Friday, December 2, 2016

Babelech

Babelech
by
Bobby Derie


There had not always been a babelech, though none now lived that remembered the nights before it. It was the local bogey, complete with its own cave where the children were admonished never to play, though a few every generation dared each other on as the days started to shorten, and of winter nights mothers would threaten their kinder that they would be left out in the cold, where the babelech would come on its long thin legs and gobble them up. Every child knew the babelech, and told the stories over and over, just as on dark Christmases by the fire the old men would smile and tell of "The Feast of the Babelech" - the great blizzard when the legend had full reign through the streets of the town, scratching at windows and doors, frightening cattle and horses, and parents would awaken at night to find only broken windows and empty, frost-coated cribs with a few gnawed bones, or stiff little fingers still clutching a rattle... a story told with much relish and in such gorey detail, in infinite variations as each teller tried to top the previous one, while the fire burned on into the night and the wind howled and shook the trees.


Children grow. Lovers unite; spouses are unfaithful; children are born in joy and sorrow, and taken by illness or accident or murder, leaving only the bereft and bloody-handed behind. The factory closes; the bills go unpaid; houses are reclaimed, lie vacant, their lots unkempt, windows boarded up, roofs sagging, rusting monsters on the lawn, some slowly being reclaimed by thorny vines and weeds. Feral things roam the night, root through trash, disappear down storm drains and into shadows. Hunger and want begin to creep in; illness and injury and arrest more common, the very punctuation of life. The very features of the people become marked by thinness, scars, unhealthy colors made all the more stark by poor decisions, garish attempts at escape, to reclaim some of the vital energy and joy of life once again.


Yet there was always the babelech - and there were stories that they did not tell the children.
Dierk's boots crunched through the snow toward the babelech's cave. It was, really, simply a kind of hollow created by glacial remnants - massive stones left behind by the retreating ice, so that one like a great shelf rested on top of two rounded, lichen-covered boulders; the whole thing half-buried in the hill, to form a kind of hollow. He rested as it came into sight, a darker shadow against the night. Pain lanced up from his midsection; it had been hurting all day - for days - and the junk had run out a long time ago.


Using the trees for support, he made his way up the steep path to the gap between the boulders - a path beaten hard by the feet of many adventurous little climbers, like Dierk himself, years ago. He paused at that entrance, breathing harder than he should have, sweating a little despite the chill, which set him chattering. Beyond the entrance, he knew, the floor dropped down a few feet. There was nothing in the hollow itself but earth and stone - no creature ever made its burrow there, as far as Dierk knew. When they were kids, they had talked about how it would be full of bones...or maybe the scratchings of cave people, explorers, something. He remembered how he'd wanderd around almost blindly in the dark, a space not ten feet from one side to the other, and never saw so much as a candy wrapper or used condom, no names or declarations of love scratched or sprayed on the walls. A quite, unsullied place.


Dierk felt bad for a moment - not panic, exactly, but regret for...littering. He imagined the next child coming this way in the summer, finding the nasty clothes on the floor, and knowing someone had been there. He shook his head, then easing himself away from the entrance, he made his way to a broken stump, a natural witch's cauldron, and began to disrobe. Frost bit into the pale flesh, the veins running through it like cheese, bringing up fancies of hidden colonies of blue fungus eating away at him from the inside, dissolving him with acid. With numb hands he covered the clothing with snow, then looked up at the clear sky. They would find them come March, probably, but not in the cave.
He lowered himself down into the hollow carefully. It was almost pleasant, out of the wind, though the cold earth seemed to suck the heat from his bones. Dierk's hands and feet were already numb, though he didn't think the frostbite had set in properly yet. It had been too long since he had been out in the snow...too long in hospitals with their wan artificial suns and cheerless antiseptic smiles; in alleys where dead-eyed drop-outs set the price on his "medicine"; in the empty house with its blaring television muted to a low roar...


In the cave, Dierk waited for the babelech to gobble him up.


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There had not always been a babelech, though everyone in town knew it was there. Waiting for them. It was always hungry, the mothers whispered as they drew the covers tight, but it was patient. It waited for them, for all of them, and it would get them someday. That was the end of every story, of course. No one escaped the babelech.


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Friday, November 25, 2016

Natural Politics

Natural Politics
by
Bobby Derie

"The thing to understand," the senator said, "is that Nature rewards successful behavior. Moral considerations don't come into play," she added with a decisive hand gesture. "Parasites are natural, and egg-stealers. Mothers eat their children during lean winters. The carefully hoarded honey is ravaged by the hungry bear. Dolphins will harry a female until she is too tired to resist and then gang-rape her. Long-term goals are often sacrificed for short-term gain, because in the final equation short-term gain is gain. Survival, by any means, at any cost."

