The Witch at Sparrow Creek: A Jim Falk Novel (5 page)

BOOK: The Witch at Sparrow Creek: A Jim Falk Novel
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Chapter 4

May Marbo woke up in her bed and curled her toes. She was tired
and it was real warm in her bed. She didn’t want to get out. She got out.

Downstairs, her pa was up and walking around and making
breakfast. The smell of hot eggs was rolling around in her room.

She put on her slippers and went down in the kitchen.
There was her pa, Huck Marbo, stumping around on his leg made of wood. His
blond hair was thin as a winter fire on his head now, but his muscles were still
hard and strong. The look of him made her feel safe. She had seen this man,
even with his leg as it was, come galloping through waist-high snow to bring
them victuals from the shop. When her ma died, she watched him carry her beautiful
body out the front door.

Now he was making eggs and coffee with his broad back
to her.

“Good morning, May,” he said without turning around.
The smell floated about the room and the eggs crackled away in the black skillet
on the wood stove.

She sat down and rubbed her brown hair around and pulled
it around her face.

“There’s eggs,” he said.

She scooted up her chair.

He put some eggs on a big plate. “You want eggs? These
are straight from Mosely’s chickens, from them chickens that the chicken man
brought through here last spring.”

“Yes, please,” she said. She hated the chicken man.

“And coffee?”

“Yes, please, and thank you.”

He fiddled around, got out the coffee powder, put the
kettle on, and lit a fire under with a snap of a match and a whoosh of flame.

He set the eggs down in front of her and sat down across
from her at the long brown table. The morning came in the big window all gray
and white with crow sounds.

May started eating.

Huck regarded his daughter for a moment, her nose pointed
at her eggs. He placed an empty cup in front of her and said, “May, I want you
to stay away from that Falk fella at the shop last night.”

She didn’t answer. He set another cup down in front of
his plate and sat down.

He picked up some eggs on his fork and put them in his
mouth and swallowed. “Ya hear?”

May wasn’t sure what to say. “I don’t know what to say,”
she said.

“I’ll help you.” Huck looked at her straight in the eye
and she looked away quick at her eggs. “You say, ‘Yes, Pa’ and that’s the end
of it.”

The kettle whistled, and he got up and tended to it while
she moved her eggs around on the plate.

Huck poured boiling water in the two white cups, “That
Falk,” he said. “That Falk is some kind of trouble.”

He sprinkled now a portion of brown, powdery coffee into
each cup, “He’s an outlander. No one knows where he’s from, and he won’t say.”
He dropped a spoon in each cup. “But I’ll say for true that nothin’ good’s ever
come from outside Sparrow and nothin’ ever will.”

She looked up at her father. His voice was strong when
he said it, but something about his eyes looked worried, soft, tired.

“What about those church people?” May asked.

Huck put the mug in front of her. “Now wait on that and
don’t sip it up right away, it’ll burn ya.”

She nodded. “What about them people?” she came again.
“The Moselys? They came from up north, right?”

Huck got quiet and sipped his coffee. In the middle of
each of his brown eyes, right near his deep pupils, there was a ring of grass
green. This was in each eye and gave him the impression of having a kind of
deeper, greener self behind the first one. Sometimes, when he went deep in thought,
the green would shift until it was dark as autumn grasses. “Them folk is God’s
people. God’s people are never outlanders. God’s people is God’s people. Folks
like that Jim Falk, they’re the ones from the outside.”

May got a little scared of her pa and went back to eating
her eggs.

They sat eating then in a long, speechless breakfast
while the crows cawed in the gray sun.

At last May said, “May I be excused?”

Huck kept his eyes off her and replied, “When you finish
up around here, I want you to come straight into town. You don’t talk to anybody.
You don’t stop. Not even at Vernon Mosely’s to see the chickens and rabbits. Don’t
stop at the creek bridge either. Not today. You come straight to the shop.
Nothin’. No excuses.”

She said, “Yes, Pa.”

Down the path back to town, there was a house Jim could
now see from the road. He couldn’t see it last night in the dark. In fact, he
remembered very little about the walk home last night in the dark. That was a
mistake—a mistake he couldn’t make again.

