The morning of the service sweltered. Georgia hot wraps you in a blanket. Whether that’s a comfort or some of type of constraint, it don’t much care. They all stood there with tears of perspiration pouring down their faces while the preacher dotted the corners of his mouth and then his forehead like preacher men do and he said that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away and to everything there is a season and Ausby was gone but she lived on in memories and legacy and she’d be seen again someday when we meet again on that Heavenly shore. Amen.
We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed
And our spirit shall sorrow no more
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest
Atticus Remington Scutt bowed his head, mouthed an amen and made his way back across the lawn of Stone Church, est. 1823. Originally a hand-built wooden chapel of a step, a door and a sanctuary, and now a stone building with windows and a modest steeple, it had served as a garrison for God’s will and presence long before Lincoln’s War, and had continued since. The church stood at the bottom of a thickly wooded ridge with a now full and luscious green line of hickory, maple and pine, behind of which was a winding mix of dirt and gravel roads snaking through the hollar and on into the blue silhouettes of the mountains beyond, toward which the procession would be making its way.
He lit a cigarette and weaved his way through the headstones, tryna not to think about the entire lives buried underneath em. How now they was all turned into history. How we always bury em looking up. How hiding the person you love from view eventually becomes necessity. Out of sight, out of mind? Nah, just out your hands, boy.
A broad-wing hawk cried way over the heads of the single file march of the living.
The heat was saturating and, through his eyes-full of green, A.R. figured he could see waves coming off every leaf and blade of grass, like the sun had given too much life and was taking it back.
Funeral had had a decent turnout as a close casket affair is wont to do.
The family that mattered made it back to the house. Uncle Brooks. Uncle Danny. Dressed in Johnny Cash black. Shotguns and shine in the trunk. Mo(u)rning whiskey in their jacket pockets. A wood-burned plaque hung over sizzlin cast-iron and told anybody that came into that kitchen that food tastes best when it’s cooked with love, and another said that mamas know everything cuz mamas said so. Mamas and Aunts and Nanas cooked the kinda foods they figured’d bring sweet memories and warm conversation. Kids running and hollering, inside and out, lost in the joys of God-given existence. Ausby’s ghost ‘sposed to be somewhere round there. Her daddy, Shane, sat just bout catatonic. Features fading to crepuscular. Ashtray with a hundred cigarettes burned down to the filter. Future packs stacked and unwrapped. Tops torn off.
After the meal, Antie dished out the banana puddin. She smiled sadly as she remembered out loud how Ausby’s mama had taught em how to make it and how Ausby’s always arguing how soaking the bottom wafers in milk and then mashing em down is better than crumbling and how Ausby’s did actually taste the best and Antie hoped everybody still liked the banana puddin even though she was the one who made it and how she loved Ausby so very much and very much was a lot and that she would always love her, always. Ausby’s daddy lit a cigarette with a cigarette and ashed on his puddin plate, her mama, Teresa, took to cleaning the kitchen, and A.R. stepped out for a smoke.
Was still hotter than shit, but the cicada’s reverberations were giving way to the staccato chirps of katydids and crickets underlined by the bellow of frogs. Lightning bugs flickered like left behind remnants of the day.
The screen door added a rusty groan and a pop to the night as Brooks and Danny joined A.R. on the porch.
Evening. they said, lightin hand-rolled cigarettes of their own. The uncles had always been a source of awe for Atticus, two old-school-no-pink-in-the-middle whoop-your-ass-all-the-way-to-thechurch-and-back-at-it-again-hell-raisers. They looked a little older than his memories today.
Evening yall he nodded.
Hows your daddy?
Broken up. Wishes he could be here.
Yeah, we know.
Looking kinda jacked these days, aint ya?
Yeah, been hitting the weights hard. Eatin a lot of liver.
Glad to hear that. Listen bubba. We need to talk.
You know he’s predicted this shit before, your daddy.
You know he’s always been wrong before.
A.R. sighed smoked.
He wudn’t wrong this time.
Yeah. I know.
I’ma get right down to it, Attie. We want you to fix this shit. We aint about to have a curse laid on this family.
We need you to. Everybody knows he predicted it. Now everybody’s wondering how and why.
The brothers lit another cigarette.
How do you mean? I know my daddy is on some shit yall but…
Nah. Nah. Nah. We want you to find the sum-bitch that did this. Give it all some closure.
Country justice, martial law, the righteous hand of a wrathful fucking God, I don’t give much of a fuck what you wan call it. We want whoever the fuck did this strung up and gutted, ya heard me?
Hell, I’m with yall but whats that got to do with me?
You talk to your daddy and see what he knows.
Are yall tryna say my daddy…?
Hell no. But if he’s got to speaking with angels and devils again, he might know something. Something hidden in the secrets. We figure you might have it too. Maybe you’re the one it’s going to take to carve this evil out.
