Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Melania watched as Otis, together with his weeping-wife, Emeretta, a half-dozen chickens, a barking skin and bones mutt named Lucky, and ten barefoot youngsters piled into and under a tarped ‘n tied Ford flatbed. The children waved goodbye. Melania covered the bottom part of her face with the ragged corner of a flower-print flour sack, squinted her eyes against the blowing grit, and waved back just before she ran toward the house where the porch provided some scant shelter. A lump formed in her throat as the smoking truck piled high with a lifetime of accumulated treasures lurched and chugged through the barnyard gate. It was still dark outside and before long, even the pinprick red glow of the truck’s rear lights could no longer be seen through her tear blurred vision. The Johansen’s were the last of the hired hands to leave … and they were good people. Damn the unrelenting wind!
Neither Melania, her brother Parley, nor her mother Jesska blamed the working families for wanting to find better jobs in California. Montana crops had failed last year and the year before that along with the crops of almost the entire Midwest of the United States. This year, nineteen thirty-six, looked no better. There was hardly enough scraggly vegetables growing in the parched garden behind the house to feed three people … scarce water … and no cash money. Melania removed the rag from her nose and sneezed as she forced closed the kitchen door behind her. She took a deep breath. If only it would rain!
Melania’s mother was placing wet strips of twisted burlap around the window frames to keep out the invasive sift. An oil lamp flickered on the table. “Did you hide the bags of flour and sugar in their truck?”
“Yes,” Melania said. “In the box with the pots and pans. Emma will find them when she starts supper.”
Jesska turned clear black eyes toward her daughter. “You should have run away with Joseph Callahan when he asked you. There are better things in America than taking care of an old woman like me!”
Melania laughed. “That was years ago! I’ll be sixty-six years old … come April nineteenth!”
“You still look twenty … and that’s all that matters,” Jesska smiled at her daughter. “The clocks of life all run a little slower in our family.”
“With a little help from Ombré!” Melania pointed to the carved recipe box sitting on a splintered board - next to a red and black can of Juno cream tarter. “I swear if firewood weren’t in such short supply around here, the good and respectful citizens of Cloverdale would tie you to the closest fence post and burn you at the stake … and I might even supply the matches!”
“If you think I’m just an old strega then don’t be afraid to say it!” Jesska felt an argument with her only female offspring coming on and she secretly smiled … mother and daughter bonding!
“Witch! Witch! Witch in a ditch!” Melania sang as she lifted a broom from a corner and pretended to fly about the room all the while eyeing dirt around the door she’d just came through. “She’ll cast a spell to make you itch. Stuff your bed with a yellow snake …”
“… and comb your hair with a garden rake!” Jesska finished the taunting rhyme for her daughter as she flicked precious water from her fingers back into the bowl. The thirsty carrots in the garden would get what was left.
“Honestly mother,” Melania said as she leaned down and swept dust onto the cover of Liberty’s March 1936 issue. “I wouldn’t mind you using a little magia … if only you could get this blasted wind to stop … and maybe get us some help in the fields! Who is going to haul our barrels of water from the river?” Melania shook her head. She thought Clark Gable’s face needed a good washing if he was going to have a new romance in his life. She carried the magazine to the corner and emptied the dust into an apple crate lined with old Vanishing River Tribune newspapers.
“I’ve been thinking of trying a new recipe,” Jesska said as she took the carved box from the shelf above the sink. “But I wanted to wait until we were … only us.”
“Why is this spell dangerous?” Melania walked over to look as her mother lifted yellowed papers from the box. Each hand-painted illustration had inked words written in Latin on the back.
“All magia is trouble,” Jesska said as she sorted through the Tarot.
Melania sat at the kitchen table stuffing straw into empty feed-bags and sewing colored cloth pieces for eyes nose and mouth onto the bleached white material. “I don’t know why we need a half-dozen scarecrows,” Melania called to her mother who was outside attaching a large bell to a rope and pulley mounted high above her on a tree branch. “I haven’t seen a bird in days … they must have followed everyone to California.”
“You’ll have to speak louder my timid daughter …. I can’t hear anything with this wind!” Melania gazed out the window. Her broomstick-thin mother wearing her long homemade dress looked like a rippling blanket caught on a fencepost. Melania got up and opened the door. “I said there are no crows left to ….”
The bell clanged once as Jesska hoisted it into the air and the wind abruptly stopped. The silence was eerie. Melania’s ears popped and she could hear foundation boards creaking under the house along with frightened rodents scampering for cover. The Roland Rolfs’ Tall-Clock, ticking in the parlor, sounded like a robot lumberman chopping wood.
“Where did you get that bell?” Melania gasped. In the stillness, it sounded as if she were shouting. Morning sunlight showed the words Mary Celeste engraved in the tarnished brass.
“From a dead ship’s captain,” Jesska said as she tied the taunt rope to a tree branch. “No one knows the secrets of the wind like a sailing man.”
