Alright, Christmas is over, my wife and I have celebrated our 26th Anniversary, and my son and his wife have celebrated their 1st and New Year's Eve has come and gone; now back to business. Sorry for the wait.
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Dancing with the Devil
Keith M. Rodgers
Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? My Grandmother has, and this is what she told me: I laid in the bed waiting to “ride the witch” as Grandma raced the moon as she disappeared down the old dirty road with Grandpa’s old ’57 Chevy loaded with her Charon’s Obal to pay my way for the Ferryman. She pulled up to the old shack where the Ms. Rudolph lived, where the dry land ends and the swamp begins. She hopped out of the car; Daddy Monday walked on two legs and greeted her with a toothless hiss. Grandma looked at her old friend towering above her and gave him a bear hug before he dropped back down on all fours, sliding noiselessly into the water.
“‘Ave ‘e come?” Grandma asked the big woman who was sitting on the porch.
“Yonder ‘e come now.” Grandma turned to look back up the road, sure enough come the Ferryman. He looked to be an old man, tall and lean, but well muscled. He had a broad brimmed hat that shaded his face, but not the smolder of his eyes. He smoked a long pipe in one hand that billowed great puffs of smoke, and a gnarled walking stick in the other and what appeared to be a pack of mangy hounds that bayed at his heals that heralded is arrival.
“Git chir fiddle, woman.” Grandma ordered Mrs. Rudolph.
“Wot dat you got ‘n your head, gal?” She warned.
“Never you mind, you jest git dat fiddle.” The big woman cast Grandma a queer eye as she lumbered to do Grandma’s bidding. Grandma let her hair down; her salt-and-pepper locks fell down past her shoulders. She kicked her shoes off and dipped a toe into the cool evening water, casting ripples that sent a cascade of waves through the crescent moon’s reflection.
“Even’n Legma.” Grandma hiked up her dress and stepped in the water.
“Even’n.” His voice was rich and deep.
“Where be de’ hounds?”
“Dey’ be ‘bout der bi’ness, woman, ‘nd tain’t none of yourn.”
“Come, Legma. Join me for a swim.” Grandma went into the deep water where she could do a proper backstroke.
“Wot dat you playin’ at Rosadell Lee?”
“’Playin’ at’ nothin’. She threw her dress on shore. “Join me.”
The Ferryman walked to the edge of the water where he laid down his walking stick and his hat and stepped into the water. Slowly at first, cautiously, then into the deeper water to where Rosadell was.
“Last time we did this I was a young girl, too young. I’m not a girl at’ll now.”
“Last time you weren’t another man’s woman.”
“Let me worry ‘bout dat. Right now all you ‘ave to do is swim.” The two of them swam together under the boughs of the weeping willows while the fireflies played overhead. When it was over Legma helped Rosadell out of the water. He held her close as Mrs. Rudolph fiddled in the background, and my Grandmother danced naked with the devil in the pale moonlight. What my Grandma and the Ferryman did that night under the crescent moon she never told me, but she said what she did she did out of love for me.
“My Mother socked your mother right dead in the nose; what color was the blood?” The youthful finger went back-and-forth from the toe of my PF Flyers to the toe of Connie’s Keds.
“Red.” I called out. It had come down to Connie and me; one of us would be “it”.
“R. E. D. spells red and you are not it.”
“Connie’s it!” We screamed as we ran for our hiding places. Connie dutifully leaned her head against one of the great maple tree for which Maple St. was named and began counting to one hundred by fives. I ran up the Terry’s porch, it was loud and I knew she could hear me, I jumped off the rail and was going to hide in the shadows, but Darryl, who was already there, pushed me out. I darted for the Riddle’s bushes next door but Justin shewed me away.
“No peaking!“ I shouted as I saw one of Connie’s eyes, she began counting faster. I ran across the street for old man Paneta’s garage.
“You kids get outta my yard!” The toothless old man screamed, peering out of his kitchen window. I headed back across the street for Ms. Scott’s hedges but my brother and was already there and he wasn’t alone. He thumped me in the head and told me to get lost. I looked around, Connie was nearly at one hundred and she was counting faster than ever. I tried to hide next to the Chestine’s house but Champ started barking.
“Ready or not, here I come!” I was standing in the Chestine’s front yard when Connie reached one hundred. I darted for the streetlight hoping she didn’t see me. She did. I was glad Connie was it, she was fast for a girl and I knew she would chase me. I think she liked me.
I peaked out from behind the pole in time to see Connie bearing down on me. Darryl was the first one to reach home base, then Justin, I don‘t think my brother and whoever he was in the hedges with were even interested. I didn’t know where the others where, and I didn’t care. I tried giving Connie the slip; I dodged left around the pole as she went right. I put on a burst of PF Flyer speed and made a mad dash for home base. I ran as fast as I could, but Connie was gaining on me. I could feel her arm reaching out for me. I could feel her breath on the nape of my neck as she strained every muscle in her body, and stretched out with every fiber in her being for the slightest touch.
