Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Pox

Tonight is all quiet again, and it makes me think about the scary things, but I’m maybe less scared because I know Daddy keeps me safe.  I know it.  I know it real good.  When I say my prayers I say thank you for my Daddy.  For Mama too.

I can hear Jon and Mary and Sarah and they are all asleep and Jon is snoring a little.  I can’t hear Daddy and Mama, but I know they are right downstairs and their room is near the door.  Every once in a while there’s a clickity click click of Buck’s nails as he goes snuffing around the house in his lumpy way, and it wakes me up but I then feel safe because he’s a good good dog.

And he’s big and he has big teeth and when he barks it’s like his whole body barks, worf worf down low and thick and deep.

Mama tucked me in tonite and she said, baby girl, you know it’s OK, Daddy’s here and Mama’s here and Uncle Jim’s just right there in the next farm and we’re all together and we all watch out for each other just like family should.  And she rocks me like she did when I was five, and even though I’m nine and bigger now it still feels good.

An Daddy came up, and said goodnight little Button you try to sleep tonite and gave me a bristly kiss on my head just like he always does.  And I should sleep and I try and everybody else is sleeping.  The blankets are nice and warm and the house is cooling down and it’s so cozy but I’m still scared and my heart feels all tight.

It’s cause of the Pox.

I wish I never heard of the Pox and it wasn’t real, but it is an that scares me terrible way down in my heart.  Specially now.  Real special terrible now.

I member when Daddy first told me, cause I was seven and old enough to go picking, and he took me up real serious and said, Button, we got to talk bout you going into the woods.  And I said Daddy I can do it, Jon does it, and you know sometimes I come back from the schoolhouse now all by myself when I help Ms. Jess with the cleanup.

And he smile that big easy Daddy smile and says yeah, yeah Button, you’re a great helper.  But then he got all serious.  Button, the schoolhouse is up North near to town.  But you got to be careful in the wild woods to the South.  We go there, and the pickings are good, but our family isn’t nowhere near town cause we like it out here, and sometimes the Pox spreads up this far.

I’d heard Daddy and Uncle Jim talking bout that sometimes, and him and Mama whispering some nights before Daddy went out with a bunch of men from the town on horseback.  Mama’d cry real quiet after he went out, and even more for happiness when he came back right before sun-up.

But I knew better than to ask bout things where it weren’t my place.

Now Daddy sat there right in front of me, all grim, and told me bout the Pox.  

Usually it stays to the South, Button, down in the Barrens and the Long Hot Dry.  But sometimes in bad seasons it gets hungry, and leaves the Poxed lands, and tries to go spreading on up this way to the sweet green top of the world.  

But what is it, Daddy, I said.

He got quiet again.  Button, it’s like a sickness, something like that flu you got last year.  ‘member that, how bad you and Mary and Mama got even with Doc coming here?

I nodded.  That felt so bad, cept when I broke my wrist I never felt worse, like my head was goin to just bust open.  Daddy was so scared, cause he knew that little Cousin Daniel just had died from it.  He was barely more than a baby, and that was so sad.  I would a been scared, too, but I was too sick feeling to be anything else.

Yeah, well, says Daddy, that’s what it’s kinda like.  When the sun gets red ‘cause the dust blows from the Dry into the Barrens, the Pox gets hungry, and it comes up here to eat and spread.  It wants real bad to make us into it.

I looked all fuddled, cause I didn’t know what he meant, and I said so.  So Daddy tried to splain it a little more.  

The Pox looks kinda like people.  Almost.  Some of them may have been people, once.  But they aren’t.  They’re...something else.  And if we aren’t careful, if we don’t keep watch and keep it back, every one of us will just get all eaten up by it.  No more me.  No more Mama or you.  Just the Pox, everywhere, and no more people in the whole wide earth.

What, what does it look like, I said, my voice all hitchin up.

Daddy told me.  It was horrible and scary and I don’t like to be thinkin about it, but course now I can’t help it cause I seen it for myself.

