Read The Sound of Building Coffins Online

Authors: Louis Maistros

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The Sound of Building Coffins (9 page)

BOOK: The Sound of Building Coffins
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Bap. Bap-bap. Buh-bap, bap, buh-bap.

The rhythm’s reprise erased whatever lingering doubt Morningstar may have reserved. He spoke to those in the room:

It is the demon himself who needs to be saved tonight. Without the demon’s redemption, the boy is lost. And so are we all.”

Lookit the hand,” said Typhus in a whisper. “I don’t like it.”

The movement of the hand had picked up in speed, fingers kneading the taut skin of the boy’s chest frantically—pushing through skin. No, not pushing through—sinking
. The flesh of the dead man’s fingers was melting into and joining the flesh of the child. Fusing.

Anabella Carolla prayed something in Sicilian between lips barely parted, her hands flattening over her face, fingers spread just enough to allow herself fragmented witness, teetering on exhausted legs. Trumbo stood behind with his hands gently brushing her waist. Ready, once more, for her fall.

Morningstar faced the mother, laid a shaking hand on her shoulder. An imploring whisper: “Please, Mother. Leave God out of this. This business ain’t none of His. God has His own troubles to tend. His own house to clean. Let Him be.” Defying Morningstar’s instruction, Anabella Carolla only prayed louder.

In the crib, a change had begun.

This isn’t right,” said Morningstar. “This isn’t supposed to happen. Ain’t the way I dreamt it.”

Dominick’s body had begun a visible transformation:


Arms pressed to sides, legs pressed together. Ears receding, mouth stretching wide, eyes separating, nose flattening. The red welts that had risen behind the ears had turned to slit-shaped holes, sucking in a tortured, thin stream of air. Whistling.


Diphtheria gasped. Buddy held her tight.

Dominick was transforming rapidly, his perfect, soft skin changing.

The sound that flew from his mother’s throat was a scream but not a scream; the note of an opera singer, high in pitch, full in tone, quivering with perfect vibrato, sustained. It was a beautiful sound, it was an ugly sound. During the mother’s note the child momentarily stopped thrashing, transformation interrupted.

Anabella Carolla’s note ran out of air. She fell to the ground, body and mind finally spent. Marshall Trumbo did not catch her.

The child began, once again, to thrash about.

Bap. Bap-bap. Buh-bap, bap, buh-bap.

Flesh resumed melting in on itself, the child’s original form degenerating once more.


It only took Jack a split second to ponder and appreciate the interruptive value of the mother’s note before turning quickly to Buddy:

Boy. Blow that thing. Play loud and long and don’t stop for a breath. Play like the devil, boy. Blow it.” Buddy hesitated, perplexed. Jack, impatient: “
NOW! Blow, blow, blow, blow, BLOW!

Buddy Bolden raised his horn and sucked in air, lips encircling the mouthpiece.


High in pitch, full in tone. Sustained. It was an awful sound, it was a beautiful sound.

The tune that came from Buddy’s horn was a spiritual. Buddy blew from his very core, the root of the sound coming from a place in his soul he was previously unaware of.

The notes came out two octaves higher than he had intended.

The notes held, dipped, leapt and crashed. But didn’t crash.

It took several moments before Buddy realized his fingers were splayed and spread wide, holding up the instrument with only the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, not touching the keys at all with the left. Only with this realization, and with the uncalculated sensitivity of a lover, did he lay his fingers upon the keys; following the path of their course in progress, paying attention to their meaning, feeling their odd warmth, interpreting their need, their apparent longing. Understanding the healing quality of the sound. The joy in it.


Typhus recognized the song right away.

Troubled about my soul…

His rebirthing song. The one he sang to calm his babies at the river. The one that just felt right. And then he knew.

Typhus Morningstar moved to the edge of the crib, his eyes meeting Doctor Jack’s for confirmation. Jack nodded, said:

Yes, Typhus.” And to Noonday Morningstar: “Let him work. Don’t stop him. This is what he needs to do. What he’s been practicing for, what he was born for. Let him.”

Typhus lifted himself up and over the railing of the crib. Laid his hands on the body of Dominick Carolla.

Noonday Morningstar fell to his knees, face in hands, weeping; and then spoke to his God; “Damn you. Damn you straight to hell.”

Buddy Bolden played on.

Ride on Jesus, come this way


Chapter eleven

Night Fishing


On a pier off the levee less than a mile from the little house where very odd matters of the spirit were currently unfolding, a gravedigger and devout Christian known by most folks as Marcus Nobody Special had caught a fish.

The night was black and starless; the only light offered up to human eyes came from the bobbing smudge pots on the river, warning ships to keep away, to dock further up if at all. Turning the water into a million slices of sparkly lemon, embedded like jewels, loosely in darkness.

He held the catfish in two hands. It was a small one, maybe two pounds. He unhooked its mouth and stroked its rough scales gently, carefully. It squirmed and wiggled at his touch. Its flesh was brown with streaks of pink. It moved with a rhythm that struck Marcus as vaguely familiar.

Sorry, old man, didn’t mean to interrupt yer nightswimmin’.” Shook his head sadly and added: “Not my dern fish. Not my fish at all. But I’ll get ’im. Yessir.”

He looked up at the lines of smoke that crept from the smudge pots, creasing the blackness of the sky into something blacker still. He was surprised to find tears in his eyes. Marcus hadn’t shed a real tear in nearly forty years. Not since his Coffee Maria had taken sick and died way back in 1853.

Always something blacker, I reckon.”

He dropped the fish back in the water. Wondering if he had done right in his life.

Chapter twelve

Catfish Blues


Buddy Bolden played on.

