Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

If you were around during the Vietnam War, you’ll probably remember that much of the news coverage dealt with body counts, to show the progress the U.S. was making in ridding the country of the Viet Cong. In my novel At Sea, the protagonist’s grandfather (“Jayee”) keeps his own listing of those from Montana who were killed in the war.

Jayee’s Lists

 

Jayee’s Lists (The Poor Sons of Bitches who Died) lay faded in a low kitchen drawer beneath batteries, broken pencils, expired dog food coupons, forgotten pink birthday candles, gum erasers, and other unsorted miscellany.

Superimposed over the small battlefield of the ranch, where lambs and eagles met largely unrecorded deaths on a rangeland framed by fences, box elders, cottonwoods, and a narrow creek carrying water off the backbone of the earth in years of drought and years of flood, the old man recorded soldiers’ names and souls.

He read the news from Vietnam with morning coffee and evening spirits, and with a fine surveyor’s hand, he tallied the bare bones of body counts between narrowed-ruled lines in lightweight Bluehorse notebooks intended for the wisdom of school.

After dinner, he walked out through the bluebunch wheatgrass and settling sheep to his ancient Studebaker pickup truck. He carried a sharp yellow pencil and a pack of Chesterfields, tools for doing his sums, “calculating Montana” in a cloud of cigarette smoke from “vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, blended mild.”

On the first page of the first book he wrote, Here are the poor sons of bitches who died. On the last page of the last book, he wrote, The dead, dying, and wounded came home frayed, faded, scuffed, stained, or broken.

On the pages in between, he wrote the name of each Montana soldier who was killed or missing in recorded battles far away. Sipping bourbon, smoking like a lotus in a sea of fire, he ordered, numbered, and divided the names by service branch, by casualty year, by meaningful cross-references, by statistically significant tables, by the moon’s phases and the sun’s seasons, and by the cycles of sheep.

Jayee remarked from year to year that the notebooks grew no heavier with use. He saw fit to include the names of the towns where the dead once lived, fathered children, and bought cigarettes. These names he learnt were also lighter than the smoke.

The current of his words between the pale blue lines of each thin page arose in fat, upper case letters that scraped the edges of their narrow channels. They began as a mere trickle from 1961 to 1964 that grew in volume in 1965 before the first spring thaw, to become a cold deluge that crested in 1968, wreaking havoc across the frail floodplain of pastures and pages, carrying the dark, angry names scrawled with blunting pencil, and broken letters, through irregular gray smudges, over erasures that undercut the page deep enough and wide enough to rip away the heart from multiple entries. There was little respite in 1969. After that, the deaths receded and most of the physical blood dried up by 1973.

The pages were dog eared, marked with paperclips already turning to rust, and fading to pale dust behind the list of towns: RICHEY, WHITEFISH, HELENA, CHOTEAU, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, KALISPELL, THOMPSON FALLS, THREE FORKS, STEVENSVILLE, TROUT CREEK, BILLINGS, CHOTEAU HINSDALE, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, SACO, SIDNEY, HAVRE, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, DODSON, ARLEE, REEDPOINT, HAVRE, BIG  SANDY  MISSOULA, BILLINGS, WHITLASH, ROUNDUP…

Jayee’s tallies added up like this: USA—169 USAF—16 USMC—59 USN—23 TOT—267

The old man made 267 trips around Montana between 1961 and 1972 that no surveying jobs could account for. He said little to the family about it and they didn’t often ask.

During Jayee’s second trip to Havre in 1966, Mavis, a waitress at the Beanery, noticed a stack of 44-inch white crosses sticking out from beneath a tarp in his truck. On each cross, there was a name. When she suggested that Jayee was stealing them from roadside accident scenes, he said he made them per spec to repay old debts.

Mavis asked Katoya if Jayee was all right and Katoya said: “right enough.” He returned to the restaurant multiple times to prove he was right enough and was sitting there on August 31, 1967, when the 77-year-old Great Northern restaurant served its last bowl of Irish stew and closed its doors for good. When the building was torn down the following February, he pounded “an extra cross” into the rubble where the counter once stood and said it was the best he could do.

Months passed and additional stories surfaced about an old man crisscrossing the state searching for the families of the fallen, and of warm conversations lasting long into the dark hours. Jayee remained solitary and taciturn in the face of public or private praise or blame and traveled from town to town methodically, as though he was marking chaining stations along an endless open traverse.

After each individual’s name, he wrote XD (cross delivered), XR (cross refused), or CNF (could not find).

