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Toaster Beef
Jan 23, 2007

that's not nature's way


This is too good to pass up. Count me in.

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Toaster Beef
Jan 23, 2007

that's not nature's way


So, I had some free time. Here's mine:

Prompt: "Cotton Eye Joe"

If It Hadn’t Been

1,196 words

The rustle of his fields, swaying gently in the heavy evening air. Crickets. The creaking of the wooden porch under his subtly anxious feet. Just inside the cabin, a screaming newborn.

The moon loomed large and foreboding over all of creation tonight, and though its beauty was undeniable, on this night Jacob wanted nothing more than to see it fall.

Footsteps. The tired groaning of the back door. His wife, up and moving. The doctor had told her to get nothing but rest after delivery, and when she scoffed the doctor looked at Jacob as if to say, “This is your charge.” He told the doctor he’d do what he could, but she’d never been still a day in her life.

She walked to his side, leaving the door open behind her. He didn’t pry his gaze from the fields. When she finally spoke, it was barely above a whisper.

“Ain’t nothin’ out here.”

For what felt to her like a long time, he said nothing. Back in the cabin, their newborn had finally worn itself out and drifted off to sleep.

“Ain’t movin’.”

She sighed.

“I don’t know who went an’ filled your head with these stories about Bridgeton —”

“— ain’t stories.”

“But we ain’t in Bridgeton anymore, and you’re a grown man with a brand new baby girl needs takin’ care of. Now I was okay with comin’ out here and gettin’ away from things on account of what happened to our Paul, but I did it thinkin’ it’d put an end to this curse talk once an’ for all.”

That landed. He looked at her, into her, his eyes a mix of intensity and sadness she’d never seen before.

“Curse didn’t take our boy. High river took our boy. The curse don’t take boys, I told you that time and time again.”

He turned back toward the fields.

As frustrated as she was, the fatigue of being up and moving around so soon was enough to get her to yield. She sighed again and walked back inside, closing the door behind her. Its hinges groaned loudly, and the baby awoke once more. Its cries, accompanied by his wife’s attempts to quiet them, soon joined the din of the night around him.

She’d come from three towns over, a one-road deal almost fully surrounded by the waters of the bayou. To her, the curse might as well be a fairy tale — something passed around in hushed voices over dying campfires, something to keep a man awake at night. He knew better. He’d seen the effect firsthand: his slowly dying town, the rush of married couples to flee the area before trying to conceive, a pall weighing heavily on all things.

They’d chanced staying in town for their last child, the naivete of youth leading him to think the tale could never come true for him and his family. She, having not grown up in town, thought nothing of the story and thus didn’t do much to convince him otherwise.

When their first baby came out a boy, they celebrated. When that boy, at the age of ten, was taken by a high river and pulled out three days later, they mourned.

It was only a week after she realized she was pregnant for a second time that they’d moved clear of the Bridgeton limits. The curse may not have had anything to do with their boy, but Jacob would chance nothing with their second child.

Now, with his newborn girl in her crib, he hoped quietly they’d gotten out in time.

He could no longer hear the baby crying from inside the cabin. His wife’s efforts to quiet the child had also gone quiet. He couldn’t be sure if one, both, or neither of them were awake, and he opted not to check for fear of waking them with the door.

It was just then that he spotted something. There, out in the fields — a shifting, of sorts, a small spot of grain moving counter to the wind-induced sway. He stared, unblinking, wishing the moonlight would help him just a little bit more.

Its first movements were uncertain, almost drunken, but as it straightened itself out it moved on a direct line toward the cabin, cutting a path through the grains but leaving those behind it undisturbed, as if a large animal were crawling on its belly and somehow weaving its way around each individual stalk. Jacob was frozen to the spot, his arms out slightly, unsure what to do. The disturbance continued making a beeline for the cabin, growing more and more apparent until finally, less than ten feet from the edge of the field, it surfaced.

He felt his heart drop into his stomach. His legs lost their bones. Regardless, he didn’t move an inch. He couldn’t.

Free of the field and walking with a deliberate pace toward the cabin was a tall man with a long coat and large hat, his significant figure silhouetted by the moonlight.

Jacob wanted nothing more in the world than to run inside, to warn his wife, to gather his newborn child and flee, to run and run and never stop. He couldn’t move. He pushed with all of his will and effort, strained, screaming internally for even one muscle to cooperate. His eyes darted from side to side as he struggled to turn his head. It was no use. He couldn’t budge.

The man was now at the edge of the porch. Jacob was now able to see he hadn’t been silhouetted by the moonlight at all — he was, simply, darkness. As he readied himself to step onto the porch, he removed his hat, revealing the only part of him that could be said to be anything other than akin to staring into a void: his eyes. Human eyes, even if only in shape. They were a stained white, like those of an old man long blind, but they were very clearly capable of sight. They focused intently on Jacob’s frozen form.

The man in the coat nodded, then walked casually by and opened the cabin door. It groaned loudly.

Still frozen, Jacob could only listen as the baby began screaming again. So too, briefly, did his wife — but as quickly as she started, she was again silent. A few seconds later, the baby’s scream evolved into a cry, a wailing that pierced Jacob and would forever weigh on him more heavily than anything he’d previously thought possible.

And then: silence.

Jacob shut his eyes hard — the only movement he’d been allowed — and felt tears well in their corners. Internally, he screamed and shook with a mix of rage and desperation. Externally, he did absolutely nothing.

The man in the coat walked by once more, this time heading back toward the field. He stopped and nodded at Jacob, placed his hat back on his head, and sank into the grains like a foundering ship.

Jacob, finally able to move again, sank to his hands and knees.

His own sobbing. The rustle of his fields, swaying gently in the heavy evening air. Just inside the cabin, his screaming wife.

Toaster Beef
Jan 23, 2007

that's not nature's way


I don't think I ever got a critique :(

Toaster Beef
Jan 23, 2007

that's not nature's way


Kaishai posted:

The last I heard, the Week 98 judges were all planning on crits, but I know that my own will be very late. I apologize; I'd rather be prompt, but life is interfering. They will be posted eventually.

No big deal, I know how getting busy as hell goes. Thanks for the update :)

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