The devil is mad and I am glad…

The small fingers of Typhus Morningstar caressed and pulled at the scaly pink flesh of Dominick Carolla, rebirthing in reverse. Tugging at ears, tracing at seams with fingertips: careful, sculpting the head and face back into human form. Sliding fingers between fused legs, separating. Pulling arms away from sides, gently but firmly. Massaging gills behind little ears, closing them, smoothing them over. Rubbing the father’s severed hand, pushing down, melting the hand into the flesh of the child’s soft chest, feeling the sticky mixture of honey, onions and broken crumbs of bloodroot. The flesh was warm and soft as clay, but its color was turning from pink to gray. The child had become whole again. The child was not breathing.

Typhus Morningstar had the gift of understanding.

He bent down and sucked his lungs full of cold, dry air: held. Placed his lips to the lips of the child. Blew. Steady, even.


He lost one soul that he thought he had…


As Typhus blew, Buddy Bolden’s cornet flew from his mouth and slipped from his hands; clanking to the ground, denting the horn slightly and permanently at the rim. The instrument made a noisy fuss against the hard floor before settling.


Dominick Carolla’s eyes slammed open. Little eyes filled with rage. Rage not human. Black rage. The demon blew back into the throat of the rebirther.

Typhus’s small body shot back violently against the side of the crib like a rag doll, then bounced to the mattress in a small, tremulous heap. Typhus tried blowing the foul air back out, but could not.

A baby’s cry filled the room. A normal, healthy, frightened cry. The sweetly tragic sound of a one-year-old jerked from deep sleep. Dominick’s skin was pink again, shiny with sweat. Anabella Carolla scooped her son up and out of the crib, into her arms, muttering: “
grazie, grazie, grazie, grazie

Typhus Morningstar lay unconscious in the corner of the crib, his eyes closed but moving rapidly beneath his lids. His lungs struggled for breath.

Father Morningstar lifted his son from the crib. Laid him down on the carpet that was not quite at the center of the room. Tore open Typhus’ shirt, scraped once more at the small jar with trembling fingers, spreading remnants of honey potion on the boy’s chest, shouting between sobs:

Hast thou come to kiss this child? I will not let thee kiss him. Hast thou come to send him to sleep? I will not let thee do him harm

Noonday Morningstar’s hand began to fuse with his son’s chest through the honey mixture. Typhus stopped breathing altogether, red welts rising rapidly behind his ears.


Buddy stood in shock, rubbed at his lips, stared at the grounded cornet. Motionless, useless.

Jack picked up the bruised horn from the ground and blew into it himself. The sound was low and deep; a soulless moan. Buddy didn’t intervene: only stood, momentarily lost, trembling, rubbing at his mouth, eyes full of tears, exhausted, beat.

Down. Out.

Morningstar blew hard into the cold air of the room, profoundly exhaling, emptying his lungs with a determined wheeze. Kissed his son on the mouth. Then:

Sucking in.

Pulling foul air from the boy’s chest. Typhus’ small fists beat at the skull of the man he knew as Father and sometimes Daddy.

Bap. Bap-bap. Buh-bap, bap, buh-bap.

As bad air transferred from son to father, the hand of the father sank deeper into the chest of the son.

Two brown eyes focused on the scene; drying, crystallizing. A mind became clear.

Buddy Bolden snatched his horn from Doctor Jack. Drew in cold air once more, blew out hot with eyes shut tight. Blew hard. Loud.

Troubled about my soul, Lord…

Typhus crumpled in his father’s arms. Hands lifeless, knuckles brushing against the floor. Father Morningstar’s eyes became wide, enraged, black.

Doctor Jack searched his soul for answers and found none.

Beauregard Church reached into his worn leather bag, removed an old and dull-bladed knife that once belonged to his grandfather. Pearl handle with bits of glass polished to look like jewels. Cheap family heirloom. Good for nothing except maybe for luck. He leapt towards Morningstar and plunged the knife into the preacher’s back up to the handle, the dull blade tearing straight into, then past, his heart.

Diphtheria screamed. Ran to her father as Buddy dropped his horn to intercept her, holding her fast. Whispered soft in her ear, feigning calm: “It’s over.” Held her tight, stroked her hair. “I think it’s over.”

Beauregard stood up, leaving his cheap family heirloom in the preacher’s back. Picked up his leather bag full of lucky stuff and walked out of the house without word or expression, walked into the warm air of night. Walked down the steps. Kept walking. Didn’t come back.

The dark red life of Noonday Morningstar spread across the floor of the Carolla house, bathing the soles of Anabella Carolla’s shoes and evenly soaking the uneven carpet. Anabella Carolla had seen none of it, nothing past the release of her son. Nothing else mattered. She simply held the baby to her breast and repeated over and over: “
grazie, grazie, grazie, grazie

Dominick Carolla was fast asleep in her arms. Breathing deeply and easily. Except for the grateful chant of his mother and the gentle sobs of Diphtheria Morningstar, the house was now silent, its temperature warming. Noonday Morningstar’s lifeless body lay atop his son’s. Father and son in a puddle of joined blood, swimming motionless.

Jack pulled Beauregard’s heirloom free from Morningstar’s back. Dropped it to the sticky floor. Put a hand on the preacher’s shoulder, rolled him over and off of the nine-year-old. This would not be Typhus’ day to die. His father had sacrificed too much to allow it.

Empty wrist: Noonday Morningstar’s right hand was nowhere to be seen.

Covering Typhus’ naked chest was a large, bright pink welt. A fresh scar in the shape of a hand.

Jack picked the boy up in his arms. Took him out of that place. Buddy and Diphtheria followed close behind. None of them spoke. Leaving as quietly as they had come.

Marshall Trumbo stayed behind.

He looked at the mother and child, so strangely reunited. Quiet and calm as if no demon had ever visited them.


Chapter thirteen

BOOK: The Sound of Building Coffins
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