On October 18, 1974, Jayee died (surrounded by old relatives and the close perfume of vintage tobacco) with a freshly sharpened yellow pencil, with a half-smoked pack of Chesterfields, with lists and spirits close at hand, waiting for closure, he always told those who asked about them.

Reverend Jones stood before the mourners in the small church and read the names of those who wished to remember and to be remembered, and one upon one, they created a great hymn that rose up over the banks of their consciousness and flowed down the rivers of their perception in a crowned deluge.

Copyright © 2010, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

 

 

Excerpt: ‘LOCAL AUTHOR APOLOGIZES FOR MAKING VIXEN IN NOVEL TOO MUCH LIKE NEIGHBORHOOD VIXEN’

Here’s a brief excerpt from Special Investigative Reporter:

“When he got to the office, the clerk at the information desk told him Marcus wanted him to cover the Cane Molasses press conference over at the Main Street Book Emporium. He (Jock) would know that already if he bothered to answer his phone. Cash had, apparently, left for the day when a police officer located the pickup truck at his house. (The receptionist said she didn’t know whose house she was talking about.)

“After the press conference, he went home and slapped together a news story while waiting for a goat cheese and anchovy pizza to arrive:

 

LOCAL AUTHOR APOLOGIZES FOR MAKING VIXEN IN NOVEL TOO MUCH LIKE NEIGHBORHOOD VIXEN

Cane Molasses apologized at a hastily called press conference here this afternoon to “any and all women” who believe they are or might be the Judy Miracle character in his prize-winning 2008 novel Miracle on 35th Street.

Molasses called the press conference and book signing at the Main Street Book Emporium after an unidentified woman accosted him at his home this morning and accused him of basing the Miracle character on secrets she told him when they stopped for drinks on the way home from an AA meeting.

“I’m involved with dozens of women a year for research purposes,” said Molasses, “and all of them are well compensated. Miracle is a composite character based on Carl Jung’s reformed hooker archetype which is extensively described in his collected works.”

Molasses told the crowd of some 500 adoring fans and one heckler that Miracle is a beautiful fictional character who sees the light just in time to be buried in a high-brow cemetery on 35th Street. While many of his fans purportedly model their lives on Miracle’s story, it was not his intent to suggest Miracle is either every woman or any specific woman.

According to Police Sergeant Wayne Bismarck, nobody was seen leaving the Kroger Store on Edwards Street wearing a sack over their head “any time in recent memory.”

-30-

 

As he finished the story, the pizzeria called and apologized for not sending out the pizza he wanted. Apparently, everyone who tried to make such a thing got sick. He thanked them for their trouble, canceled the order, and ate two diet TV dinners with a glass or two (he lost count after two) of Cabernet.

It was the kind of wine a restaurant like the Purple Platter bought in 55-gallon drums, then used for filling bottles with an “estate bottled” Purple Platter label.

Copyright © 2019 by Malcolm R. Campbell

‘Mountain Song’ Excerpt – and this one happens to be true

The Great Northern Empire Builder carried them east of the mountains across the hi-line plains where space invites and old memories die hard between the dry and the cold.

His destination: Chicago, Illinois, for the upcoming term at the University of Chicago. Anne’s destination: Carrabelle, Florida, for the upcoming term at Florida State University in nearby Tallahassee. Anne changed trains in Chicago, taking the Seminole to Albany, Georgia, where her aunt met her in the Willys for the slow drive down to the coast and the fading double-wide with the flamingo-colored screen porch. After dropping Anne off at the IC Station, David took their cab down to 95th Street for dinner at Mickelberry’s before going back to the campus.

The 440 miles from the Rocky Mountain Front to the North Dakota border were Jayee’s realm, the whole of earth, a corridor of tracks, power lines and the pale parallel pavement of U.S. Highway 2 through the once unfettered domain of bison and sovereign nations until T-shaped railroad towns and cattle and wheat and oil and gas proved up the stolen land into the modern day, until the monuments to the new progress, grain elevators and water towers, rose up to touch the sky.

The towns, so many names—Browning, Havre, Glasgow, Wolf Point, Culbertson, Williston, Minot, Fargo, Wilmar, Minneapolis—carried lives past the wide windows of the Great Dome Coach #1326 where they were wrapped in a five-point Hudson’s Bay blanket and suspended animation, interrupted only by hurried snacks in the Ranch Car Crossley Lake with the B-Bar-N brand above the entrance and dinners in the diner where the “Mountains and Flowers” pattern on the china reminded them with each bite what they were leaving behind; and then, Chicago, Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling City of the Big Shoulders; “They tell me you are wicked and I believe them,” but the poet’s words were inconsequential to them as they arrived at Union Station at 2 p.m.