"But ma'am, we were talking about politics..."

"So am I!" She thundered, a triumphant smile on her face as she whacked the podium. "Do you really not understand that? Politicians engage in behavior that is rewarded. Any behavior that is rewarded. You people in the media think that politicians are greedy and vain; you are correct. But they are not often stupid. The stupid ones die out early. They don't know when to switch strategies. But even the stupid ones can achieve success, if they finding a strategy that wins in the short term. And when they do find something that works, others pick up on it and follow it. How many times," she fixed the reporter with a challenging look, "have you heard one politician say something blitheringly idiotic, only for six more to say the same thing? Because it works. And as long as it works, they will keep doing it."

She dropped the microphone, and left the stage to a sparkle of flashbulbs.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

The Right Tool

The Right Tool
by
Bobby Derie

The thing about a shovel as a weapon, Joanna reflected, knee deep in the hole she'd been digging, is that it also makes it easier to dispose of the body when you're done with it. The moon glistened off a fine sheen of sweat on her brow, and pale dirt showed against her dark skin strangely to her night-time eyes. Not far away, the corpse had been rudely broken into six pieces and tied in potatoes sacks, which occasionally shifted as the contents clawed and rolled of their own accord. Can't really dig a grave with a sword. An axe, perhaps, could at least chop through roots and break up hard soil; but for a good clay or loam - she picked up her tool and resumed work - there's nothing much else for it but the right tool.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

B. T.: Before Texas

B. T.: Before Texas
by
Bobby Derie

"Did I ever tell you how Texas was founded?" 

She took the pipe out of her mouth and knocked the ashes against the side of the porch.

"The stars threw down their spears, and landed in an empty land of hills that rolled gently down to the sea. They walked it all over, and found there was a river they could not cross, and followed it down to an ocean they could not swim, up past swamps they could not penetrate, and finally to an endless plain of grass that stopped them as dead as if they had run into a wall. A light came down, all wings and veils and burning wheels, and said sorrowfully that the war was over, and the losers could never again enter heaven. So the wanderers looked very sad for a few moments, and then said that they were sorry to hear it, but that they were good sports and the losers were welcome to visit whenever they wanted."

Friday, November 4, 2016

Corn Wolf

Corn Wolf
by
Bobby Derie
 
The old men told me how corn wolf crept through the ripe tall grass, the fine, pale yellow fur blending in with the prairie. It moved as the wind moved, and stood still when it died, closing in on its prey. Some say that the corn wolves would hunt in packs, singling out and closing in on a lone deer or buffalo, but I never saw such a thing. I remember how it was when they started to clear the prairie, and green stalks in rows began to replace the endless sea of grass...but for them corn wolves, that was just replacing one hunting ground with another.

I remember coming out in the morning and we'd find a trail of blood leading into the corn, maybe a chicken or rabbit, and Ma would say the corn wolves was out; she'd warn us kids about playing in the fields alone, and tuck us into our beds telling us the corn wolves would gobble us up. When I was eight or nine I was plum scared at the thought of that...not able to see over the tops of the corn, walking through the rows 'til you lose sight of the house, the rich earth beneath bare feet.

One day I was walking like that and I thought I stepped in mud...but it was blood, red blood, mixed up with the earth, squeezing scarlet between my toes, and still warm, almost hot...I looked around and then, just then, I came face to face with something. It was like a dog, though no dog I had ever seen, and maybe more like a big fox with low pointed ears and a dun brown nose, all pale yellow fur except around the muzzle, which was wet and dripping blood. Yet it showed no teeth at me, nor raised a hackle. I knew it wasn't a wolf or coyote then, 'cause those are scared of humans, and as I looked in those bright yellow eyes I knew this thing wasn't scared of me at all...and then my Ma called, and it scampered out of sight, once and for all.
 
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Friday, October 28, 2016

Happy Endings

Happy Endings
by
Bobby Derie

"We want to believe in happy endings," she ran her fingers through the child's hair, "we want to believe they could come true."

The long fingers began to braid and twist, like a sitting at a flax wheel. The child sniffled softly. When she was done, the woman looked back and admired her handiwork.

"Some people say bad endings are more realistic. Sad endings, tragedies. All the blood shed, all the lives lost, the living scarred and haunted."

