Chapter Seven—Raised on Songs and Stories
Sunday night . . .
Linda dreamed again; she stood on the boulder by the brook, completely nude, and the boulder was sitting in the middle of a triangle of ground that was bare of snow, that even had thick green clumps of clover growing in it. At the far corner of the triangle the clover had blossomed into patches of lovely white flowers, some of which were dying.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something moving. Turning, she saw Frank standing on the edge of the triangle; he was also naked. She stepped down off of the boulder, took his hand, and led him across.
As they sank to the ground and showered each other with kisses, the words to a song her father used to sing ran through her mind: O, this is number one, and our song has just begun, roll me over lay me down and do it again . . . roll me o-over in the clo-over, roll me over lay me down and do it again . . .
When Frank entered her, he took her more vigorously than he ever had before, thrusting with what had to have been every bit of his strength. He’d never done her like that before; he’d always been gentle. Now she found that being manhandled wasn’t to her liking. As a matter of fact, he was hurting her.
She looked pleadingly into his eyes and saw that they weren’t the brown color she remembered, but were blue. Not blue like Rat Stephens’s eyes, but a dull, smoky blue, like a blind cat’s. No sooner had she noticed this than Frank started to . . . change. The husky belly that she loved to snuggle against receded, as did all of his flesh, until he looked like he was half-dead of starvation. His skin turned yellow, his face horselike and lantern-jawed, his hair sickly white. His hands turned to claws, and his teeth to fangs. His eyes sank into his head and started to glow. He came, and it felt like ice inside of her.
Ol’ Scratch withdrew, stood up, laughed. Said: “You really are a stupid girl. Do you know that? I can’t believe that my ruse worked so well.”
Linda lay catatonic in the clover. Ol’ Scratch went on. “You are a very stupid girl. You see, my dear, I knew that this would work, because I’ve seen through your eyes and through the eyes of those who bore this necklace before you that humans have forgotten the Old Arts almost completely. You’re all begging small favors from the silent Creator who sits on His mountain and waits for you to help yourselves, and those of you with even the slightest knowledge of the Old Arts are bowing to the weakling Goddess who couldn’t help you even if She wanted to. You see, dearest Linda, a woman’s spiritual strength is augmented greatly by her physical purity. When you gave Frank your maidenhead, you also gave him a large portion of the power of your Wyrd. As your power wanes, so does mine wax; such was the geis placed upon you when you accepted the necklace. Now there remains but one thing to do: To kill you, so that I may take control of your body. I will twist it into this,” he motioned to his hideous, naked form, “and then I may finally feed again. After so many thousands of years, I shall feed again!”
Ol’ Scratch rushed foreward. Linda, regaining her composure just in time, bolted into the wasteland forest. There was an angry shout behind her, and the still air was drawn into a gale-force wind that blew faster and faster, louder and louder as she ran. She ran faster, beating herself about the head and shouting, “Wake up, dammit! Wake up!” She looked back and saw a gigantic eagle swooping down toward her. When it moved below the treetops, something black shot out of the forest and blindsided it.
The raven. Her raven.
And then she woke up.
Her mother was shaking her and shouting, “Linda Jennifer Kilgore, you wake up this instant! You’re going to be late for school!”
Linda rolled over and faced her mother, who looked down at her daughter grimly. Jenny Kilgore’s face softened upon seeing her daughter’s bedraggled expression; she put a hand on her forehead. “Oh, you’re burning up,” she said, “and I’ll bet you’ve got a chill as well, you poor thing. You’re certainly not going to school today. Just stay up here and get some rest; if you come downstairs, I’ll make you some nice hot soup. How does that sound?”
Linda smiled. “Sounds good, Mom.”
Her mother left. Linda knew that she wasn’t sick, and she desperately wanted to go to school because she didn’t want to sleep anymore, but something—the same something that had told her to confront the assholes and to take Frank home with her—told her that it was time to end this. There was a word that Ol’ Scratch had used, a word she had heard somewhere before. The word was Wyrd, and she’d heard it in English class, and again in Mythology class.. It didn’t have a translation in Modern English, but it corresponded roughly with dharma and destiny, and had something (she couldn’t remember the specifics) to do with three sisters and a well. One thing she did remember was that Wyrd couldn’t be altered. Come Hell or high water, the wheel always turns full circle and drops you off at your appointed place; what separates the men from the boys (so to speak) is whether you slump down and complain about how unfair it all is, or you accept your Wyrd and rise up to meet it.