The sunlight exploded from the center of their world outward when the Checker Marathon taxi careened up the ramp out of the depths of the station onto Clinton Street, turned east on Jackson, and raced toward the lake. They sat close in the cavernous back seat. They did not talk. Anne held David’s hand and looked past him into the glare where buildings flew. Her shoulder was pressed against his; her left hip and left leg were pressed against his right hip and right leg. But she would not let him have her eyes, not yet. The place was foreign, the town, the taxi, the moment. David didn’t know how to behave. Everything was already said and done.

South down Michigan Avenue past the green of the park, he saw the station before she did. Almost liquid in the afternoon light, the clock tower flowed westward away from the green and black Illinois Central logo toward 12th Street. The cab turned into the U-shaped drive. He ran his outstretched fingers up the back of her neck into her hair. She leaned against the flat of his hand. Before she looked up, the driver was already out of the car hauling suitcases toward an elderly Redcap with yesterday’s beard.

“We have until four forty-five,” he told her.

“I can’t draw this out,” she whispered. She pressed her hands against the front of his shirt and smiled. “Yes, you still have my ring on a silver chain around your neck. I like it there.”

“If it weren’t so small, I’d wear it on my little finger.”

Finally, he found himself within the focus of her eyes for mere instants; that was all she had.

He retrieved the silver bracelet he’d purchased for her on a day trip to Lethbridge, and she allowed him to wrap it around her right ankle. Then she slid across the seat, and exhaust fumes from a passing shuttle bus filled the cab when she opened the door and got out. She stuck her head back inside and kissed him.

“I’ll be stone cold dead before anyone removes this bracelet,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

“I have an answer to the question you asked me while we were eating hamburgers in the Ranch Car.” He saw a sparkle in her eyes and smiled.

“Speak.”

“My answer is a no-holds-barred, unconditional, leap-of-faith ‘yes,’” she said.

“Hot damn,” shouted the cab driver.

“Okay,” she said, “it’s also a big hot damn of a ‘yes.’”

“Kiss her, stupid,” their driver suggested.

Copyright © 2010, 2013, 2017 by Malcolm R. Campbell

‘Haints in the Woods’ excerpt

“Haints in the Woods” is one of nine short stories in my recently released collection Widely Scattered Ghosts. Here a brief excerpt featuring characters from my novel Lena:

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 back yard. She wore her favorite green capri pants, black blouse, black slingback 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.”

Copyright © 2019 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Memorial Day Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

Excerpt from At Sea

Jayee’s Lists (The Poor Sons of Bitches who Died) lay faded in a low kitchen drawer beneath batteries, broken pencils, expired dog food coupons, forgotten pink birthday candles, gum erasers, and other unsorted miscellany.

Superimposed over the small battlefield of the ranch where lambs and eagles met largely unrecorded deaths on a rangeland framed by fences and box elders and cottonwoods and a narrow creek carrying water off the backbone of the earth in years of drought and years of flood, the old man recorded soldiers’ names and souls.

He read the news from Vietnam with morning coffee and evening spirits, and with a fine surveyor’s hand, he tallied the bare bones of body counts between narrowed-ruled lines in light-weight Bluehorse notebooks intended for the wisdom of school.

After dinner he walked his dessert out through the bluebunch wheat grass and settling sheep to his ancient Studebaker pickup truck. He carried a sharp yellow pencil and a pack of Chesterfields, tools for doing his sums, “calculating Montana” in a cloud of cigarette smoke from “vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, blended mild.”

On the first page of the first book he wrote, “Here are the poor sons of bitches who died.” On the last page of the last book, he wrote, “The dead, dying and wounded came home frayed, faded, scuffed, stained, or broken.”

On the pages in between, he wrote the name of each Montana soldier who was killed or missing in recorded battles far away. Sipping bourbon, smoking like a lotus in a sea of fire, he ordered, numbered, and divided the names by service branch, by casualty year, by meaningful cross references, by statistically significant tables, by the moon’s phases and sun’s seasons, by the cycles of sheep.

Jayee remarked from year to year that the notebooks grew no heavier with use. He saw fit to include the names of the towns where the dead once lived, fathered children and bought cigarettes. These names he learnt were also lighter than the smoke.