And then Daddy said, Button, you go pickin, but you get out a the woods before the sun gets too low in the sky, cause that’s when it comes.  If you ever see the Pox in the woods, you hide and stay real quiet till you can run, then you come on home fast and quiet as you can and you get me or Uncle Jim.  And you can’t ever let it touch you.  Don’t get close, no matter what.  He paused, like he was thinking of something. 

And...don’t you listen to it.

That got me even more scared and I said, it can talk, Daddy?

He looked real hard.  Yeah, Button.  It talks.  But all the Pox does is lie, so’s it can get you close and...touch you.  You don’t listen.  You don’t ever listen.   If you ever see the Pox, ever, you just do exactly what I told you.  You do anything you need to get away.  You hear?

And I said yes and I really did mean it but now I’m so scared I’m so stupid I should have done what Daddy said.

I’m so stupid, so stupid.

I shouldnta stayed out there in the woods, so stupid.  I shouldnta gone in so deep, but two days ago it was Saturday and it was so nice and pretty and I kept saying oh, just a little more, and I thought I was being real careful, and even though I’d never been that far I thought I can find my way back real easy, then right when I knew I’d gone too far I found the patch.  

Oh, there was so many blackberries, like the biggest patch I ever seen ever and I had both of them new big ol baskets I made in class, and Emmy was her usual snotty self, like you’ll never fill baskets that big, she said, and I said sure I will.  

And they were so many all sweet and fat and the squirrels and birds hadn’t gotten them and I just guess I lost track a time.

I was like halfway through the second basket when I thought oh no, it’s getting dark, like, how did I not notice?  The woods were all shadows and strange.   And I knew Mama’d be mad and Daddy’d be madder and I was going to get a hiding and I’d totally deserve it.  So I started back, quick as I could.

But it got darker, and that setting sun was so red and I was like, suddenly all so scared, and I musta turned all wrong because then the path wasn’t where I thought because everything looked all different in the dark.  And the thing I thought was the path was like all brambles and thorns and nothing looked right at all.

And I wanted to yell out, but I was too far, nobody knew where I was, and then I went one way for a while but it was even more wrong and then I fell and got all scratched up and dropped all of the berries in one of the baskets.  

The woods were getting much dark now, where I couldn’t even really see totally right, and then it was like I could hear everything moving.  Rustling here and there, and hootings, and strange sounds, and I think I musta thought they were the Pox coming and that made me even more scared and dumb.

Because it was probably squirrels and birds.  The Pox is quieter than that.  But I didn’t know that then.

I was just about given up when I saw the clearing and the old barn.  I remember Jon telling me bout it once, about how he found it hunting, and there it was all deep in shadow.  There was what was left of a house, too, but that old barn had somehow kept on standing, from long ago when some family tried to make a go in their own clearing.  

And it looked scary, but it looked like maybe a place to hide, just hunker down in a corner and be real quiet like Daddy said, I think that was what I was thinking.  

I was so stupid.

I came in through that busted open barn door into the almost dark of that big hollow building, stepping so careful, and it smelled like dust and rot, the wood at the doorpost old and almost falling apart in your hand.  There was a big hole up there in the roof where it had fallen in, and that was the only light in the whole barn, coming in through that hole.  

It weren’t much light, but the rest of the barn was so dark, so I moved to it because I don’t know.

And then they stepped into the light too.  Both of them, so quiet you couldn’t barely hear them move, and my heart jumped up into my throat sos I could hardly breathe.  My fist went all tight round the basket handle, so's I could hear it crunch and it kinda cut in and hurt but I was too scared to notice.

There was a big Pock, and a little Pock, and they looked just like Daddy said the Pox would look.  Almost like people.  

The big Pock looked like a man taller than Uncle Jim, and the little Pock was like it was a girl just a little older than me.  It was hanging on the big Pock, hardly standing at all, and it looked like there was something wrong with it.  They were wearing clothes, almost like people clothes, though they was a bit strange and torn up.

But even though it was dark, they weren’t people.  You could see it, just like Daddy told me.