Somewhere the arm changed from Connie’s arm to another longer, more horrible arm. A long, hairy arm with long nails that were more like talons, it didn’t want to touch me, it wanted to grab me, to pierce my body, to rend my flesh from my bones. I ran past home base, I ran past our little ranch-styled tract house on Maple St. I ran past the elementary school, I ran past the junkyard. The junkyard gave way to the woods; the woods gave way to the cotton fields, and the cotton fields to the bayou.
The clock struck three a.m. and my breath caught in my throat. My eyes snapped open and my body went rigid, I was caught in the grip of ‘riding the witch’. I gasped for every precious breath as the weight of the witch pressed down on my pre-pubescent chest, threatening to crush the life out of me. ‘Hurry Grandma.’ I prayed as the hounds bayed off in the distance.
Grandma threw a blanket on the ground and laid out a spread the likes of which even the Ferryman hadn’t seen before. First she brought out her honey-glazed ham with pineapples, baked chicken thighs dripping in barbeque sauce, mashed potatoes that where more whipped than mashed and drenched in butter and garlic and her silver gravy boat loaded with her famous dark mushroom gravy. Corn-on-the-cob, freshly snapped green beans that I had helped her snap that evening, and a basket of dinner rolls that were the size of a working mans hand. Then she brought out the good stuff: first she laid in front of the Ferryman her sugar-glazed pound cake in her crystal cake cover that Grandpa had gotten for her at the Piggly-Wiggly, she followed that up with her piping hot pecan pie - the pecans were still sliding around, next was her rhubarb pie, rum cake, banana bread pudding and she topped it off with peach cobbler. O‘, that woman could bake!
The Ferryman had eaten his fill as never before, he had sampled more than just the goodies Grandma laid out on the blanket, all the while the fat woman played the fiddle.
I was held captive, a prisoner of my own body. My limbs held rigid under the spell while I was “riding the witch”. My breaths came in short gasps, I gritted my teeth as the weight pressed down, ever down upon my chest. The sweat beaded on my forehead and dripped into my eyes. I was helpless, I couldn’t raise a hand to wipe away the sweat, I tried to call out to my brother who lay next to me, surely he would save me, but not a murmur came out. My salvation lay next to me, snoring in my ear, all I could do was shut my eyes tight as defense against my own sweat that burned and clawed at my eyes, all-the-while the baying of the hounds drew closer.
I don’t know, maybe it was the delirium, or maybe part of the whole experience but I fought away the burning and stinging of my own sweat with tightly clenched eyes. I opened my eyes hoping against hope, for what I know not, but there sitting atop my chest, I could start to see the outline of the witch.
‘Hurry Grandma’’ I prayed. The clock struck four.
“Legma?” Grandma called the Ferryman by his common name. “I’s needs ask a favor of you.”
“I know wot chu want, woman. Don’t ask. It cain’t be.”
“But, cha’ cain’t takes him. I luv’s him sumtin’ powerful.” Grandma begged for my life. “Ain’t der’ sumtin’ chu’ can do? Please, …for me?” Grandma played it coy she batted her long eyelashes.
The Ferryman chanced a quick glance at the fat woman playing the fiddle before putting on his hat, his eyes smoldering from deep beneath the wide brim. Picking up his gnarled walking stick he regarded Rosadell carefully.
“No, Cheri. Der’s not’ing I can do, but I can take you to sumone ‘wot can. Meet me at the crossroads three days hence at the stroke of midnight. Bring the boy and don’t be late, Cheri. Because, after dis’ der ain’t nothing that can be done for him.” He started up the road from whence he came in that great looping stride of his, and gave a great whistle that cut threw the night air. Off in the distance a hound answered.
The baying of the hounds was still ringing in my ears as the cock crowed. The first rays of the sun broke over the distant horizon; I drew my first breath free of the witch as Grandma came chugging up in that old ’57 Chevy Bel Air.
“Grandma, Grandma!” I shouted, racing out to the chicken coup Grandpa used as a garage, jumping over a lazy snake that hadn’t warmed up enough yet. “I saw her, I saw her!”
“Hush, boy!” She stuck a finger to her lips. “Wake up the whole blasted cotton patch wit alldat whoopin’ ‘n holler’n! Help me git dis’ stuff ‘n da’ house.” She said handing me a load as big as I was. “Now, who you done seent?”
“The witch! I saw her!”
“You saw her?”
“Well, who was it din’?”
“It was Ms. Rudolph.”
“You sho’?” Grandma gasped.
“Yeah, she was sittin’ right atop of me.” I open my pajama top to show the bruises.
“Why dat heiffer!” That’s what Grandma said called someone when she was mad, it was like a curse word. “Her der’ playin’ de’ fiddle all night, and all the time she gone on a flight. She gotten strong. Hurry, boy.” Grandma urged me on. “We’s got werk to do.” Grandma and I finished unloading the car and got breakfast on the table before Grandpa could notice. He looked at his breakfast of baked chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy, shrugged his shoulders and dug in.
When Grandma had finished everything
She said, “Where’s that cat?”
Stay Tuned for part III: "Cat Bones"