The current of his words between the pale blue lines of each thing page arose in fat, upper case letters that scraped the edges of their narrow channels. They began as a mere trickle from 1961 to 1964 that grew in volume in 1965 before the first spring thaw, to become a cold deluge that crested in 1968, wreaking havoc across the frail floodplain of pastures and pages, carrying the dark angry names scrawled with blunting pencil, and broken letters, through irregular grey smudges, over erasures that undercut the page deep enough and wide enough to rip away the heart from multiple entries. There was little respite in 1969. After that the deaths receded and most of the physical blood dried up by 1973.

The pages were dog eared, marked with paperclips already turning to rust, and fading to pale dust behind the list of towns: RICHEY, WHITEFISH, HELENA, CHOTEAU, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, KALISPELL, THOMPSON FALLS, THREE FORKS, STEVENSVILLE, TROUT CREEK, BILLINGS, CHOTEAU HINSDALE, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, SACO, SIDNEY, HAVRE, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, DODSON, HELENA, ARLEE, REEDPOINT, HAVRE, BIG SANDY, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, WHITLASH, ROUNDUP, ROUNDUP, ST. IGNATIUS, HARLEM, BUTTE, BUTTE, WIBAUX, STEVENSVILLE, ABSAROKEE, LIBBY, WHITEFISH, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, HELENA, LIVINGSTON, CONRAD, GREAT FALLS, EUREKA, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, HELENA, JOLIET, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BROCKTON, MISSOULA, LEWISTOWN,  LAME DEER, SCOBEY,  ROSEBUD, GLASGOW, BILLINGS, ANACONDA, FT. BENTON, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, ST. IGNATIUS, DODSON, MISSOULA, SHELBY, MILES CITY, CUSTER, GLASGOW, LEWISTOWN, BILLINGS, BELT,  LARSLAN, MILES CITY, BUTTE, BUSBY, MISSOULA, MELROSE, BILLINGS, LIBBY, BILLINGS, BAINVILLE, HATHAWAY, BOZEMAN, BILLINGS, BILLINGS, BUTTE, MCALLISTER, WIBAUX, BROWNING, MISSOULA, THOMPSON FALLS, THOMPSON FALLS, LOGAN, AVON, MISSOULA, ST. IGNATIUS, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, ROSEBUD, DENTON, CHARLO, ST. XAVIER, HARLOWTON, SANDERS, LEWISTOWN, LIVINGSTON, MISSOULA, LIBBY, BUTTE, BILLINGS, SUNBURST, TROY, BUTTE, CHINOOK, JORDAN, DODSON, GREAT FALLS, LIBBY, HELENA, BUTTE, ROSS FORK, GREAT FALLS, INTAKE, BUTTE, BUTTE, GREAT FALLS, LIVINGSTON, BILLINGS, REDSTONE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, MCLEOD, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, HELENA, BILLINGS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, MALTA, KALISPELL,  ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, INVERNESS, RONAN,  MISSOULA,  SCOBEY, ANTELOPE, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, BUTTE,  BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, DODSON, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, LAUREL, BUTTE, CUT BANK, WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, DEER LODGE, BUTTE,  HAMILTON, MILES CITY, KALISPELL, VALIER, SHELBY,  KILA, CHOTEAU, GREAT FALLS, MILES CITY, HAMILTON, GREAT FALLS, HAVRE,  LAME DEER, GREAT FALLS, TROUT CREEK, POLSON, PABLO, HELENA, BIG TIMBER, LAUREL, BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, GREAT FALLS, BUTTE, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, GREAT  FALLS, GLEN, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, FROMBERG, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, CORAM, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, HAVRE, GREAT FALLS, COFFEE CREEK, LIBBY, FT. PECK, BOZEMAN, FORSYTH, POLSON, MISSOULA, WOLF POINT, KALISPELL, BUTTE, FAIRVIEW, MISSOULA, MILES CITY, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, BILLINGS, WIBAUX, BILLINGS, CUT BANK, TERRY, ANACONDA, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FLORENCE, HAVRE, SUNBURST, EUREKA, BILLINGS, THOMPSON FALLS, RONAN, WOLF POINT, FLAXVILLE, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, KALISPELL, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, ALDER, VALIER, TROY, RICHEY, LINCOLN, CHOTEAU, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, CLYDE PARK, MISSOULA, MISSOULA, HAVRE, and TROY.

Jayee’s tallies added up like this:

USA  – 169

USAF – 16

USMC – 59

USN  – 23

TOT  – 267

 

The old man made 267 trips around Montana between 1961 and 1972 that no surveying jobs could account for. He said little to the family about it and they didn’t often ask.

