A Mystery of Delmarva, Part Two

April 8, 2008, 6:18 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Erin, Featured  | 2 Comments

Read part one of this short story here!

The nightmares had begun that night and slunk steadily downwards until Sunday. Each time, he fell into the twisting, tormenting river, and each time a gnarled, bony hand drew him out like a helpless babe and held him before the strange woman\’s face, a thousand wrinkles on every once-beautiful curve, age spots accumulating like maggots, eyes dulled by the sun. Each time Jaffey would try to hear what she was saying, try to read her lips, try to discern what was going on, and each time the woman would talk to him, threatening his sheep and his goats.

Two weeks after the encounter when the dreams had just begun to dull in time\’s first gentle dose of amnesia, Jaffey\’s sheep started getting sick. One by one, they fell ill: all eight in the span of four days. Jaffey didn\’t tell his wife; he just butchered the meat and gave the extra away.

The old woman\’s voice counted down with him in his head. Eight”¦must have been a blight. Seven”¦that old ram was on his way out. Six”¦not a very strong lamb, was he? Five”¦I should change what pasture they\’re eating; this one has a poison in it. Four”¦that old woman cursed me. Three”¦how did she do it?! Two”¦God please spare my flock!

One”¦ God please spare me”¦

So in church Jaffey prayed the whole service long; through the worship and the prayer and the four altar calls, through the sermon and the offertory and the special. Through the prophecy, the greeting; yes, he even sat down nineteen minutes before the service was to start and prayed though the coffee break. God spare me the only animals I have left. What will I tell my family?

These and a hundred other thoughts raced through his mind as the service began. Like voices in his head, the fears taunted him and tempted him to keep silent. He could imagine them having a conversation, sitting contentedly on his medulla oblongata, massaging it into submission.

“She\’s got to him, that\’s certain,” the first Fear would say, purple and shriveled, youngish voice grating.

“If he can just keep a silence, we have a hold on him for sure.” A second; old as the river, with a voice just as gravelly.

“Truly true. And what do you suppose? A coward like this hasn\’t the voice nor the nerves to do what he has to.” The first again.

“Ha. If he knew that speaking would help him”¦” the second Fear would pause, acidly comedic. “Well, he\’d have been yelping long ago!”

Jaffey saw that it was inevitable, then, that his prayer was no longer a thing of cowardice and silence, but something — anything — else. He opened his mouth and out came the howl.

Marianne wouldn\’t speak to him the whole way home, whether for anger, fear, frustration, or a combination of the three, Jaffey couldn\’t tell. When she had gotten the children into bed she collapsed onto the nearest chair at the kitchen table and put her head in her hands. Jaffey had already seated himself at another chair and he looked at her, brow furrowed, in expectation.

She wasn\’t crying. He could tell this when she raised her head to fix him with a gaze and her cheeks were quite dry.

“What was that, husband?”

“Um.” A long pause ensued, in which Jaffey tried for a few words. “It was”¦well, it wasn\’t”¦there were these”¦oh, hum”¦”

After a few more hums, Marianne became impatient. “I know that we attend a church that is . . . progressive, is that what we called it? When we were first going there? But we were never that type, were we?”

Jaffey decided that it was probably best for Marianne to know the story of the old woman, of the sheep, and of the voices that he had heard in his head. When he finished telling it, however, she gazed at him in the same manner as before.

“I knew that you were a bit odd”¦” she began.

“A bit odd?” Jaffey was taken aback. “This isn\’t odd! This is a curse!”

Marianne nodded. “I\’ll give you that. But I\’ll not give you leave to go terrorizing all the neighbors with”¦whatever that was.”

“So what are we to do, then. Doing nothing so far has got us nowhere!”

Marianne shrugged and lifted an eyebrow. “I guess we don\’t raise goats or sheep anymore.”

And that was that.

Or at least, both of them thought so. But sure enough, as the goats grew weaker and weaker and began to die, Jaffey had his doubts. Finally there were just two left — the two that had always been the most especially hardy, and even they were sickly, ribs poking out, weak bleats, thinning coats. It was on a sunny afternoon that Jaffey was leaning on his garden hoe, chewing his lip and watching the two of them graze pitifully that he caught a dark shape moving out of the corner of his eye.

The old woman.

He lunged toward her as she was drawing her brown corduroy pack around her body to the front. She was quick, though, and darted away. Around the barn he chased her — how could she move so fast? — until he could bear it no longer. He stood in one place…

…and the wailing prayer came forth again, stopping the old woman in her tracks. Snarling, she made a dash for the nearest window and Jaffey stalked toward her awkwardly, still howling his prayer. It was not made up of words, but neither did it come from a string of awkward vowels. There were ups and downs and crows and ululations and it stopped and started and stopped and started again. It sounded like fourteen or fifteen roosters, or what roosters would sound like, could they crow backwards and just barely out of unison.

There was a weight — a hand — on Jaffey\’s shoulder and he whirled, knocking the shape down. Gazing down, horrified, he ceased praying.

Marianne lay on the ground, disbelieving and in shock. Backing away, Jaffey spluttered even fewer intelligible syllables than his prayer had contained as she rose to her feet and ran toward the house.


2 Comments to “A Mystery of Delmarva, Part Two”

  1. Steve on April 10th, 2008 1:33 pm

    I’m really enjoying this series and eagerly anticipating the ending. Loved the countdown and the detailed descriptions.

  2. Dsweetgoober on April 11th, 2008 1:28 pm

    Reminiscent of Frank Peretti.

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