|Vernal Equinox 2000|
S. Lawrence Parrish is a member of HWA. He has had short stories published in Stigmata: A Heliocentric Net Anthology, Night Terrors, Pulp Fiction, Not One of Us, Dread: Tales of the Uncanny and Grotesque and Fangs. He will appear in future issues of Shadowland, Agony in Black, Eclipse, Mindmares and Carpe Noctem. Another will be published by the Poe Taster's Press in a book entitled Once Upon a Midnight. He has written first drafts of five horror novels and an ever-growing book of short stories entitled Collections. he is currently flogging for publication what he considers to be the best of his novels, a werewolf tale entitled Shape Shifters.
S. Lawrence lives in Calgary, Alberta with his wife and three children. He teaches English in the public school system (a man has to make a living).
AMA TOLD ME TO bury the mess out back, behind our cabin. All the bloody stuff that came out of Mama after Josiah was born. The snow was deep, the wind cold and the ground frozen, but I got it buried just the same. I did it for Mama, so she'd be proud of me.
Pa was out. He'd gone down to the aspen grove. Despite the blizzard and despite Mama having a baby, Pa went to the aspen grove. He didn't even take his snowshoes.
And he was crying when he went out the door.
I never seen Pa cry before. He'd get angry sometimes, with Mama. So angry he'd hit her; then he wouldn't speak to anyone for weeks. Months, sometimes. Like when Mama insisted I was old enough to move into town, to work for Murphy at the mill and go to school. I liked the idea, but Pa said my place was with the family. Any book-learning I needed Mama could give me. And she did; ever since I was a baby she read to me, showed me how to write.
That was good for Mama. Good for me, too.
But it made Pa miserable. He'd watch us, frowning.
Mama once tried to teach Pa to read. He just couldn't get it. He struggled and struggled until I made the mistake of trying to help him. Pa slammed that book shut so quick, didn't open his mouth for the entire summer, except to eat. Mama didn't talk much either. But sometimes she'd suddenly explode, scream and yell at Pa. Then Pa would silence her with the back of his hand.
I wonder what happened to Pa down in the aspen grove. I wonder what happened to Mama.
I've been to the grove myself. It's a quarter mile out behind our cabin, on a part of the reserve the Indians keep away from. The grove can look real nice, the sun's warm rays slanting through leaves twisting-turning in the breeze. Wild flowers so fragrant. And the birds' peaceful twittering.
But if you stand on the shadow side of the grove, a cold chill stiffens your back. A cool, damp smell like roots and slugs. And a low scraping-buzz. When you squint eyes into shadows, you can see them, crawling, crawling, all up and down the aspen trees. Shiny and black. Locusts. Thousands of locusts, the size of your thumb. Black locusts with fiery red eyes.
Mama went to the grove because of the music. That's what she told Pa when he found her one morning, naked, wandering in the forest behind our cabin, her feet all bloody.
He lead her inside, next to the stove, sat her on the stool. She didn't even try to cover herself.
Pa wrapped her in a blanket, his face all red, asked her, "What you doin', Marilyn? You lost your head? You sick?"
Mama collapsed. Pa carried her to bed.
"We takin' Mama to the doctor, Pa? Should I hitch Maisie to the buckboard?"
Pa stared at me for a long moment, his stern, weathered face all pinched and confused. "No, Will. No. Get some water. Warm it up on the stove. Bring it to me with a cloth and some soap."
I did as he asked. Then I stood watching while he bathed Mama. He ran the cloth over her bare skin, his rough hands clumsy, not suited to gentle touches. Mama smiled in her sleep, made cooing sounds I had never heard her make before. Her hand slid up her belly, over one breast and squeezed. Pa flushed almost-purple and shooed me from the room.
He came out moments later, his face pale and sweaty. He said nothing to me, sat in front of the fire, in the rocker, with his Bible. Didn't read it, just sat with it in his lap and smoked his pipe.
"Does she need the doctor?"
Pa glanced over his shoulder at me, his dark eyes filled with flickering firelight. "What. . . ? No, no. . . she'll be okay, Will. Don't you worry none."
Mama went to the grove again that night.
The next day all three of us made the trip to town, the buckboard bouncing and squeaking us on our way.
Pincher Creek had grown since I last set eyes on it. I had never seen so many people. Talk said the rail line was coming through town some day soon.
Mama grew up in a big city, Montreal. She'd tell me about it sometimes, her eyes far away, filled with a distant happiness: "Oh, the people, Will! And the restaurants and theaters. And the music. Everywhere music and dancing. On the street corners. Music and dancing, any time, night and day!"
Mama loved to dance. She'd sometimes waltz around the kitchen when Pa was out, humming to herself.
She said Pa had two left feet. Couldn't dance if his life depended on it. She married him because of "the mistake" she made before I was born. Pa told me I was that mistake. But Mama said I was innocent of any wrongdoing. A baby can do no evil, she said.
I believed her. But I don't anymore.