During Jayee’s second trip to Havre in 1966, Mavis, a waitress at the Beanery, noticed a stack of 44-inch white crosses sticking out from beneath a tarp in his truck.  On each cross there was a name. When she suggested that Jayee was stealing them from roadside accident scenes, he said he made them per spec to repay old debts.

Mavis asked Katoya if Jayee was all right and Katoya said “right enough.” He returned to the restaurant multiple times to prove he was right enough and was sitting there on August 31, 1967 when the 77-year-old Great Northern restaurant served its last bowl of Irish stew and closed its doors for good. When the building was torn down the following February, he pounded “an extra cross” into the rubble where the counter once stood and said it was the best he could do.

Months passed and additional stories surfaced about an old man crisscrossing the state searching for the families of the fallen, and of warm conversations lasting long into the dark hours. Jayee remained solitary and taciturn in the face of public or private praise or blame and traveled from town to town methodically, as though he was marking chaining stations along an endless open traverse.

After each individual’s name, he wrote XD (cross delivered), XR (cross refused), or CNF (could not find).

On October 18, 1974, Jayee died (surrounded by old relatives and the close perfume of vintage tobacco) with a freshly sharpened yellow pencil, with a half-smoked pack of Chesterfields, with lists and spirits close at hand, “waiting,” he always told those who asked about them.

Reverend Jones stood before the mourners in the small church and read the names of those who wished to remember and to be remembered, and one upon one, they created a great hymn that rose up over the banks of their consciousness and flowed down the rivers of their perception in a crowned deluge.

Copyright (c) 2010, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

First chapter of ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

cwcgiveaway3There’s currently a GoodReads giveaway for my new novella Conjure Woman’s Cat that lasts until April 15. If you like this excerpt from the book, why not head out to GoodReads and sign-up for a chance to win one of the three paperback copies to be given away?

Chapter 1

So Eulalie slept.

The mid-summer afternoon was hot and clear. We lay on the back porch beneath the bright sky because we needed clouds for our work. The sleeping sign hung on a rusty nail over the front door. Everyone who knew what was what hurried past our front gate and brick walk when the black scrap of wood, scrawled with the blood-red word “sleeping,” hung above the threshold.

After we hung the sign, Eulalie curled up on the back porch between baskets overflowing with pot marigolds and fell asleep before I settled down low on my sleeping spot beneath the old sofa where folks sit and speak of sorrows, troubles, and the blues. The marigolds’ sunshine-yellow flowers drooped into sweet dreams, because they can’t steal a fever or find lucky numbers without a dab of wind or rain.

While the porch planking was grey, worn soft by the calloused soles of many feet and easy on sleepers, I did not sleep. I watched, because I knew fire was coming. The creek separating the well-kept yard of longleaf pines from the overgrown piney woods of trees faced by turpentiners, and half-strangled by trespassing shrubs, did not sleep.

There was the Coowahchobee River, fierce and swift like her namesake, the panther. She licked the forest clean, protected the house and yard from spirits, and carried away the remains of spent spells westward across sanctified Florida soil into the Apalachicola River. Low fire she could stop; a forest canopy fire borne on the wind was out of Coowahchobee’s reach.

Joe Moore lived in the forest. I couldn’t see him through the saw-palmetto, gallberry, and deep Sunday afternoon shadows, though if he were looking he could see me. Eulalie and I trusted devils, gods, and the Holy Ghost from the Sanctified Church; Joe Moore trusted what he could see. With my second sight, I knew Joe Moore’s eyes were open. His ears were attentive, too. Though not as sensitive as my ears, they knew friends pronounced his name Jomo and foes pronounced his name Jomoowur.

That morning while the last scattered clouds moved eastward toward the Ochlockonee River, we threw possum bones into a hastily drawn circle. They saw fire, but not today. No friend of possums, dead or alive, Joe Moore trusted his living bones above all else. He watched with the indigo snake, red-cockaded woodpecker, and gopher tortoise from the woods. I watched from the back porch where the pot marigolds and Eulalie slept.

If fire jumped the creek and the bones while Eulalie slept, I would hear Joe Moore calling my name, “Lena! Lena!” long before the flames reached the three-plank bridge.