When will we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.
Round about the cauldron go; in the poison’d entrails throw . . . Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble . . .
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes . . .
Linda fell asleep.
When Linda entered the dream-world, she was—thank the gods!—fully clothed. The eagle and her raven were gone, but two smaller ravens were watching her intently, studying her through their beady eyes like a pair of little black scientists. As she walked through the wasteland, they flitted from branch to branch, following along a few paces behind her.
A few minutes’ walking brought her back to the clearing, where Ol’ Scratch sat glumly on a log, drawing doodles in the snow with one of his claws. Letting the Wyrd guide her, she crept along as silently as she could, stopping behind the boulder, where she saw that something was off. Sticking out of the side of the boulder, so seamlessly attached that it was as one with the stone, was the hilt of a sword. It was inlaid with gold and silver filigree, and the pommel looked like a ruby carved in the shape of a crow or raven, and had a gold chain hanging off of it. She grabbed it with both hands and pulled.
It slid out easily. What she held in her hands was an Irish hand-and-a-half, just as she’d seen pictures of in books. Its blade looked like cold iron electroplated with silver, and was engraved all over with intricate spirals. It felt good in her hands. Natural. Like an extension of her arm. As if she had been incomplete up until that very moment.
As she stood up with the blade in her hands, Ol’ Scratch’s eyes met hers. He smiled and said, “Little girl, why keep up this game of cat and mouse? Your power is broken, and you cannot hide from me here. Not even the Terrible Queen, that accursed raven of yours, will be able to save you in the end. Surrender, and it won’t hurt at all. I give you my word.”
She stepped out from behind the boulder and brandished the hand-and-a-half. Ol’ Scratch seemed almost afraid. He stammered, “You . . . how did you . . . So she succeeded, then, that bitch! Selah, may the Fir Bulg burn for all eternity for failing to butcher the Children of Danu! It doesn’t matter, though. I’ll have my vessel.”
He rushed foreward. Linda, in a panic, swung the sword like a baseball bat. Ol’ Scratch danced out of the way; the wound it inflicted was barely more than a papercut, but he squealed and writhed like he’d been branded with a hot iron. Taking advantage of his weakness, Linda swung again--burying the blade deep in his shoulder--and stabbed him repeatedly. She was about to stab him in the heart, but—looking down at the beaten, emaciated thing bleeding in the snow—couldn’t bring herself to do it.
She would come to regret her weakness.
For the second time that day, Linda was awakened by someone shaking her.
“Linda,” said a disembodied voice, “Hey, Linda. Earth to Linda . . . come in, Linda . . .”
Linda rolled over to confront the voice’s owner. It was Frank.
“What are you doing here?”, she asked sleepily.
“You weren’t at school today, so I came to check on you.”
“School’s out already? Damn. Feels like I was only dreaming for about half an hour.”
Frank sat down on the bed and stroked her hair. Asked: “Are you feeling better?”
“A lot better. Better than I have in a while, actually.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Linda looked up at him gravely, asked: “Frank, sweetie, you’d do anything for me, right?”
“Of course I would. Anything at all.”
“I need you to take that necklace off of my nightstand. Then go down to the garage, and find a hammer. Then take it up into the mountains and smash it. Alright?”
“I can’t explain it, Frank. I just need you to do it. Alright?”
“Okay. If you’re asking me to, I will.”
“I am. And I need you to go do it right now; don’t waste any time.”
She sighed with relief. “Thank you. Thank you so much. And Frank?”
“I love you.”
Frank smiled warmly. “I love you, too, Linda.”
Frank hadn’t been gone but about a minute when Linda’s father walked in. Charlie Kilgore cut an imposing figure: He was tall (Seven feet is his height with some inches to spare / He looks like a king in command), broad-shouldered, as strong as an ox, with a sagging beer belly, skin the color of dried blood, and long black hair pulled into a ponytail. He wore blue jeans, work boots, and a black shirt with a red cat and the words “I.W.W.—Solidarity Forever—One Big Union” printed on it. He was holding an ice cream cone in one of his big gorilla hands. He handed it to Linda.
Smiling, she took it and asked, “An ice cream cone, Dad? Really?”
Charlie Kilgore smiled. “Does it have to be some kind of special occasion for a father to dote upon his daughter? Mind if I sit down, Kiddo?”
Linda gestured to the chair by her nightstand and asked with a shiteating grin, “What’s wrong, Dad?”
