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Authors: J. D. Horn

Shivaree

BOOK: Shivaree
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ALSO BY J.D. HORN

WITCHING SAVANNAH

The Line

The Source

The Void

Jilo
(a Witching Savannah prequel, coming in 2016)

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 J.D. Horn
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by 47North, Seattle
www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503949485
ISBN-10: 1503949486

Cover design by Shasti O’Leary-Soudant/SOS CREATIVE LLC

This is all Flannery O’Connor’s fault.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

This is a work of Southern Gothic fiction. Please be advised that this story contains elements of emotional, physical, and sexual violence that some readers may find disturbing.

PROLOGUE

Conroy, Mississippi—July 8, 1953

Ruby awoke with no illusion that she was unchanged.

There was music. She recognized the tune. “Glow Worm.” A man hummed along to the melody.

She was lying flat on her back on a cold, hard surface. The feel of it, running the length of her body, told her she was naked, but the thought of being uncovered didn’t bother her. She’d long since given up on modesty—or had it abandoned her? Either way, it didn’t matter.

The world around her held no shape or form. There was nothing but a salmon-pink glow, like she had closed her eyes to savor the sun on her face. That was it, she realized—her eyes were closed, and the light she faced was bright, but cool. She tried to open them, but they wouldn’t respond.

“Let’s get you ready for your big date, my pretty one,” Ruby heard a man say. She tried to place the voice—it was somewhat familiar—but she couldn’t. She tried to open her mouth and speak. To ask him where she was, but she couldn’t. “Your father believes it will be a small event, but I think you should expect a crowd,” the man continued. “A lot of folk around here gonna be glad to see the last of you.” She felt a hand brush her face, a thumb and a forefinger force open her right eye. As the hand pulled away, she saw a smile, framed by a full beard. “Most folk hoped when you two moved away that’d be the last you’d be seen around these parts.” The beard was dark, but streaks of gray had begun to form in it.

“Yes, young lady, a lot of people gonna be glad you’re gone for good,” the man said, “but I’m not one of them. I’ve missed how you two kept everybody jumping around these parts. Been downright dull without you.” Again the hand touched her face, its fingers opening her left eye. “There you are,” the bearded man said. She tried to focus, but the lamp above his head formed a halo over him, the bright light obscuring his features. “Besides, your friend Dylan was always good to wet a man’s wick during a dry spell.”

A syringe appeared before her. “Just a little disinfectant,” he said, and flooded her eye with a liquid that smelled of rubbing alcohol. It burned like liquid fire. She tried to fling her arm before her face, but it wouldn’t move. “And again,” he said. The syringe hovered over her left eye. She tried to call out. To tell him to stop, but she saw a slight bend in his hand, and the liquid filled her other eye. Her vision was blurred in both eyes, but she could see his movement, the burst of light as he turned away. Her vision cleared in time to see him turn back again. The syringe was still in his right hand. His left reached toward her, and turned her head to the side. His touch was gentle.

With her right cheek turned to the surface, she could see that she lay in a shallow ceramic tub, the glare of the overhead light reflecting on its glossy surface. His hand, now gloved, touched her lips; his thumb and two fingers opened her mouth. He put the syringe between her lips and sprayed the foul liquid into her mouth. As the solution entered her, something awoke within her, excited, then repulsed at the mixture it was tasting.

Something else had invaded her, had taken up residence in her. During the weeks of fever dreams, she had sensed it, lurking on the periphery of her awareness, but now she felt its presence as surely as if it had always been a part of her. Somehow she knew, she would never be alone, with her own thoughts, in her own body, again. Another flood of the spray angered her guest, but the man turned her face back up to the light, and used a dry cloth to wipe off the liquid that had spilled from her mouth onto her cheek.

“There, not so bad, was it?” he said.

She heard a door creak open. “I got ’er clothes from the Judge’s maid,” another voice, one Ruby had no trouble identifying, called. A wave of conflicting emotions hit her. The mention of her father, whom everyone knew as “the Judge,” and their maid Lucille, combined with the sound of Charlie Aarons’s voice, made for an odd cocktail. A father she detested, and the woman who’d been the closest thing she’d ever known to a mother, being talked about by the most disgusting excuse for a man Ruby had ever known—and she’d spent time in Hollywood. It sickened her to think Charlie had touched her belongings.