Crows flew up in the air from near where the house was.

He looked up at the little white house as he was coming
around the bend and saw there was a girl running down to the road from the
house with a basket on her arm. She wore a plain old tan dress and a long cloak
with a hood on it. She looked almost like some little thief.

It was May Marbo. “Mr. Falk!”

She ran out of the gate and came up close to him and
then took a step back and looked at her basket. She only thought briefly of what
her father had said to her.

Jim was a little surprised by her rushing up and just
tipped his hat and smiled.

She took a quick look at him, then looked back up to
the house and then down the road toward town. “Well, good morning, Mr. Falk. You
wouldn’t be heading into town this morning, would you?”

Jim tipped his hat back a little and said, “Why, yes,
I am, and I would be honored to escort you—Miss Marbo, isn’t it? If you will
allow it.”

She smiled again, wide and toothsome, and said quietly,
“I will allow it.”

They started walking.

The path was barely wide enough for a carriage or a cart
drawn by horses, but one might be able to squeeze through. In most places, the
trees bent in and darkened the white sky. They were close. The sound of their
shoes on the path was muffled.

They walked in the cold quiet for a while and then May
laughed. Even the sound of her laughter stopped short and fell in the road. He
looked over at her. Her brown hair was damp and flat and just as she laughed, a
breeze blew through the tunnel of trees and whipped here and there strands of
hair around her head.

Jim asked her, “What’s funny?”

“Oh,” she said, “you remember at my pa’s last night when
you showed everybody that magic trick where you broke the glass by staring at

Jim had forgotten. “Oh, I did?” Then he remembered. “Oh,
I did.”

For a moment, a fear gripped Jim Falk. What had he done?
A damned fool he had been to go getting so drunk, so drunk that he put the
whole of it in danger, as he had in Batesville. Maybe when he got down into this
little Sparrow town, the men of Batesville would be waiting for him, following
him all the way down here, and ready as ever to string him up and burn him.
That was the kind of trouble he was always pulling behind him. Barnhouse well
knew it. He wondered what would happen now. Someone in this town might soon get
the same kind of ideas the men of Batesville had.

“I don’t know how you did that trick,” May said, her
cheerful voice breaking his thoughts, “but even Simon Starkey’s mouth was wide open
and,”—her voice got quiet—“it’s known that he’s some kind of magician.”

It came back to him then.

He’d been drunk on Huck’s whisky, and Simon was in his
face with more card tricks, and then he made that mouse appear right out of a
handkerchief. Jim was filled up with the sad whisky energy.

“You hear me, Simon, Son of the Starkeys, you are nothing
but a fraud
. . .

Simon laughed and grinned, and his face looked darker
and his smile looked sharper. “A fraud? A fraud? You should be more careful,
outlander, coming into town and casting about accusations!”

Jim spun up out of his chair and then swayed around to
keep from falling and slumped back into his chair at the little table. He said
something that none of them could hear and began to trace something with his
finger on the table top.

“See here!” Simon shouted and waved his arms and walked
over to Jim’s table. Simon grabbed the mouse that he had just pulled from the
red handkerchief. He placed it on the table right in front of Jim. Under the
handkerchief, everybody could see it scrambling under the cloth. Then, his
other hand came down hard and smashed the mouse under the red cloth.

He looked around at everyone smiling. “I lift up my hand
. . .”

He lifted up his hand and there was a completely flat
handkerchief. When he lifted that up, out of the handkerchief fell, red as rubies,
rose petals. The little crowd in the bar made a gasp and men looked around at
one another to see if the other men had seen what they’d seen. May was looking
at her pa, but then she looked over at the outlander and then back at Simon.
Everyone else looked back at Simon.

Then, as if the little thing knew just the right
moment, clambering onto Simon’s head came the mouse sniffing the air, its tiny
eyes sparkling. There was a boom of laughter and clapping from the crowd.

Jim got hot at all the applause, and from his slouched
position in his chair he pounded the table and shouted, “Tricks, only tricks!”