Melania carried the scarecrow head she was sewing out onto the porch. Clouds in the suddenly blue sky were rushing away in all directions and twelve rows of corn in the field to the east slowly spread their leaves outward after days of being tightly bound against the wind. Bessie the milk cow took three steps from the barn and bellowed loudly … obviously terrified by the sudden change in her environment.
“There are posts leaning against the chicken house,” Jesska said as she gazed about the farm. “Plant them in the ground at the far end of the field – one between each row of corn. They must be deep enough to hold a Tattie-bogle … at least for a night.”
“Shouldn’t this be a job for Parley?” Melania asked as she picked up a shovel and walked toward the chicken coop.
“Your brother is tending to the sick in town and will probably sleep in his office if his non-paying customers allow him to,” Jesska said. “Tonight is the full moon and the wind will not hold its life-giving breath forever … bell or no bell!”
“What are you going to be doing while I’m digging post holes?” Melania called over her shoulder. “Drinking tea and spreading jam on that last slice of bread?”
“I’ll be cleaning your brother’s gun,” Jesska said, “after I have my tea of course. Creazione spells are often unpredictable … and always dangerous!”
Melania woke up when her mother tapped her shoulder. “Wake up child! The moon is looking down at us and it’s about to shed the clouds it’s wearing.”
Melania sat up and yawned. “What time is it?” As if in answer the Tall-Clock in the parlor chimed twelve times as she rose and dressed.
There was still no wind on the porch, but the air outside had a strange frostiness that made goose-bumps appear on Melania’s naked arms. Jesska sat in a rocking chair with her brother’s double barrel shotgun spread across her lap. She was staring at the corn.
“Really mother!” Melania yawned again. “You expecting a raid on the chicken coop?”
“I don’t know what will come … only that something will.” She pointed to the rope tied to the tree branch. “Ring the bell three times when I drop my hand then get back here behind me as quick as you can. Don’t bother to retie the rope. Dent and dirt on an old ship’s bell will hopefully be our only trouble!” Melania walked to the tree and carefully untied the rope. She could hear her own heart beating as she waited for her mother. Jesska raised her hand high in the air and waited for the last clouds to leave the moon. There was a sudden bright light that created dancing shadows under the trees.
“Dio del vento ascolta le mie parole!” the oldest woman in America chanted. “Abbiamo bisogno di vostra grazia alla vita nuova forma. Favore attende tutto bene mentre doom deve cogliere il male. Portare avanti il tuo respiro ora!” Jesska dropped her hand and Melania pulled on the rope.
Clang! The ground shook beneath her feet and Melania almost fell.
Clang! Green leaves fell from the trees and covered the ground like a blanket.
Clang! The river stones cemented around the farm’s well caught fire and began to burn.
“Run!” Jesska screamed to her daughter. The tone of her mother’s voice acted like a shot of adrenaline. Melania hurdled onto the porch holding her breath until she was safely behind the rocking chair. Then she waited.
After several minutes of silence Melania began to breathe normally again. “I don’t see what the …”
“Shhhhh,” Jesska whispered and pointed toward the corn.
Two scarecrows, moving slowly with great caution, peered from behind the tall rows of corn. At least one more could be seen hidden in the leaves. The red and gold circles of fabric Melania had sewn on the scarecrows for eyes were gone and in their place – a glimpse of pale white flesh and powder-blue eyes peered outward at a new world. Both the apparitions smiled timidly … and Melania smiled back. “Put that gun away Mother,” Melania said. “These creatures …”
“Momett,” Jesska corrected her daughter. “I have created Momett!”
“These Momett are nothing more than children!” Melania said, and crept from the porch, crooning, “Don’t be afraid …. We won’t hurt you!”
“Come back!” Jesska screamed. Melania was halfway to the corn when a loud boom, followed by another, then another resounded from the end of the field. The ground shook as three enormous black monsters two on each side and one in the middle of the field came thundering toward them, towering over rows of flying and uprooting corn. These scarecrows were at least twice as large as the ones Melania had stuffed. “Get inside the house and lock the door!” Jesska yelled as she stood and leveled the shotgun.
“What in the Hell?” Melania shrieked as she ran past her trembling mother.
“Hodmedod!” Jesska gasped, “But Hell is not a bad translation.”
Melania was just turning to pull her mother inside when the old gun blasted. Flames shot from the end of the rusty barrel and illuminated three sets of murderous black eyes as the monsters burst up the stairs and onto the porch. Bits of cloth and burning straw flew in all directions. The support post on one side of the structure shattered and the shake shingle roof covering the porch collapsed. “Mother!” Melania screamed as she reached for the door. Dust, debris and death filled the air. Clawed fingers made of rotted straw-becoming-flesh, clamped onto Melania’s arm … just as the shotgun fired again.
To be continued …