The warm afternoon drew me away from my concerns, drew me toward sleep and dreamtime travels. My spirit-self could go anywhere; that’s the one talent I had that Eulalie didn’t. One time, when the possum bones were blind, I found a lost child on Alum Bluff overlooking the river close by the woods where that white preacher said Adam and Eve once lived. I’ve been south to Tate’s Hell where legends say a rattlesnake killed old man Tate while he was hunting Coowahchobee with a shotgun and a Barlow knife. I knew where rivers came up out of the ground, where the Bogot people danced with ribbons, where the gopher tortoise shared her burrow with snakes, and where Deacon Smith lost his Bible.

I had a mind to visit “Stiff and Ugly,” where the river writhed like a snake, and find that haint-infested field where folks said Jimmy Ivy and his brothers, “Little Poison” and “English,” burnt crosses in all seasons, but a wisp of smoke from our dinner’s dying cook fire tickled my nose, and sleep fled like a frightened rabbit. My nose always twitched in the presence of a trick, just as surely as Eulalie felt a cold shiver near crossed paths and other goofered places.
I watched the smoke for signs while Eulalie slept.

Eulalie said she needed her beauty sleep because she was old. When Eulalie told me she was older than dirt, I thought there was always dirt so there was always Eulalie, who remembered all her years. She remembered when the good Lord twitched His nose as though the wind blew pepper into it and created dirt. She remembered when the Bogot people—beloved family—hid from the U. S. soldiers, when that writer Zora asked her to share rootwork and other secret things, when the original old man Tate was still a child in Sumatra, when Moses wrote his secret hoodoo books, when Coowahchobee stepped out of the Creator’s birthing shell and first saw the wonders of the world.

She deserved her sleep.

Even though I saw no sign the smoke that stole out from beneath the cook pot was calling its own, I kept my eyes open and only half slept. I half saw folks passing the gate, sometimes more than once, hoping we’d take down the sleeping sign. Some brought money; most brought overflowing baskets to trade for herbs, oils, and hands. The pot marigolds woke up moments ago, so Eulalie would wake soon to those needing our skills.

Her hair turned grey sometime between the arrival of the Bogot people and the departure of the last panther from Tate’s Hell Forest. More recently, her once-vibrant orange dress paled into peach. Even now, her skin was coffee colored, though some have called her chocolate to the bone. As I watched her sleep, skewed at a clumsy angle up against the grey siding, I thought she looked like a bear cub. The color of roots, she always said.

A woman trading okra at Walker’s Mercantile when we were trading eggs looked at me when I was young and said, “Lena, I do believe you are blacker than the ace of spades.” I didn’t know what she meant, so I ran outside until the trading was done. On the way home, Eulalie told me the ace of spades was a powerful gambling card. Spades meant other things, too, some good and some bad, so I preferred being the color of coal, night, and the coral snake’s eyes.

My eyes were the color of pot marigolds and Eulalie’s were the color of forget-me-nots. When we communicated eye-to-eye our looks were knowing looks, because the light flowed white between us, from blue to yellow and from yellow to blue mixing our pure words together in a manner that was silent, invisible and well outside the imagination of other eyes and hearts.

So Eulalie slept that afternoon that was hot and clear. Eulalie slept because a sign that looked like a dead crow dressed the front door. Eulalie slept because she had worked hard and was older than dirt. I kept watch beneath the sofa because it was in my nature to keep watch as the Conjure Woman’s cat.

 

KIndle cover 200x300(1)from Chapter One
“Conjure Woman’s Cat”
Copyright (c) 2015
by Malcolm R. Campbell

Thomas-Jacob Publishing

A teaser excerpt from ‘The Sun Singer’

BATTLE
from “The Sun Singer,” (Vanilla Heart Publishing, 2010)

When they entered a wide meadow which looked as fluid as water in the pale light, Sarabande ran past them, her waist-length hair streaming out like a flag.

“Grinder,” she said, in a rush of air, more wind than voice.

“Hurry,” said Aegia, and she gave him a gentle shove. “Up there where Yarrow is standing. She’s a brave one, watching the enemy as she does.”

Sonny dashed through an obstacle course of boulders and fallen trees. His boots filled with water from unseen puddles. Thorns bit into his exposed skin like spurs. He swung his staff at the offending briers, and ran, was running—now, he was angry and unchecked. Running—there was Marten, and Marten saw him and punched the air and laughed and shouted with more breath than volume, “Hoo-eeee, hoo-eeee.” Running—“Hoo-eeee, hoo-eeee,” he shouted back and ran harder, pounding down the earth. Running—soon they would turn, soon they would fight, and his heart pumped primal fears, brutal and exhilarating, and they coursed through him on rivers of fire. The day would end in fire. He knew this as he ran and resolved not to be consumed.

Copyright (c) 2004,2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell

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