Jim’s face was red and sad, and he took a very deep breath
which everyone could hear him take. The people all looked at him. He looked
around the room, pulling each person in with his eyes, and then he fixed those
sunken, whisky-drunk eyes on his beer mug. His blue eyes widened up their pupils.

Nothing happened.

Everybody standing around thought this outlander might
be frozen, maybe even dead. Then the room got so quiet that the outside noises
of the wind seemed to stop. Everybody watching felt a kind of pressure in their
heads that made them squint a bit, and then there was this whine, high and
quick, but barely audible.

They looked at the mug that Jim Falk was glaring at.
There was a dull pop. The mug cracked up its side and beer flowed out. It cracked
right up the middle like split wood.

Nobody talked while the beer ran on the table.

Jim looked around at everyone. Everyone was amazed and
stunned. May was smiling with her mouth open.

Jim about stunned himself. He staggered out of his chair
while the beer began to drip on the floor. He tipped his hat. “Good evening,”
he said and left out the front, left them all standing dumb.

It all came back to him now, mostly. May was stepping
along beside him, stealing quick glances at his face here and there, but
looking forward mostly.

“I forgot,” Jim said to May as they turned a slight bend.
“I forgot I did that trick.”

“How did you do it?” May asked.

“It’s just a trick, May, that’s all,” Jim said and began
scanning the close woods again. “Just a trick, like Simon turning the mouse
into rose petals.”

“It seemed different,” she said. She was bashful around
Jim, but outside of the Hills, Bill and Violet, she had been the friendliest
one so far.

They walked a way without talk. The trees in places grew
out into the path. “It doesn’t look like a lot of horses come up this path,”
Jim said.

“No,” May said, “ain’t a lotta folk keep horses here.
In fact, nobody does anymore. They come into town sometimes on horses from
other places to bring stuff through.”

The path then came to an upward slope that rose for about
ten feet. On the other side, it went clear down, about a half-mile, all the way
to the end where Jim could see the tiniest boxes of the houses in town.

“Why not?” Jim was looking way down on the path now.
Ahead of them, he saw a figure in the road standing near to the woods.

“Don’t know,” May said.

Jim set his eyes way ahead on the figure and felt a tremor
that started in his gut and raised his hairs and still, something more than
that. He felt the jitters. Then he saw the figure move, and Jim’s breath quit.
It was a dark, crooked thing with long, curly spines. It was still quite far

He stopped walking and said, “May, stop, May.”

She wasn’t scared until she looked at him and saw how
serious and faraway his eyes were.

. . .

she started.

“Shhh,” he whispered, “don’t talk. There’s a spook up
there on the road.”

May got closer to him and started shaking. The jitters
were heavy and rolling along the path now. It was feeling around for them.

“Stay close and don’t budge,” Jim said. “They can’t see
so good, but they can hear and feel things that men can’t.”

Jim saw it cross back and forth, back and forth across
the road. It flickered at the left edge of the path and then disappeared into
the trees.

“May,” Jim said, “I want you to stay close by me now.
We’re going to pass on into town, and once we get there I don’t want you to
tell anybody what we saw. I just want you to say that we walked into town together
and that I went off and you went about your business.”

“Okay, Mr. Falk,” she said, but she never did see anything.

They passed in silence along the road. May stuck close
by. Now he could feel the jitters constant. The jitters he’d first felt left a
permanent signature in his mind, a pulse. He could feel the spook now, but it
had moved far up into the hillside somewhere. It seemed unconcerned with them.

May whispered. Her eyes were darting from side to side,
and she would turn once in a while in great fear to look back up the path.
“What kind of a thing is a spook?”

Jim said, “May, it all depends. I don’t know for sure,
but none of them are good.”

“Mr. Falk,” she said as she looked up at him. The fear
was bright in her brown eyes. “Does the Evil One send them?”

Jim Falk looked at her long, square face and saw softness
in her features. He wanted to comfort her, but instead he told the truth.
“Sometimes,” he said, “sometimes the Evil One does send them.”

BOOK: The Witch at Sparrow Creek: A Jim Falk Novel
3.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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