The doctor in Pincher Creek looked Mama over. He told Pa he'd seen this kind of thing before; it happened most often to women. He said Mama needed to come into town regularly, to visit. To attend church. To make friends and talk to people. Then he gave Pa a bottle of pink medicine and sent us on our way.
As the buckboard rumble-squeaked toward home, Mama smiled, something she hadn't done in a long time. She talked about going to church; they held dances in the church hall once a month. Mama can look so pretty when she wants to; I'm sure she'd look beautiful all dressed up and dancing.
She said, "I'll teach you how to dance, Will. And maybe your pa, too."
Pa said nothing.
I expected we'd be going to church that Sunday. We didn't. Pa chose that day to grease the buckboard. He showed me the bearings. Said they were worn out and that he'd have to get new ones.
But even when the buckboard was finally fixed, we didn't go into town. Pa said he'd seen a man shot when he was in town buying new bearings. It happened right in the street. Colt .45. A man shot dead by another man.
"No place for a boy your age, Will. No place for a family."
Mama kept after him about it, yelled at him. Pa slapped her, went quiet. Mama went to the aspen─.ve that night.
&sp; Őcbsp; Pa took to sleeping in the stalls with Maisie and our goat, ─.y. Pa tied Molly's bell to the cabin door. He woke up any ti─.hat bell tinkled, which was ─.y night.
Ma─.very night. The aspen grove caed to her.
─. fall put a chill in the air.
Pa came back ─.is and Mama's bed. He and Mama slept beside each other, but they never spoke.
Not until Mama told him she had a baby in her belly. She'd known about it for months, but had said nothing.
His eyes screaming, Pa demande─.Who, Marilyn? Who?"
Mama wouldn't answer. She just stared at him, chewed he─.ttom lip.
I thought Pa would strike her, but he didn't. He stormed throughout the cabin, smashed crockery; ─. he seemed to fold into himself, weak and defeated.
And then the silence. ─.
We never went into town again as a family. Pa did, him and Maisie and the buckbo─. He came back with the suppl─.we'd need to see us through winter. Flour and sugar and lard.
Then snow began to fall. The world outside our cabin disappeared under waist-─. drifts.
Mama's belly grew; she spent most of her time in bed. Pa smoked his pipe and sat with his Bible. I mostly lay in the loft reading ─.andlelight. I liked that. The books Mama shared took me away from the silence that was my home.
One night I woke to the sound of music, a flute or something like it. From out behind our cabin. From the aspen grove.
Then I heard Mama groan.
I peered out from the loft to see Pa. His face was pale─.te in the fireplace glow, his eyes narrow, angry slits; he didn't notice me watching him. He took his Winchester, but not hi─.owshoes, and stomped out into the night. I had a pretty good idea where he was going.
Mama screamed. I hurried to her bedside.
"The baby's coming, Will," she told me, sweat streaming down her face. "You'll help me, won't you? You're such a big boy now."
I ran outside, yelled for Pa. But a blizzard had blown in. Howling winds stole away my voice.
I stayed with Mama, held her hand even though she squeezed until I thought my knuckles would break. Then the blood. Then the baby, all gray and purpl─.trangling its way into my world.
I saved it─.fe. Little Josiah. Pulled the cord from around his neck. C─.ed all that slippery, bloody─.ff out of his mouth and nose. Mama lay him on her chest. Told me to get the sewing scissors. Showed me where to cut the co─.
I buried all the mess out back. Just like M─.told me. Winds screaming while I chipped my way into the frozen earth.
Inside the cabin, silence.
─.sp; Josiah never cried. Desp─.the bumps on his head. And despite his feet; they had to hur─. never seen feet like that. ─.inted them out to Mama, said─.re's something wrong with Josiah.
She said, "No, Will. He's just perfect, j─.like his father."
I told her Pa didn't have─.t like that. Mama just smiled. Josiah fed from her breast. ─.
Pa didn't come h─.that day. Or the next.
I worried that he must have died. I cried and cried.─.P>
But Mama didn'─.t upset. Mama hummed and dan─.around the cabin with baby J─.h. She kept us fed. Days and─.hts passed by.
One morning I was out back g─.ring firewood. Poking up thr─. the snow, where I buried the birth mess, a black sapling--an aspen tree, leaves on it and everything.
I told Mama about it. She smiled at me. She hadn't said anything to me in days; I longed to hear her─.ak my name. But she had words ly for baby. Songs and dancing for baby Josiah.
The sapling grew fast. Within a week, it was taller than m─. black aspen tree, dark leaves twisting in the cold winter wind.
Then I noticed a growth on the trunk. A black sac. Next day the sac was bi─.d bulging, things squirming around inside. As I watched, the─. split open. It was full of the black locusts I had seen in ─.aspen grove. They spilled out, began burrowing into the snow. Within minutes, they had all d─.ed in winter white.
Over the next days, I'd sometimes see one or two of the─.awl-hopping in the cabin. I ─. to squash one, but Mama sto─. me.
