VI

SNAKE IN THE GRASS

 

Denise looked rattled, as of a snake on the loose.

She would have been more so had she seen the man in the noose.

But Bill was not about to let this woman talk him down,

‘specially since it seemed she knew the hist’ry of the town.

 

‘I think I deserve to know what’s going on,

what you people did afore I came along.’

Bill stepped down from his troubled stool,

feeling suddenly as lost as a drunken fool.

 

‘Ten years I bin here, and no one sinned as much

as to accuse me once o’ the Devil’s touch.

But we moved on and grew up together,

and now I find out that there’s bin some measure

of evil gone on;

an evil that echoes like the Devil’s song.

So tell me, Lady Denise, and tell me true…

 

What’s this thing got to do with you?’

 

She spied him sharp, with a silent threat,

but Bill was not in the least upset

by the reputation she had amongst folk.

He had on his side the Holy Smoke

of The Lord, from the fire which burned deep in his heart.

So he spied her back ‘til she decided to start:

 

‘I was a young thing, long…long ago.’

She sat at the bar in the oil-lamp glow.

‘I hardly remember the day or the year,

but I recall with true colour the colour of fear.

 

‘Green and Yella was the Devil’s Child,

a-slitherin’ in the long grass so wild.

That snake it spied me like a promisin’ meal,

but I stood my ground lest my fear it would feel.

 

‘Just one step I took after an endless duel.

I stepped back on a twig and jumped like a fool.

And the Devil’s Child launched itself with such speed

that I was in no time to respond to my need

to run like the girl that I was in my gown,

a-hollerin’ and whoopin’ right back into town.’

 

Denise sipped her brandy. It burned down her throat:

‘Next thing I knew I was wrapped in a coat

and a stranger from nowhere was lugging me home.

Least that’s what I thought ‘til he started to roam

off the paths and the trails of decent folk.

Last thing I knew, I smelled woodchip and smoke.’

 

Now Bill was as patient a man as they come,

but this was going nowhere and nothing was done

‘cept him and the barman and the Crazy of Town

a-reminiscin’ about nothin’ profound.

 

‘I ain’t got time to hear your past or your tales,’

he whispered harshly as Jimmy served ales

to the one or two drinkers who were hardly disturbed

by the notion of gettin’ what they rightly deserved.

 

Bit by bit the lamps brought them in,

and like every day they drank up their sin.

So a lull in the tale led to Denise

informin’ the Pastor of the end of their peace:

 

‘Do you know we can’t even get out of town?

The whole place is gone crazy and bin locked down.

Some kind of a wall that can’t even be seen

is holding us here ‘til the beast wipes us clean.’

 

Now Pastor Bill was a God-fearin’ fella,

but no one could ever consider him yella.

To hear of this curse, though…well, that knocked him back.

He muttered a prayer ‘gainst the gathering black.

 

Jimmy leaned in to the two at the bar:

‘Tell him, Lady, cos you ain’t got far.

I always bin wond’rin what you are,

for they say your heart is as black as tar.’

 

Denise laughed aloud, a haunting thing

that seemed to carry the echo of sin

to each and every home within

the circle of Hell that was closing in.

 

‘Y’all bin happy to believe what you’re told,

to never question the stories of old.

Not one of you would know the diff’rence between

right and wrong once the Devil’s bin seen

to be the one who’s influencin’ the things that I do.

You make the mistake of confusin’ the two.’

 

‘So what do you do?’ Bill quickly countered,

wondering if she would a-panic and flounder.

But she turned and looked him straight in the eye

and said, ‘I pay my respects to the gods of the sky

and the trees and the earth ‘neath my feet,

those that bin ‘round long ‘fore yours walked the street.’

 

‘So tell us your tale, then,’ Jimmy pushed more.

‘Gimme a reason not to kick you out the door.’

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