Listen. Ausby…she passed down in Carroll County. Now by the grace of God your cousin Boss is a deputy round there as of recent.
I thought he’s over there in Yoknapatawpha.
Naw, he came back last year to help somebody in office talking about sheriff this and that someday. Point is he got his dick swinging a little bit and he’s saying he can bring you on out there as a consultant all incognegro.
Aight, consultant for what?
Boy, like I give a fuck.
Listen. You call him tomorrow and yall can go from there. Family will pay you extra you bring the Devil back alive.
Yall don’t even think about paying me for this shit.
He put his cigarette out on his boot and spit.
You’re a good man, Attie. Always was.
We’ll figure out recompense later on.
Call it done. I’ll talk to daddy and then I’ll call Boss tomorrow.
They shook hands and Brooks clapped him on the shoulder.
Before you leave, come in here and get a whole bunch of this food. Don’t imagine anybody wanting leftovers from a funeral.
A.R. and his truck cruised through the mountain like old memories, arm out the window, cigarette in his lips, glow on the dashboard, beer in his lap, baseball on the radio. Who needs heaven half the time? He roared up the mountain, feeling good but never smiling. Knowing the things would creep out later that night. Any thought turned to Ausby got put on the back burner. He figured he’d need this. One more glimpse of happiness, pure and simple, ‘fore coming down that mountain and into whatever kinda darkness it was that murdered Ausby. That little baby was only twelve years old, godammem. Godamn em. Goddamn those cock sucking motherfuckers. You gon burn you baby back bitch. God fucking damn em.
A.R. pulled over the truck, trying to breathe. Tears falling in great drops. He’d had a lump in his throat that whole service, shoulda gotten swallowed down with the whiskey but there it stayed. Don’t much expect or think about other people’s deaths to be violent, least not the one’s you love, very least of all the ones you’ve known since they were knee-high to a grasshopper. Grief hit him like a Mack truck straight to the chest. He’d held that little girl since the first day she was born. She called him ‘are’ when she was a baby. He aint know all the details, but he was gonna be finding out and he already knew it wudn’t anything close to Christian. He wept, hanging his head down on his chest in heaving sobs, wanting to lie down on the bench seat, but something just wouldn’t let him. Pop the fuck up.
He swallowed hard, wiped his nose and snot rocketed out the window before lighting a cigarette and keeping it moving.
What was called home, and had been so for A.R.’s conscious life, was a three hundred acre compound on the top of a mountain, built deep into pines so thick you couldn’t run a straight line through em. The dwellings and amenities consisted of a main abode, three bunk rooms, a fishing pond, an acre of muscadine vineyard, and several plots that had at one time all been used for gardens, most of which were now mowed flat into dirt, ‘cept for the larger ones dedicated solely to strawberries and the like, the roads between which were lined with the gnarled witchy branches of peach trees; all the better to make and sell jellies and preserves to yuppy farmer markets, along with some damn fine ice cream, which was damn legitimate and legal reason to have at least half a ton of sugar on premise, and, well, mix that with the right something, preferably some corn, rye and barley, and hell why you at it throw a peach and a little cinnamon in the jar and we gon all be alright.
And so A.R. drove down that dirt path like he had since he’d first drove, eventually arriving at a
house full of memories, if not much else. It was a two story lodge underneath a large attic that had been converted to his bedroom, a consideration given to him as he was the only heir and prodigy of Cillian Remington Scutt. The same bedroom where his daddy used to come tweaking late into the midst of midnight, screaming recitations of the good ol’ KJV Bible, Milton and Blake for hours straight, where the sunrise and the song birds would find a plumb tuckered out A.R. repeating back the lines his daddy felt were those that should be carried for the rest of his life.
His mama had been revered as she shoulda been, but she’d eventually become one of many. His daddy had divined a sort of hedonist path to transcendence based on some symbolism he abstracted from the ten plagues of Egypt. Of course, he was from the area and they wudn’t having the heresy, so he descended down into the city and the slums, and brought himself back a ten woman harem. Got himself a couple widowers to buy the land in his name along with some colored girls and preached his version of kumbaya til the end of the whole ordeal. Hell, even after the federales had kicked the door in, somehow someway that man still kept the place and a couple girlfriends, just switched to making jelly.
His daddy was standing on the porch with his lady-friends when A.R. pulled up. Cillian wearing
what he called his bathrobe-of-many-colors over top of some lose pajama bottoms and flip flops, tilted his head hello and stumbled forward leaning way over the rails, nowhere near sober.
Welcome back, son.
A.R. loosened his tie as he walked up the steps, nodding to the ladies individually. Girls, yall take this food inside real quick, would ya?
He turned round and lit two cigarettes simultaneous and handed one to his son.
How was it?
His daddy had a way of exhaling questions.
Preachers still preachin. Saw Brooks, Danny and them.
They do right by Ausby?
