Sweet & Sour
BY Kenneth Weene
The air’s so thick you can almost see the old box fan I got at the thrift agitatin’ again’ it. The moon so bright it lights the way to Babylon, yet hazed enough to call out spirit dead and set that dread that’s buried in the human heart to stirrin’ with screams and sobbin’s of despair whilst horses dance about with nervous hooves and dogs bay long and low to fend such evil as about us in the damp night swirls.
In the valley ridin’ his old black Ford, the Baptist preacher sways and rocks again’ the rusted door. till it near bursts to dump him in the crick, where trout and pickerel can nibble his fat toes like the worms we dig in Uncle Jethrow’s garden whilst he smokes his pipe and pretends what he don’t see.
That preacher saves hisself by swervin’ the wheel and bouncin’ up the rud like he’s riddin’ a chariot of death come for the Old Woman Jones who’s busy with dyin’ and still takin’ her time as if fer to wait on his comin’.
The preacher ain’t a-racin’ to save no souls, least wise not hers. Thar ain’t not one person in all these hills who don’t know and hate on her for bein’ nasty mean. If it weren’t fer her potions and herbs, there’s not a man nor woman who’d have truck with her at all; but them potions and herbs do hold the pow’r—power to heal and power to make a person sick and die.
Tha’s how she’s lived so long – longer than most and longer than she ever ‘served. But even them that knows witchin’ die; and dyin’s what she’s doin’ now.
The preacher he’s got a fierce wantin’ after her potions and things she knows. Thinks maybe she’ll give him the teachin’ ‘fore she passes on. So far he is bouncin’ and jouncin’ long that rud, hurryin’ to the crone’s place, hurryin’ to beat out old Lucifer an’ his sulfurous horde, hurryin’ to talk that old woman out of all her knowin’.
And all that time, up on the spring hill, up whar the trees turn from Aspen and Alder to pine and hemlock, up whar the streams start up and babble thier ways down to that crick, an old black bar was snuffin’ the wind and lookin’ to mate.
When an old bar has that urge, why best stay clear and let him satisfy the want. Off he roams and down that hill, sufflin’ and shufflin’ and not carin’ one bit ‘bout naught but findin’ what he’s been wantin’.
Seems like thar’s a wantin’ in all nature. The parson is wantin’ somethin’ evil and wrong but full of pow’r. The bar is after somethin’, too – wantin’ and wantin’. The one’s jouncin’ and bouncin’ up a rutted rud; the other pushin’ and a growlin’ down the stream.
Farther on up that rud, well past whar it cross’ the crick, whar a car can ford it easy,
that old woman, she sets up and starts in laughin’; laughin’ like the devil’s ticklin’ at her feet, rockin’ and laughin’ like thar ain’t no end in sight. All of sudden she keels ova, and she’s gone wherever her like goes.
And down that rud, thar at that ford, the preacher’s car, and the black bar come together with a bang and a howl.
The bar run off; no rut this night. The car is dead; they’ll need a team to pull her out. An’ that preacher? Why he’s dead, too. Blood and bits of brain all about. Some have gone to feed the fish. Toes or brains; worm or man: well why’s a fish to know or care?