The man near her raised his head. “Charlie,” he said, “my good and faithful part-time servant. It’s good to know I can always count on you to show up to work early . . . when it’s a young one.” The man hovered, still holding the cloth to Ruby’s face. “Well, come in, come in, and have a good look,” he said. “We both know it’s moments like these upon which you build your dreams, and I’m sure you want to see before we get to the cutting.”

Ruby fixed on to his last two words, and tried to cry out, to tell him that they’d made a mistake, that she was still alive, but the only sound was the shuffling of Charlie’s shoes.

His wrinkled face and bushy grizzled beard appeared over her, his milky cataract eye joining its partner in running the length of her. “Did you do that?” Charlie asked, pointing at her chest, the spot where there had been carved an intricate, yet ugly, triple star joined together by curved lines and small circles.

“No, of course not,” the man with the dark beard said, shaking his head. “She came in with that. God only knows what kind of trouble she got up to in California.”

“Why she blue?” The old man’s head tilted as he inspected her.

“Well, Doc McAvoy thinks it’s something to do with the drugs she did out in Hollywood. Says they affected her ability to absorb oxygen . . .”

“To do what?”

“To breathe, Charlie,” the man sighed. “To breathe. I don’t know if that’s the case, but if the good doctor says it is, and if the Judge doesn’t disagree, then I’m not going to either. Gonna be a closed-casket service because of it.”

“Then why’d you make me go fetch her dress?”

“Because we couldn’t just bury her like this, now could we? Wouldn’t be Christian.” Ruby watched as he balled up the cloth he’d been holding. The hand lifted and tossed it to the side. “You still doing work on the side for the Dunne family?” the man asked.

“Yeah, what about it?” Charlie’s tone was defensive.

“Nothing. I don’t care what you get up to when you aren’t working for me. I was just wondering how young Elijah’s taking all this. I suspect that other than her father, he might be the only man on earth who’ll mourn this child. And just between you, me, and the little miss here, I’m not so sure about her father.”

His words struck home. If she were dead, truly dead, Ruby knew the only thing the Judge would feel was relief. Relief that she could no longer act in ways that made him appear the fool. But Elijah. Elijah would care. He’d forgiven her.

Her interest in Elijah had started out as a cruel joke, but she’d come to love him. He’d been the only one ever to see through her wickedness and discover a spark of the girl she might have been, if only things had been different. If left alone, Elijah might have found a way to save her soul.

But they hadn’t been left alone. She’d been forced to let Elijah believe she was a whore, and she saw no little irony that after losing him, a whore she had become. If she had to do it over again, she would kill the men who’d driven her and Elijah apart. The men who’d forced her to let him believe a lie, so she could protect him from the one truth about herself she suspected Elijah could never accept.

If she could have another chance, if she could wake from this nightmare, she’d kill them. And she’d send the rest of Conroy to hell with them.

“I don’t know.” Charlie’s voice sounded distracted, irritated. “I get what they tell me to do done, and I go home. The rest of it is none of my business.”

“Really, now, Charlie,” the man said, “it wouldn’t hurt you to show a little interest in your fellow man.”

“I don’t care . . .”

“All right,” he said, “all right.” The hand that had held the cloth lifted as he signaled Charlie he’d heard enough. “Get out of here and let me work. I’ll call you when I’m ready to move the body.”

Charlie hesitated, allowing himself one last long gander, before turning and shuffling back to the door. He pushed through it with more force than when he’d entered. Ruby heard the door flap back and forth a few times before settling closed.

She tried again to signal the bearded man, to move a finger, to bat an eye, but she remained frozen.

“That is one filthy old son of a bitch,” the man said, “but he works cheap.” The man walked a few steps away. When he returned, he fed a long needle with black thread. “But you probably don’t need me telling you that. Seems like you knew just about every sordid detail there is to know in Conroy.” His left hand opened her mouth, the right slid the needle inside, and he pressed the tip of it through the center of her tongue. “Come to think of it, I should’ve held an auction for the right to sew that pretty mouth of yours shut. Bet a lot of people would have bid for the right.” He chuckled to himself, but the laughter died away.

“I do apologize,” he said. “That was uncalled for, even if that tongue of yours ruined lives.” He pulled the needle through and pushed it back up into her mouth, just a bit behind the jaw. “I did always wonder if old Tom Wallace’s suicide had something to do with your shenanigans. But I guess you’re taking that secret with you now, aren’t you?” He pointed the needle back up through her jaw and then paused. “My, my, young lady, but you did have some sharp ivories.” The needle poked up right in front of her bottom teeth. “Would’ve taken a brave sinner to march past those pearly gates.”