She reached over and laid a hand over the child's own, engulfing it in her long strong fingers. Felt the sharp points of the scissors curled in that little palm. The voice whispered in the child's ear.

"I say, an ending is an ending, and it's up to you to decide what to make of it."

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Corn Rock

Corn Rock
by
Bobby Derie

Out west, where the forests run down the mountains, and over the foothills, and give way at last to that endless prairie. It was a rich yet desolate country. Every neighbor in every county had tales about where the last Indian died, hanging from a naked tree or bleeding out his life in a creek that ran past the house, for the first generation on that frontier toiled and bled for the land they claimed, but not in Corn Rock. No tribe ever admitted to settling there, not even the renegades; they sang no songs about that place, nor watered their horses along the winding banks of Still Creek. Silence can sometimes speak more horror than any whispered campfire tale, and dry bones turned up by a plow a better message than any ghost story written in a book. So it was in Corn Rock.

Maud Dreyfus had come down from the Salt Lake, with three husbands and sixteen children buried behind her by the time she was thirty. Her allotment was the field with the Corn Rock, from which the town took its name, a rounded, peaked dome of grey granite carved about with signs of standing corn, long faint and weathered. Neighbors said she so hated the sight of it she left the corn to stand around it when time came to harvest, and hired a laborer to do it - a free black called Sam. Accidents come with all farm work, where sickles and knives, axes and hoes all have their part; but you don't need a blade to harvest ears of corn, so no one could ever quite figure how Sam lost three toes on his left foot out in the field that day, though none blamed him for refusing to go back to finish. When she could find no laborer to do the work, the Widow Dreyfus left the ears on the stalk for the yellow-eyed magpies.

"She couldn't keep chickens or turkeys in her yard, because of the magpies," Joel Welch once told the Corn Rock Express. "The chickens wouldn't last a minute. I saw once, she had bought three hens, and had them out by the porch; threw down some parched corns. The magpies came in from the field, a whole flock of them, must have been twenty birds, all black and yellow. They fought the chickens for the corn...and left the hens bloody. Now a magpie, it's no match for a chicken, on its own. The larger birds can be fierce - but they couldn't fly, and they were outnumbered. You ever see ants take down a caterpillar? It was like that. The Widow Dreyfus tried to shoo them away with a shotgun, but it was too late. The magpies flew away with every kernel - and the hen's eyes."

The first pioneers to what would become Corn Rock were Marbonites - an offshoot of an offshoot of the followers of Joseph Smith. The Marbonites held close to the idea of each family as a priesthood in itself; they shared a community, but there were no doctrinal disputes, nor any sort of organized church. "Each man and woman shall come to Christ through their own understanding," Jefferson Marbon said; and so Corn Rock was not founded with any sort of temple, but each homestead built their own chapel for private worship, and every married man was a high priest of his own personal religion. One of the most colorful legacies of this sect are the Marbonite bibles - which, according to tradition, each man would copy out by hand from his father's tome: errors, apocrypha, and omissions; illustrations according to their own tastes and abilities.

"Corn witches" are the dolls made of dried corn stalks made by the children in Corn Rock; they are often set on stakes out in the field, or on the ledges of kitchen windows, for the magpies have no fear of humans. They take many different forms, from the simplest star-shaped figures to true grotesques like swollen babies with evil faces. The magpies have no fear of humans, but the hunched and monstrous forms of the corn witches tend to make them hesitate, and some of the people of Corn Rock have pursued this folk art well into adulthood.

One of the best makers of corn witches was William Keffer, who lived near the county line, his house backed up to the forested foothills where a stream from the mountains fed into Still Creek. Not accounted for much as a farmer, "Mr. Bill" was known for the quality of his moonshine, and this brought him more human contact than he might else have seen living so far from the 'rock and town center. Solitude suited Keffer better, after his folks died, and he grew strange. Visitors would always remark on the size and hideousness of his corn witches, some of which were like shriveled mummies with too many limbs, that laid in the house on chairs and beds. Many thought that they kept Mr. Bill company, now that he was alone, and showed no interest in finding a wife. Stills are tricky business though, and one night a fire broke out - fortunately, when about six of Keffer's customers were over. Folks helped other folks out with fires in those days, and the stream was nearby, but the fire caught the 'shine and it was all those six could do to hold Mr. Bill back as he screamed about how they were burning... nor could anyone console him when the ashes cooled enough to sort through the ruins, rooting about with ash-blackened fingers.

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