Mystery walk, p.1
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       Mystery Walk, p.1

           Robert McCammon
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Mystery Walk


  "Yes," the woman said at last, lifting her finely shaped chin from where it had rested against one thin brown hand, her elbow supported in turn on the armrest of a cherrywood rocking chair. She'd been staring into the fire as the two rawboned men in their patched overcoats and scuffed workboots had been talking. Though she was outwardly thin and fragile, the woman had deep-set hazel eyes that radiated a thoughtful inner strength. Her name was Ramona Creekmore, and she was one-fourth Choctaw Indian; the breed blood showed in her sharp, proud cheekbones, in the lustrous russet of her shoulder-length hair, and in the eyes that were as dark and placid as a forest pond at midnight.

  When she spoke, John Creekmore shifted uneasily in his chair across the room. He'd pulled himself out of the way as they'd been talking, wanting to be no part of what was being said. He'd put his dog-eared Bible in his lap and looked into the fire and thought that Hell was all around him now, quickly closing in upon him. He had a long, lean, and weathered face, cracked with lines like a thin pane of autumn ice. His hair was thick and curly and reddish-brown, his eyes a clear ice-blue; Ramona had told him many times that she could see the sky in them, clouds when he was angry and rain when he was sad. Now, if she had looked into his eyes closely enough, she might've seen the approaching storm.

  The two men hadn't moved. They were leaning on each side of the fireplace like long blue-jeaned bookends. John placed his hands on his Bible and watched the back of Ramona's head.

  "Yes," she said quietly. "I'll come. "

  "No she won't!" John said harshly. The two men glanced at him, then waited for the woman to speak again. That angered him, and he said, "You two have made the trip up from Chapin for nothin'! It bein' such a cold day and all, I'm sorry for you. I know why you're here, and I know why you think my Ramona can help you, but that's all over now. It's in the past, and we're both tryin' to forget it. " He rose to his feet, still clutching his Bible. He stood tall, at six-three, and his broad shoulders stretched the red flannel shirt he wore. "My wife can't help you. Don't you men see that she's eight months along?"

  Ramona touched her stomach gently. Sometimes she could feel the baby kicking, but right now he - yes, it would be a boy, it had to be a boy, for her husband's sake - lay perfectly still, as if minding his manners because they had company. But she could feel his heart beating deep within her, like the soft fluttering of a bird aching to take flight.

  "Mr Creekmore," the taller man said quietly; his name was Stanton, and he wore a full winter beard flecked with gray. He was pale and gaunt, and John figured he wasn't too far from eating bootsole soup. "We can't go on like this, don't you understand?" The man's narrow face was pinched, as if in pain. "My God, man, we just can't!"

  "Don't you come in my house and take the Lord's name in vain!" John thundered. He stepped forward, raising his Bible like a weapon. "If you people in Chapin followed the Holy Word like you should, then maybe you wouldn't have this trouble! Maybe this is God's way of lettin' you know you've been sinners. Maybe it's meant to - "

  "That ain't the way it is," the second man, named Zachary, said wearily. He turned toward the fire, kicking at errant chips of wood. "Lord knows we didn't want to come here. But . . . it's a painful thing and not somethin' that you want to talk about or think about too much. People know about your wife, Mr. Creekmore; you can't deny that they do. Oh, not everybody, I mean, but a few people. People who've had a need. And now . . . " Zachary looked over his shoulder, directly at the woman. "We have the need. "

  "But you don't have the right!"

  Zachary nodded. "Yes, that may be. But we had to come, and we had to ask, and now we have to hear the answer. "

  "I've given it. " John raised the Bible high, firelight licking at the battered leather binding. "What you need is this, not my wife. "

  "Mr. Creekmore," Zachary said, "you don't understand, I'm Chapin's minister. "

  John's mouth hung open. The blood seemed to rush from his face, and the Bible slowly came down to his side. "Minister?" he echoed. "And you . . . you've seen this thing?"

  "I've seen it," Stanton said, and quickly averted his gaze to the fire. "Oh, yeah, I've seen the thing. Not too clear or too close, mind you . . . but I've seen it. "

  There was a long moment of silence between the men. The firewood popped and sizzled quietly, and the November wind crooned across the roof. Ramona rocked in her chair with her hands across her belly and watched John.

  "So you see," the minister said, "we didn't want to come. But it . . . it's an unholy thing not to try to do something. I've done all I could, which wasn't so much, I guess. Like I say, there are folks who know about your wife, and that's how we found out about her. I prayed to God about this, and Lord knows I don't understand it, but we had to come here and ask. Do you see, Mr Creekmore?"

  John sighed and sat back down. His face was slack-jawed, his eyes grim. "No, I don't. Nothin' I see about it a'tall. " But now he'd turned his attention to his wife and was waiting for her response. The Bible felt cool in his hands, like a metal shield. "Ain't no such thing," he said. "Never has been. Never will be. "

  Ramona turned her head slightly toward him, her delicate profile etched by the firelight. The two men were waiting, and they'd come a long way on a cold afternoon with a real need, and now they would have to have their answer She said to the minister, "Please leave us alone for a few minutes. "

  "Surely, ma'am. We'll just go out and wait in the truck. " The two men went outside into the deepening gray light, and before the door shut, a cold wind whipped through and fanned the hearth flames into a crackling fury.

  She rocked silently for a moment, waiting for him to speak. He said, "Well? Which is it?"

  "I have to go. "

  John let out a long deep sigh. "I thought things were going to be different," he said. "I thought you wouldn't . . . do those things anymore. "

  "I never agreed to that. I never could. "

  "It's unholy, Ramona. You're in danger of Hell, don't you know that?"

  "Whose Hell, John? Yours? No, I don't believe in that kind of Hell. Not at the center of the world, not with devils carrying pitchforks. But Hell is right here on earth, John, and people can step into it without knowing, and they can't get out - "

  "Stop it!" He rose abruptly from the chair and strode toward the fireplace. Ramona reached out and grasped his hand, pressing it against her warm cheek.

  "Don't you understand that I try to do my best?" she asked softly, her voice quavering. "That's all there is in this world: to try to do the best you can. . . . "

  John suddenly sank down on his knees beside her and kissed her hand, and when her knuckles were pressed against his cheek she felt the wetness of a tear. "I love you, Ramona; Lord knows I do, and I love the child you're gonna give me. But I can't say yes to these things. I just . . . can't. . . . " His voice cracked. He released her hand and stood up, his back toward her "It's up to you, I guess. It always has been. It's unholy, that's all I know, and if you want to walk that path then God help you. " He winced as he heard her rise from the rocker.

  She gently touched his shoulder, but he didn't turn toward her "It's not that I want to walk it," she said. "It's that I was born to. I have to go with them. " She left him, going into the small bedroom where tiny pipings of wind shrilled through minute cracks in the pinewood walls. Just above the bed's headboard hung a beautifully detailed piece of needlepoint showing a forest in the flaming reds and oranges of autumn; it was the view from the house's front porch. Near a large maple wood chest of drawers - a wedding present from her mother - hung a 1951 Sears and Roebuck calendar; the first fifteen days of November had been crossed out.

  Ramona struggled into an oversize pair of dungarees - her stomach was so
big! - and a heavy brown sweater. She put on thick brown socks and her penny loafers, then tied a pale pink scarf around her head. The weather had snapped after a long warm Indian summer, and rain clouds had tumbled down from the north. Chill Novembers were rare in Alabama, but this one was a gray, hulking bear with a coat of freezing rain. As she struggled into her old plaid coat, she realized John was watching her from the doorway. He
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