Excerpt: ‘Haints in the Woods’

Haints in the Woods

A Short Story by Malcolm R. Campbell ©2019

SO, MY CONJURE woman was fit to be tied.

“Sweet kitty, I’ve been married four hours and my groom’s done run off. Lena, I don’t reckon Willie needs all afternoon to fetch a quart of Borden’s Milk for flapjacks from the Mercantile. By now, he’s met a dark dusty butt down in Estiffanulga for a few hours of jelly and juice.”

She spat a long stream of tobacco juice into the dead cookfire’s frying pan with no flapjacks in it to emphasize her point of view. Then she went back to sipping her homemade moonshine and singing Sister Rosetta Tharpe songs. Folks always said her voice was just as pure now as it was a half-century ago when she sang at the jook.

Nobody pays much attention to a black cat’s opinion, but to my way of thinking, lonesome has its limits. Like a broken record, Eulalie got stuck on “The Lonesome Road,” belting it out as truly mournful as she could over and over, lingering long on the word “weary.”

Praise the good Lord, as the deacon would say, for Pollyanna chose that moment to drive her grey Ford truck through the busted section of the wrought iron fence into the backyard. She wore her favorite green capri pants, black blouse, black sling-back sandals, and a wide smile that showed off her new black lipstick and matching nail polish.

“Young people,” whispered Eulalie.

Pollyanna came up to the porch with an Alligator Supreme orange crate chuck full of who knows what covered over in butcher paper.

“Did you see a soused sinner riding his hinny back home?” asked Eulalie.

“Why, is one missing?”

“I was just telling Lena that I think Willie’s sharing jelly and juice with some dusty butt miles away from where he’s supposed to be.”

Pollyanna set down the orange crate. “I don’t even know what that means.”

“Sex and booze with a ho,” Eulalie said.

“Holy shit.”

Pollyanna slumped down into the sagging couch with a fading smile. When Eulalie handed her the Mason jar of shine, she wasn’t shy about drinking her fill.

“I ain’t really po’ moufin’ my brand-new husband,” said Eulalie. “I’m hopin’ he is a soused sinner today.”

“I know I’m repeating myself, but holy shit.”

“Beats bein’ among the dead. I threw the bones an hour ago, and they said he’s with the dead.”

Then Lena went lookin’ for him on a spirit journey, and she saw nothin’ but ace-of-spades blackness. As you white folks sometimes say, we’re on tenterhooks.”

“I can drive to the Mercantile and ask Lane if Willie’s been there,” said Pollyanna.

Eulalie smiled. “Thanks for offerin’, but we already know he came and went there and that he ain’t jawbonin’ with Lane, Rudy, or Jessamyn. Best thing you can do now is distract me with whatever you got hid in that crate.”

“I drove over to Sears Roebuck in Tallahassee and got you what I would have got you if you’d taken time for a bridal shower.”

“Kid stuff, those showers.”

Pollyanna pulled aside the butcher paper and fetched out a pale green nightgown like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Eulalie looked like she’d seen a ghost.

“Chile, Willie can ’bout see through that.”

Pollyanna leaned into Eulalie so they were eye to eye. “That’s the point, ain’t it?”

“If I put this on, I’m either turnin’ the lights out or he’s wearin’ a grocery sack over his head.”

She looked at the tag and actually giggled loud enough to embarrass even me because she was acting young enough for a bridal shower. “Charmode Aravel with Rayon: this ain’t no fancied-up flour sack.”

“Next,” said Pollyanna, “we have a tube of Cashmere Bouquet red lipstick.”

Eulalie puckered up her mouth like she was sucking on lemons and sipped on her moonshine before she said anything.

“I ain’t painted up my face since I sang the blues at the jook. I always wore red and kept my hair unruly because the hotter I looked the bluer the blues painted up the walls and the hearts of the men who were half-listenin’ while they drank cheap beer and played dangerous cards.”

“I bet you were one classy chassis,” said Pollyanna.

“Thank you. Here, take a sip.”

Eulalie opened the tube of lipstick and made a mark on the back of her hand. “It still don’t clash with dark brown sugar. Even so, lips like cherries might scare the hell out of Willie, assumin’ that no-good man ever gets hisself back home.”

“I have an idea,” said Pollyanna.

“What’s that?”

“Grab another swig first and promise not to hit me.”

“I promise. You know, this is my best batch of shine in ages. Okay, I’m ready.”

“Rather than painting your mouth. Draw an arrow on your tummy pointing downward so Willie will know where to go if he gets lost.”

You can read the rest of this short story, my story “The Smokey Hollow Blues,” and the work of my colleagues at Thomas-Jacob Publishing for free in The Things We Write Anthology by clicking on the cover graphic above.