You can tell cause their skin is gone rotten through and through, Daddy had said.  It’s not white and pink like the skin of real human people.  Pock skin is all wrong colors, like a bad apple or a dead deer you find half eaten in the field.  All the Pox are rotted and wrong and have no soul and you can see it on their outside, Daddy said.  

That’s how you know for sure a Pock is not a person, Daddy said.

And that’s just what they were, skin like sickness, black as the night woods, and I was so scared I could hardly move, and then the big Pock spoke.

Please, it said, in a whisper voice that was scary cause it was like almost a person voice.  We’re just so hungry.  All we are is hungry.  Please.  We don’t mean no harm, it said.  It took a step closer, and the smaller Pock came with it, eyes down, wobbly on its feet.  

I wanted to run, just run, but it was like I was in a bad dream, and my body couldn’t move, l couldn’t make it move.

It came closer still, and I could see it was terrible lean, like a skeleton almost, eyes sunk into the dark hollow of its head.  

Hey girl, hey.  Little girl, hey, we’re just so hungry, please… and it saw the basket, and took another step.  Berries?  You got berries?  We haven’t...eaten.  It’s been days.  If you could just...just maybe give us some, just a little, not all of them just...”

And I opened my mouth, cause I was trying to scream but I couldn’t and nothing would come out.

Hey, hey, and the Pock was speaking soft now, soft as a snake, Don’t be scared, hey, you’re lost, we’re lost and scared too, look, don’t be scared, and still it talked and it was lying, lying so it could touch me, lying so it could spread, and another step forward, and its hand reaching out, dark rot Pox flesh on a big bony hand.

Worf, worf, came the sound, so nearby, it was Buck I knew it, I heard him and it was like I suddenly woke up and I dropped the berries and bolted like a bat-struck ball.  The Pock lunged and grabbed and  Wait! Stop, you something something it said, and it had the basket, and it was coming after me and it had my basket but I was out the barn door and running right fast.

There coming up was Daddy, and Uncle Jim, and a bunch of the men from church, all of them with torches and guns, and Buck just worfing and barking deep and angry.

Daddy, I said, and he dropped his rifle and held me.  Button, he said, Oh God, Button, you don’t never ever do that again, you hear me you…

But then Uncle Jim saw the Pock, stopped up sudden right there at the edge of the barn shadow.  And the Pock saw Uncle Jim, and Uncle Jim raised his big powder gun.

No, said the Pock, its voice sounding almost like it was scared.  No please I’ve got a…

Uncle Jim’s musket barked deep like Buck, and the big Pock fell back into the dark.

Did it touch you, baby, did it touch you, Daddy whispered, kneeling down in close.  I shook my head no, no, no.  Then, even quieter, is there any others in there, Button, is there?

And I nodded, cause there was.

Daddy stood up.  Burn it, he said.  Burn it dead.

The men with torches came at that barn real careful, while others kept guns up, and some lit the edges of that dry crumblerot wood, and others pitched their torches in to where the straw and the big Pock body lay.

I’m taking Button home, Daddy said to Uncle Jim.  Make sure nothing gets out.  And Uncle Jim nodded all serious.

That barn went up so quick, flames a jumping, the fire burned high and bright and lit up the woods all round and cast our shadows like giants.   Daddy and me were just reaching the edge of the clearing when all a sudden I heard the small Pock start up its screaming.  

Screaming and screaming, and it sounded so much like a girl, like it was really a girl and she was burning alive and I never heard anything so horrible in my life.

I tried to cover my ears I did, but that Pock just cried out so’s covering your ears didn’t help, and it went on and on and didn’t stop until there was a shot and then it did.

But I can still hear the Pox, there in my head, even right now in my bed in the dark with my covers held tight.  That voice.  That scream.

That’s what I told Mama last night when I woke everybody up, and she held me, and said oh Button, just you know me and Daddy will always keep you safe.  Just you tell yourself that.  It’ll go away.

So that’s what I say now, and I feel a little better.  Daddy will always keep me safe.  He will.  

I know it.


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