“What do you mean?”
“You got me an ice cream cone, and you’re calling me ‘Kiddo’; that means that something’s wrong, and it probably has to do with me.”
The big old Indian sighed. “I’m that predictable, am I? Listen, Kiddo, I . . . It can wait. Let’s talk some first. We haven’t really talked in a while.”
“Sure, Dad. What do you want to talk about?”
“Well . . . what’s new? Anything important happen in the past couple days?”
Linda blushed, bit her lower lip, looked down. “Yeah . . . but I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about it yet.”
Charlie Kilgore smiled paternally, said, “I think I know. And that’s what—“
Linda cut him off: “Dad!”
“Those old stories that Grandpa used to tell; do you remember many of them?”
“A couple. Why?”
“Could you tell me about the Wendigo?”
He cleared his throat. “Dad didn’t like to tell that one a whole lot, but I think I remember it. Let’s see . . . Up north and back in them pre-Columbian days, cannibalism was verboten. Even if you were starving to death, eating somebody was bad medicine. If you did it, and the spirits caught you doing it—they always did—they’d put a curse on you. You’d go nuttier than squirrel pantry, run screaming off into the woods, and after a while drop dead from exhaustion. When you woke up, you wouldn’t be you anymore, you’d be turned into this thing, a Wendigo. A Wendigo is a kind of in-between creature; it’s part man, part animal, part rock, part tree, part spirit. It can change its shape; sometimes it’s a great big bear, or a wolf, or a deer, or an eagle, but its favorite form is a great big man with claws like an eagle’s and a face like a wolf’s. It travels on the wind, and it’s always hungry, consumed with the same unholy hunger that cost it its humanity. The only way to kill a Wendigo is with silver or fire. We used to couldn’t do anything with silver, so they were a real pain in the ass. But after the crackers showed up and showed us how to work metal, all the Wendigos got killed off. Good riddance, if you ask me. I don’t hold with all that supernatural stuff.”
Steeling herself for what she sensed was coming, Linda asked, “So, Dad, what was it you really wanted to talk about?”
The old Indian grimaced, took a deep breath. “Listen, Kiddo . . . We’ve had the Big Talk, right? Where I explain where babies come from?”
“Well, Kiddo, you’re a big girl now, and I think it’s time I added an amendment to the Big Talk. Listen, Linda: I’m not going to tell you to wait, because I know your eyes’ll just glaze right over, but remember this: First of all, use protection, because if you don’t, you will get a disease, and you will get knocked up. Second of all, always remember to have some self-respect; there’s a word for girls like that Molly Maguire you’re friends with, and it rhymes with ‘door.’ Got it?”
Charlie let out the breath that he’d been holding. “You’re a good kid, Linda. A damn good kid. And I love you.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
Charlie got up to leave. He stopped in the doorway, turned around, smiled knowingly, and said, “Oh, and a couple more things. Frank’s mom said that he should call first if he wants to spend the night here. And your mom is going to miss those pills you stole.”
He was gone before Linda could say anything.
Frank stood in front of the work bench in the Kilgores’ garage, looking for a hammer. He’d found one and was about to reach for it when a commanding voice behind him bellowed, “Frank Benson! Just the honky I wanted to see!”
Frank turned around and found himself staring into the face of Charles L. Kilgore. The big Indian clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Frank, my boy, let’s you and me have a little man-to-man chat. Sound good?”
Frank, not sure what to do but terrified by the crazy look in the eyes of a man who could easily pick him up and toss him across the yard like a football, nodded and said that, yes, that sounded good.
The old Indian smiled paternally down at him and said, “You’ve been fucking my daughter. Aw, kid, don’t look at me like that, there ain’t nuthin’ to be scared of! You’re not half bad, for a slice of Wonderbread, and I really don’t think she could’ve ended up with a better guy. But don’t you ever, ever forget one thing: Linda will always be my baby girl, so if you hurt her or do her wrong in any way, I’ll rip your honky balls off and stick ‘em in that pretty white mouth of yours. Got it?”
“Good. Really, Frank, you’re a good kid, and I’m glad she picked you over one of them other assholes.” He ruffled Frank’s hair and walked off, singing, to the tune of The Wearing of the Green: “. . . out from many a mud-walled cabin, eyes were watching through the night . . . many a manly heart was pounding for the blessed morning light . . . murmurs rang along the valley like the banshee’s lonely croon . . . and a thousand pikes were flashing by the rising of the moon . . .”