He began sawing with both ends of the thread, and she felt searing pain as it cut through the soft tissue. He stopped and then worked the needle through her gum behind her upper lip and through her left nostril, looping it back around and through the right. The sharp point pierced her septum; then he brought the needle back out through the left nostril of her nose. He placed a hand under her chin.

“There, that looks real nice,” he said. “Course no one’s going to see it, but you were such a pretty girl. I want to do a good job for you.” He released her, and she divined by the movement of his hand that he was tying off the thread. A moment later, a flash of a scalpel severed the needle he’d been using from the thread. He turned, Ruby reckoned to return the needle to where it was kept, and his mind seemed to make a connection between his actions and the record player that had now gone silent.

Ruby heard a faint scratching sound as he started the music over, dropping the player’s needle onto the disk. “Shine, little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer . . .”

“Well, my dear,” he said, leaning back over her, “it would seem a shame to gum up those eyes, especially since we’re closing the lid on your casket. I’ll make a deal with you.” He placed his palm on her forehead, and slid it down to close both eyes at once. “You keep these closed, and I won’t glue them shut, all right?” The world returned to a salmon-colored glow. “No peeking now.”

Somewhere nearby a machine hummed to life. “I’m afraid we’re done with the pleasantries,” he said. “Time to get down to the real business.” In the next moment, Ruby felt the blade of the scalpel press into her neck.

She felt the blade begin to cut into her.
At least it will be over soon,
she thought
. It’ll be over. I’ll really be dead
.

But then Ruby felt her heart begin to beat—unaware till this moment that it had been still—as something inside her sprang to life and began racing through her veins. She felt it slither through her, forming an endless loop, like a snake swallowing its own tail. Pa-dum. Pa-dum. Pa-dum. The sound of her heart throbbing roared in her ears.

She had sensed a presence, during the fevered, dreaming days that had preceded, lurking silently on the edge of her awareness, drawing closer with each approaching dusk. But now it was there, with her, inside her. Stretching itself, taking stock of its new surroundings.

A command that did not come from her echoed within her mind, and the hand holding the blade froze. The scalpel dropped, clanging as it fell to the porcelain. She heard soft footsteps as the man moved away, then the machine’s humming stopped with a click. Ruby knew it had been switched off.

Somehow this thing that shared her body had taken control, forcing the man to leave her, to leave them, alone.

Across the room, the music stopped playing, and a hissing scratch began as the player’s needle slid to the end of the groove. Her ability to hear grew magnified, and the sound felt as if it could rip off the top of her head. All of her being became focused on it, wishing it would stop, willing it to stop. And then it did.

A cool peace fell on her as the needle was lifted from the record and its arm dropped back to the holder. Another click, and the player was stopped. She felt the thing within her probe her mind, and the noise around her lessened as it adjusted itself to its new home, tempering its natural senses to a level her body could tolerate.

It hadn’t happened to her as she lay dying—a fact that she must now accept—but her life did begin to pass before her, one flash following the other so that years passed in a blink. As the thing within her took her inventory, odd and distant memories jumped to mind, images nearly forgotten springing up as fresh as the day they were formed and playing out before her mind’s eye as if she were sitting in a darkened theater. Short but telling scenes: a lit match, an animal trapped, a child losing an eye. The images sped up so that her conscious mind could no longer track what it was seeing, but Ruby knew the thing inside her was pleased with what it had found there.

She felt it relax. It had weighed her in the balance, and determined that it had found a partner capable of the violence it craved. It tried to move her, to help her rise. She felt a pulsing tremor start in her hand, but then it stopped, and the force within fell back, seemingly exhausted. The markings carved in her flesh burned as sharp as when they were first cut, and with a single rush, her heart stopped beating.

But still Ruby remained awake and aware. A hunger began to fill her, but it was more than physical. An obsession closer to a craving for opiates descended on her; the depths of it told her that it was not hers alone, but shared with the other within. Again, her hearing sharpened, and she remembered the bearded man who remained there with them, the sound of his pulse as clear to her naked ear as if she were wearing a stethoscope.

BOOK: Shivaree
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