I guess. First closed casket I’ve seen. Got a whole different vibe to it. You just kinda wonder if they’re in there, and even if you’d recognize em if they were. I didn’t figure it would be like that.
Cillian looked up at the Heavens.
I don’t figure anyone does, son. I wasn’t told how she would meet her demise.
A whole two hundred and sixty four days ago, Cillian had come hollerin runnin late-night-earlymornin through the house, shaking A.R. awake, screaming how the Lord had sent an angel, and how that angel had informed him that nobody ever goes to heaven and that a whole two hundred and sixty one days later Ausby, yes that Ausby, was gonna die, and how he’d tried to tell that angel that that wudn’t a very angelic thing to say and the angel replied that maybe he’d’d never talked to an angel before, which of course he had, and he asked why’d the angel told him such a thing and that angel just shrugged and said figured he should know.
Well fuck why’d you have to tell everybody else? Theyre fucking spooked man. A.R. spit.
Son, if one of God’s messengers brings you Word then one must accept it as the Holy duty, blessing and burden placed upon them that it is. You do not share it to relieve yourself of it. You share it so that others might do with that Truth what God and they will. It is the unfortunate reality of prophecy that it does not consider our feelings on the matter, nor does it offer any consolation. In it’s own way that is how and why it remains pure.
Heat lightning simmered in the background, illuminating the heavy silence of thunder clouds.
A little girl was just murdered and mutilated Dad.
And I have wept every night at the very prospect of that since it was foretold. Nothing I have just relayed gives me any peace on the matter, but it does not change the nature of it all. Much as I would like it to.
They stood in the silence of nature’s white noise with the Milky Way spilled over top of them.
So, you know anything?
How do you mean?
In that vision you had. Angel aint give you any clues or anything specific?
Nah, bubba. Just a name and a date. Why?
Well, Brooks and Danny are spokesmen and the family want me to find the sumbitch for punishment.
Cillian’s eyes flared with a charisma some called madness.
And now we know why it was I who was called to share God’s message. Son, you are now become an instrument of God’s divine judgment. You are his sword. DIVINE PROVIDENCE BATHES YOU IN ITS GLORY AND IT IS BLINDING! I can foresee it!
Cillian’s eyes rolled back in his head.
Yes, there is indeed a most vile serpent, a hydra, lying in predatory wait amongst the filth of the Below. You who have been blessed from Birth now receive your Calling. Prepare and sanctify yourself tonight. Time is of the essence. I am not wrong!
Cillian puked over the rail and ran inside without another word, smoke and his robe-of-manycolors blurring behind him.
A.R. watched him go. For a short time, he’d been interested in psychology and analysis and all that mess. All he found that way was buzzwords and classifications. Joy. Mania. Depression. Bipolar. Schizophrenia. Spiritual products of consciousness. The acceptable price of being a human. Only Fear was native to animals. Seemed like everybody wanted to talk subjectivity but they wudn’t giving any credence for individual faith. His daddy believed and so it was and so it shall be.
Wudn’t any wonder nobody could find or talk to God anymore. Start putting order on things that can’t be ordered and all it did was make people feel small, reduced. How the fuck you gon bring the universe down to you instead of vice versa? He couldn’t stand the arrogance, but even the truth didn’t make life any easier, or watching his daddy discover it.
He considered another cigarette, but a drizzle had just started and it had been a helluva day.
His daddy was in his office, reciting aloud from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The women sat at the table, sharing a piece of pecan pie.
He declined politely when offered and stood staring at the railless stair case leading up into the darkness. Sighing out a breath, he ascended.
But for a bathroom and shower that had been installed, the attic was a large open space presided over by an a-frame roof of golden timber that was bronzed by the sunlight of each day through a large hinged window, which led out onto a veranda shaded by a hundred year old oak. His daddy’s women had taken to the design using rugs to mark off the areas for his bed, desk, couch and bookshelves. He turned the overhead light on and took his boots off. With the nicotine of the day churning in his gut and buzzing in his mind, he sat down at his desk, trying, for just a second, to think of nothing.
The tree limbs out the window boasted at one another as they rollicked in the energy of the coming Summer storm, their silhouettes clashing across the wall. A.R. watched transfixed, drawn into their movement before reality began to swirl. An overwhelming and incorrigible flame roared into being in the back of his mind. Chained to his chair by the consuming vision, he could only watch the figures dance across the walls of his eyes, beckoning him toward acceptance, to be lost, to give himself to the holes in the light. His hands trembling sweat, he dragged himself, an act of pure will, stumbling toward the light switch, and collapsed with relief as the light and the shadows disappeared from view. It would seem some truths are only discovered in the dark.
He crawled back to his desk in the moonlight, panting, and mindlessly rolled his cigarette with a little weed sprinkled in. Gazing at the shadows of his bookshelves, he licked the paper closed. A brief flame haunted his features before he leaned back, sighing smoke signals toward Heaven.