Mama and Josiah, always together. I saw a locust crawl out of Josiah's wrap. Mama saw it, too. But she did nothing. The locust fell to─. floor, skitter-hopped to th─.replace, right onto glowing coals. Without dying or catchi─.ire.
Before long, black saplings were growi─.verywhere out back. Saplings─. snow.
I couldn't understand it.
Then one night Pa came ho─.And I couldn't understand that.
I was in the loft, not sleeping. Listening. Hundreds of locusts had come in─.he cabin by now. You could h─.their hard little feet clicking on the wooden floor.
The cabin door burst o─. Pa stumbled in. He was fros─.hite, snow hanging in clumps─.m his hair.
He didn'─.ar me, took no notice of me ─. I jumped out of the loft and ran to him. He just stood there. His Winchester was gone, his ─.hes stiff, his coat and shirt hanging open.
I stopped before hugging him. A─.d wind nipped at me. I closed the door.
"Pa, where you been?"
He turned to me. His eyes we─.ull and frosted, blank and cold. He opened his mouth, as if ─.peak. The ice on his cheeks ─.ked; I could hear it. Then he turned from me.
Mama had strolled into the room, baby in arms. She had curle─.r hair and put on a wispy white robe she had told me was special because she'd worn it on her wedding night. And she'd put o─.rfume from the little glass ─.le she kept under her pillow─.gift from Pa so many years back.
I was stan─. close to Pa. He didn't smel─.od, not at all. Now he shuff─.toward Mama, dragging his le─.eg. She smiled, showed him t─.aby. Pa grinned; ice-flakes ─.bled to the floor.
Mama went to the rocker, sat next to the fire. Pa pulled─. stool over to sit in front ─.er. Mama rocked. Pa watched ─. saying nothing, his left foot almost in the fire, snow-melt pooling beneath him.
I stood by the door, my heart racing. This was so wrong. All wrong. I thought about running, about trying to make my way to Pincher Creek. Pa's head turned to me, creak-twisting his n─.
I had a su─. waking dream. Pictures flas─.in my head. Me out in the coldtramping through snow so dee─.sunk up to my knees even with snowshoes on. North winds sliced me like icicle knives. I saw myself collapse into the snow, sobbing, then grow silent as a co─.leep overtook me.
I saw all that in one glance from Pa. And then I seemed t─.ar Pa saying, Go ahead, Will─.n. When you fall, I'll come get you.
And now locusts crawled out of Pa's pant legs. Twin rows of black locu─.with red eyes crawling towar─.ma. They coursed over her ba─.eet, flowed up her legs, und─.er robe. She didn't cry out, didn't flinch.
She smiled dreamily. Lay back h─.ead and spread wide her legs─.r lips parted; the tip of her tongue licked out. She moaned.
Pa sat across ─. her, watching, smiling a stiff, cold smile. I could see steam rising from that part of his jacket nearest the fire. Then his pant leg burst into flame.
For the longest mo─., he ignored it. Then he rea─. down casual-like and patted─.out.
Mama moaning. Pa smiling.
I had never seen them so happy together.
In Mama's lap, Josiah slept.
The next month saw the cold season turning to spring. The locusts were everywhere in the cabin now. In the loft, they surrounded me on all sides when I tried to sleep. They were a─.s watching me. Peering down ─.e from the rafters with their flame-red eyes. Sitting at the─.t of my quilt. Coating my bo─.elf.
Mama didn't cook for me anymore. I ate her table scraps, when she bothered to feed herself. Pa ate not─. at all.
One morning, I heard Maisie whinny─.outside. Pa was hitching her to the buckboard. Most of the s─.had melted. The trail into towwas almost clear. I hurried out of the loft, scattering locusts. Outside, I saw Pa had loade─.ack saplings onto the buckbo─.
Mama was s─.d up front with baby Josiah.
I ran to her. "Where you goin'?"
For a moment, I thought she wouldn't respond. But the fainte─.licker of lost hope flashed in her dull eyes. "Into town."
I climbed up nex─. her, wondering if this would be the end of it. Maybe spri─.me had brought with it a new beginning for my family. Then rigid fingers dug into my ribs, strong arms lifted me.
His smell was all around me, like wet things you'd dig ─.of the ground.
He tossed me into the dirt. Then he cli─. up to sit beside Mama. She ─. his arm and wouldn't even l─.at me.
Pa snapped the reins. Maisie reared a little, skittish and snorting. Then she set off at a trot.
Only baby Josiah took notice of me; he sat up in Mama's lap. His queer feet poked out from under his blanket, feet split like Molly's, like a goat'─.oves. And he'd grown dark ha─.p his legs.
His tiny mouth, smiling sharp little teeth. Josiah's eyes. Lit from behind by a cold fire. And ─.little bumps on his head tha─.d grown into pointy horns.
All around me, h─.ng, hopping, a sea of black ─.sts.© 2000 S. Lawrence Pa─.h, all rights reserved /TD>
RETURN TO ARCHIVES
Vernal Equinox 2000 Issue, Updated March 25, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.
"The Aspen Grove"