We are beginning the end as we give you the first half of the final installment of our combined story telling efforts in the magical old west adventures in CONJURING MISERY. We, your trio of storytellers, (Jami Gray, Camille Douglass, and Dave Benneman) hope you’ve enjoyed our ongoing tales and expect to see you here in a couple weeks for the final piece. We now give you our gambling reprobate, Sam, one last time…
I breathed easier once I was sure I’d escaped the rattlesnake-like slap of Meemaw. I was sure you didn’t have to be family to receive one those. Jinx gave his nieces the stink eye before finally turning his disheveled self toward the door. “So we wait?”
This got nods all around. “Mrs. Winterbourne…”
“Agatha, please. The Mr. been dead a long time, good riddance too.”
“Meemaw!” Smoke chastised.
“If you like.” I reached across the table and touched Meemaw’s hand to get her full attention. Snake raised an eyebrow at me. “Agatha, this hooch is going to go straight to my head if I don’t get a bite to eat soon. I know your granddaughters haven’t eaten since they rousted me this morning and that seems like a lifetime ago.”
“You’re right Sam. Now that we have the particulars straightened out it’s time to slaughter the fatted calf.” She looked thoughtful for a moment then snapped her fingers. “A good old low country boil is what we’ll have.” Meemaw stood and crooked her arm out expectantly.
I jumped to my feet and looped my arm through hers. “Agatha, shall we?”
“We shall Sam.”
I watched Snake and Smoke exchange puzzled glances before I walked their grandmother out to her carriage. I knew they were having one of their private conversations again. I usually wished I knew what they were saying. The humor reflected on their faces was enough this time. It was the first cause they’d had to smile in a long while. I offered Meemaw a hand into her carriage then sat next to her adjusting Dragon Breath. The sisters took the back seat.
Meemaw handed me the reins and eased off the brake. She directed me with simple hand gestures. Dust rose in our wake. I leaned over. “What’s a low country boil?”
“Sam, you’re in for a real treat if you never et a boil. Just watch your fingers that someone don’t mistake your fingers for a crawdad.” She touched my scabbard. “What’s with the pig sticker?”
“Please don’t insult Dragon Breath. It’s—well kinda special.”
“I wouldn’t dream of insulting her. I sensed the power radiating from her since I arrived. Even with that other abomination in the room.”
“Her? I always thought of it as a masculine blade.”
Meemaw couldn’t control her laughter. It took her a minute to catch her breath. “My dear Sam, she has much to teach you, including her proper name.”
I heard giggles from behind me along with the smell of Snake’s cigarillo. Meemaw’s gaze looked right through me. “You know her name?”
“Its not for me to share. If you hang around a little while I’ll teach you how speak to her.”
“You would do that?”
“Of course, I don’t know what exactly went on out there in the desert, but I know your presence insured my grand babies made it back home. That makes you almost family.”
I nodded. Heat rising under my scarf spreading under my straw hat. I recognized this was not flattery, but true appreciation. Something completely foreign to my experience.
“Why don’t you tell me how you came by such a special piece.”
I told how the old Chinaman saved me, nursed me back to health and insisted I accept the sword. She listened to the story in its abbreviated form intently.
“You think you owe him a debt?” She asked.
“Of course, I owe him my life.”
Meemaw’s eyes twinkled, and she pointed me through a gate topped with an intricate piece of iron that looked like interlocking circles with no beginning or end. I paused the carriage staring at the strange symbol.
“It’s a Celtic knot.” She waved me on impatiently.
At the top of the rise, barns and out buildings came into view. Corrals holding live stock and more than a few hands attending to chores. The house was a sprawling structure with a porch that wrapped the two sides I could see. I suspected it continued all the way around. I reined in the team.
Meemaw put a hand on my arm to keep me still. “Girls, go round and tell the kitchen to put on a boil. We will be along presently.”
Unwarranted amounts of sweat gathered on my brow and in the palms of my hands. I didn’t know if I was ready to be alone with this strange woman who seemed to know more than she should.
“Pull the team around back Sam.” She directed me to a shady a spot with a drinking trough.
I guided the team to the shade and pulled them up. Turning in my seat I looked to Meemaw. “Something I should know?”
Her eyes shined with humor again. “More than your hat will hold I’m afraid.” She pointed to Dragon Breath. “Your Chinaman is from a different culture. Many Eastern people believe that when you save someone’s life, you become responsible for that life. I’m guessing here, but I think he was too old to protect you so he did the next best thing, giving you that blade to do the job in his place.”
Suddenly Dragon Breath weighed heavily on my belt. Did that make me responsible for Smoke’s life and through default Snake’s as well. I shuddered at the thought of trying to keep those two safe.
“Are you still with me, Sam?” Meemaw laid a hand along my cheek.
“One last thing.” Her dark eyes darkened until they looked black. “The Sullivans will take this deal. And they will want to make it sooner rather than later. I want you to stand with us. Are you up for that.”
“In for a penny, in for a pound. I already promised your grand daughters I would see this through with them.”
She smiled and her eyes lightened up again.“I’m glad you’re here Sam. She patted my knee. “Now let’s set this team loose and rustle up some vittles.”
The kitchen hummed with domestic activity. Even Snake helped. She was in charge of husking corn. When I saw the scowl on her face I assumed she just scared the corn out of its skin. Smoke looked at odds with herself with a blue checkered apron over her black outfit. I thought it fitting since I believed both her and Snake struggled with the conflicting natures at war within each of them. I got lost in Meemaw’s library.
The smell of food drew me to the door yard where I was in time to watch them turn out a large pot on the long table. A mishmash of sausage, ham, chicken, potatoes, corn, and a dozen other things I couldn’t identify slid out. A slab of corn bread as big buckboard wagon burdened another table stacked with plates and utensils. The family grabbed seats on the benches and reached for what tempted them most. Snake waved to a seat between her and Smoke. They were at home, their easy posture and quick smiles gave me twinge of jealousy.
“So Saaaammmm,” Smoke drawled. “Spill. What did Meemaw say? If she propositioned you, don’t tell me.”
“Eeeewwww.” Snake playfully slapped at her sister.
“A gentleman never ki…”
“Let me stop you right there Gambling man before I have to shoot you at the table.” Snake raised her head to look at me. Even her hat seemed to be sitting better since we arrived. I pushed back having eaten as much as could hold. The air was filled with the voices of cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, their spouses and kids. All talking at once.
The raucous laughter and conversation tapered to dead silence as all eyes turned to watch Jinx stumble into the yard. Two men moved to help him too late to keep him from falling face first. Meemaw was up in a flash supervising. Jinx was carried in the house. Some folks busied themselves cleaning up. Smoke, Snake and myself went to stand next to a large bon fire that had been prepared for tonight, but hadn’t been lit yet.
When I realized they were having one of their private conferences I interrupted. “Stop. No secrets remember. Agatha asked me to stand with you when you meet the Sullivans. I told her I’d already promised you I would. So what’s going on?”
“A meet is what’s going on Sam. Sooner than I’d expected.” Agatha eyes had turned black again. “Midnight at the old hanging tree.”
My hand went to my neck at the mention of the location that was picked. “Does it have to be a hanging tree?”
“No time for renegotiations. We have preparations to make.” Agatha started away leaving us standing there. She turned around. “That means now.” She snapped her fingers. I saw sparks fly from her fingers.
“And I thought I’d help with the dishes, oh well.” I followed after Agatha with The sisters in tow.
Wish you all a wonderful week and don’t forget to mosey on back…