ask for this. How do you want to leave?”

“I just wish I could fly away. I get beat up by everyone and I just want to be somewhere no one knows me and won't bother me.” His chin quivered and a tear dripped onto his cheek bruised purple first by a bully, and then later his father.

“I can make that happen.”

“How?”

“Tell me more about your grandmother.”

“She died of cancer last year. When my Mama was too high to take care of me and my brother, she helped us. Now she can't.” A lump formed in his throat and more tears began falling.

The woman stepped closer to him and whispered, “Shh, it's OK.”

Her hand reached for his matted blond hair and she looked deep into azure eyes. She pushed away a tuft of hair and held him as her arms wrapped around his waist. The lump in his throat disappeared as she held his frame, melting into a groan of pleasure.

When at last she released her grip, she kissed him. A bolt of electricity shot through his veins and the world disappeared for a moment. When he opened his eyes again, they rested on the godless black night. She stood behind him. He could feel her breath on his neck. Each exhale produced a static charge that hung around him. He felt weightless on his feet, as though some invisible wings lifted him.

“Why do you help people?”

“Your agony is beautiful to me.” She whispered. She stroked his hair, combing it with her fingers.

The bronze box fell from his hands, bursting open on the dirt road. The pendant rattled out. Dixie drifted off into the twilight once again.

“What's this?” The woman reached down and picked up the box. She held the silver pendant in the palm of her hand and studying it.

“My Grandma gave me that before she died.”

“I would bet you treasure it. Gambling is a naughty pleasure of mine.” The woman giggled and placed the heart-shaped trinket back in the box, shutting it.

“Yes”

“Will you give this to me for escape?” She pointed to the box.

“Why that?”

“Nothing in life is free Charlie. Sacrifice is the hallmark of progress. If you want to leave and fly away” She paused, with a smile. “Then you must cut all ties. If your heart is in the way – rip it from your chest.”

Charlie’s flight instinct throbbed within him, but he stayed anchored. He considered the offer and stared back off into the distance. A peanut field to his left. A cotton field to his right. A lonely road behind him etched in the pale moonlight. He thought of his brother.

“Can my brother come to?”

“No. If you want to be free, you must cut all ties.”

His throat contracted. “Will you look after him? He's really little and doesn't deserve what he's been given.”

“I'll watch him.” Her eyes simmered slightly and returned again to their normal hue.

“I think I'll miss him out of everyone.”

“I know you love him, but love never lasts,” the woman whispered.

He could feel himself submitting slowly to her seduction. A wellspring of relief washed over him, warming his insides. He breathed out.

“What do I have to do?”

“I have one more question, Charlie. Why not simply ask for revenge on those that have wronged you?”

“Because-”

“Because what?” Her head cocked and a mischievous smile played on her lips. Charlie bit his bottom lip. He desperately wanted an answer that wouldn't disappoint the woman, but his mind was blank.

“I guess because my Grandma wouldn't want me to. She told me God is the one who takes care of that.”

“There is no God Charlie. There is only you and I and the crushing black abyss that awaits us all. No right or wrong.”

“There is a right or wrong.”

Muted irritation passed over the woman’s face. Her eyes narrowed and her smile morphed into a slight grimace. “How many fields do you see on either side of this road?”

“Two.”

“Good. If you are blind, how many would you see?”

“None.”

Her smile returned. “Well, both answers can't be wrong, can they? Hmm?”

“I guess it’s all a matter of how you look at things.”

“Exactly. What is right to one man may not be right to another. Who's to tell either they're wrong?”

“God.”

“There is no God. Even the Bible says: have you not heard, you are gods. Yes, even you Charlie. You're a god. You're special. I see greatness in you. You can make up your own mind about what's right and wrong.”

“I am a god?” A smile parted his lips for the first time all night. The thought took flight filling his empty spaces his family had left.

Her eyes danced slightly. “You are. Do you accept my offer of help? Become a god Charlie.”

He thought once more about the last piece of his heart locked in the box. The last anchor tying him to a world filled with sorrow. “All right.”

“Swear it.” The woman produced a knife out of thin air and grabbed his hand. With a quick motion a pool of crimson formed in his palm. She released her grip and held out the box. “Seal it in blood.”

He reached for the box and placed his palm on top. The box and the knife in the woman’s hand faded from existence. A blinding light seared his eyes. He crashed to the ground.
The woman stood before him a giant. Her features twisted until she became a crow.

“You wanted to fly away. Now go. I don't care where.” She spread her onyx wings and flew off into the inky, black night.

“What did you do to me?” His wings tingled. He had wings! His heart beat faster beneath his feathered breastbone. He mind raced with a myriad of fears. He would sweat if he still could. He studied his feathers and small body.

The crow woman flew back for one more pass. She yelled down to him, “You wanted to fly away, I made you a pigeon. I'll see you soon Charlie.”

She flew off into the night, leaving Charlie alone in the middle of the road. He flapped his new wings and attempted to fly, but couldn't get the speed right. He crashed several times on the road. He readjusted and finally found the perfect balance of speed and pitch.

He soared above the cloud deck alone with the sparkling canopy above him. He stared down on his hometown. Then he flew out of Mississippi completely. Never looking back. It was exhilarating at first. He did what he wanted, went where he wanted.

Time passed and when at last his long years neared an end, he considered his life. He had been alone and he always would be, just as he'd asked the woman. She'd given him freedom to fly anywhere he wanted, but the ties that bind aren't easily severed. He longed to be tethered again. He thought of his brother. He wondered what kind of man he became. He wondered what kind of man he would have become. He knew in his heart, there was no going home again. His heart sank deeper and deeper as he flew higher and higher.




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Last modified on Monday, 20 August 2012 04:33
M.L. Hall

M.L. Hall  lives in Richmond, Virginia working as a corporate drone.  He enjoys writing Southern Gothic and Southern Fiction. 

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