FICTION

A Good Night

PAULINE LIPSCOMB

On a good night, the moon traces the ridges and passes of the mountains and gives just enough light to lovers and thieves. On a bad night, the coal black hollers echo the sounds of a cricket crawling and folks whisper and sleep with their children. Claire Goddard knew the difference, and tonight was not a good night. The only evidence that the little house hadn't fallen into a black hole was the sound of the October wind as it snaked through the fragile remains of the garden. Her worn flannel gown was no match for the springs of the old mattress as she tossed and turned. She landed on her stomach just long enough to catch a break in the clouds. The black window came to life as the moonlight wedged into the hillside and caught a running shadow.

In a single motion, Claire sat up, crossed her legs and pulled a handful of copper curls into one hand. Without a sound, she found the oil lamp and walked through the doorway. The lamp brought down the darkness but cast heavy shadows across the pecked wood floor. Some leftover biscuits and a half eaten apple were huddled in the middle of the table. She fell into a chair and spun the apple by its stem until it took a bounce and proceeded to wiggle and thud across the floor. The apple stopped in the corner, but the thuds did not. Instead, they became louder and seemed closer. She stood stick straight and carried the lamp into the bedroom, closed door and bolted the latch. She extinguished the lamp and put it on the floor. As she turned toward the window, a cool breeze met her face. In her mind raced the shadow, the footsteps, and the window until a hand slid across her mouth and something sharp pricked the base of her spine.

Her nose took a hit of sourness, mold, and moonshine. She had lost the lamp, but the man had found it. He lit the room and exposed a look befitting the smell. He looked like an overgrown rotten potato and her face was a mirror to the fact. His eyes erupted with laughter, but it exploded into wet and ragged cough. His hold momentarily loosened, but he regained his grip to include the neck of her gown and drug her stumbling into the kitchen. He released her and she stood still with her back to him as a chair scraped across the floor, a body fell into it, and the plate with the remaining biscuits was pulled to one side.

He demanded her to sit. Without looking up, she moved toward the chair, but fell hard over a sack on the floor. She looked up toward the man as his pupil-less black eyes bore into her. She scrambled to her feet but remained focused on the floor as hot tears started to slide from the corner of her eyes. He stripped the rope from around the top of the sack and jerked it away from what turned out to be the biggest ground hog she had ever seen.

He pounded his fist on the table and barked, "Get to cookin'." He pulled off his rotting boots and from one of them produced a small pistol that he laid on the edge of the table. He winked a red eye at her and propped the lizard-like feet on the table.

She dragged the sack over by the sink and reached in for the dead ground hog. It weighed at least forty pounds and she could hardly pick it up. After several attempts, she heaved the dead weight into the sink. She had never skinned an animal, but had seen it done many times. It was slimy and at least a week old, but she focused herself on the task at hand. After some time, she had what amounted to a big pink rat in a pot, raw hands and a backache. She lit the fire in the old stove and balanced the heavy pot as best she could onto the stove. She picked up the bucket of water and poured it in the pot, amplifying both the look and the smell of rotten meat. The stench filtered through her nose and forced its way through every pore of her body. She scrubbed her hands for as long as possible, then with no other choice she turned to face her captor – who was sound asleep.

Her mind swam in circles; the sounds from the sleeping intruder assured her that freedom was steps away. Instead, she walked to the cupboard and retrieved the spools of handmade rope and silently unwound them into a pool on the floor. With surgical precision, she knotted the man as fly in a web. She slipped the gun from the table and into her pocket and slid to the floor to wait.

Grunting sounds and the greasy smell of the cooking meat woke her. Brown bubbles were pouring from the edges of the massive pot and the man was waking. It had to be three or four in the morning, but her eyes were wide and bright. She jumped to her feet and turned down the flame on the stove and pulled a plate from the cupboard. The bubbling pot quieted and the man began to blink and smack his dusty mouth. After a few blind attempts to stretch and then stand, his eyes burst open with sobriety born of panic. The moonshine was long gone and the man squinted and writhed from side to side in the chair.

She slid the small gun from under her apron and placed the cool barrel in the middle of his crusty forehead. "Your dinner's ready," she whispered.

Bulging veins danced like earthworms under his skin as she pocketed the pistol and began to pile a plate full of the hot, putrid meat. She sat down in front of him and jabbed a slimy piece onto a fork and directed it at the man's face.

Sweat beads carved trails through his dirty face and his eyes began to water. He tried to open his mouth but could not. She tipped the plate and hot juice spilled into his lap as he screamed out in agony. Again, she offered him the meat. Tears streamed down his face as he opened his mouth and closed his eyes. She stuffed the greasy blob into his practically toothless mouth. He winced as he tried to chew it, but it appeared to get bigger and bigger. He gagged and sputtered and began to cough again, as the scorching bite wedged itself deeper into his throat. After a few minutes he began to turn blue. His eyes bugged out and veins rippled from his chin to his shoulder blades.

She looked into his black eyes for the last time, picked up the empty water bucket and closed the door behind her.

–e-