A Walk at Dusk, “Coffin Water,” part 3

“There you are, there you are, man!”

David pushed against the weight on his chest, thrashing. He reached fingers up to his throat to feel his cracking voice try to cry out. The face of Charles came into clear view. He realized he was in his bed, soaked in sweat.

“Here you are. Are you alright?”

David took a deep breath. “I think so,” he croaked.

“Having a hell of a nightmare, screaming out for a prophet,” Charles said, looking David uneasily up and down.

“A prophet?”

“Ezra,” Charles said. “Mother had you reading about him, right?” Charles gave David an uneasy smile. “Never personally had a nightmare after a bible story.”

“What?” David said. He breathed again and pushed himself up. “Yes, it must have been a nightmare.” He shook his head, trying to banish the sight of eyes, unnaturally grey, like cold stone. “You remember that night with Tiny?”

“Yes. What does that have to do-”

“The voice?”

“What voice?” Charles’s face held it’s smile, but his widened. He forced a chuckle. “That was just the Wind, David. You’re not a child anymore.” The smile had left Charles’s mouth and he gazed out the window as he said. “Get you britches on. Today will be a busy day.” Charles stood and walked to the open bedroom door. He looked back at David. “War’s on.”

*

David went downstairs to find the kitchens empty, the table cleared, and the sun shining warmly through open windows. He went to the kitchen and quickly grabbed a hunk of bread and few bites of cheese left to the side of the sink on a plate.

“Good old Mayem,” he said to himself. He sat down at the empty table and greedily ate his found vittles. He looked out the window and was surprised to see a carriage sitting idly by the front porch. Two strange unsaddled horses stood pawing the ground in the sun, their bridles hitched to one of the posts in the yard. Jeb, an old slave, was busy brushing them.

“Found the cheese, I see.” It was Michael, looking more alive than David had seen in weeks.

“Thanks,” David said after swallowing his mouthful. “The tincture with the coffin water appears to be working.”

“Haven’t done anything with it yet,” Michael said. He pulled up a chair and sad down near to David.

“What’s all this?” David gestured to the horses and the carriage.

“The Jacksons.”

“Who are they?”

“Family from up the road. Pretty rich. Charles fancies one of their daughters.” Michael scratched his chin. “Mary, I think her name is.”

“Are we finally going to get Charles married off, then?” David said. “I hadn’t really thought much about it.”

“You hadn’t thought much about anything, lately,” Michael said. “Except maybe those blue eyes.”

David choked slightly on a piece of the bread and cleared his throat.

“Sorry,” Michael said with a chuckle. “I was only joshing.”

“It’s not that,” David said. “I had a dream. I was…” David looked out the window and sighed.

Michael smiled grimly. “Grey eyes?” David nodded, his mouth agape. Michael looked down at his hands. “She’s a looker eh?”

David sat dumbfounded for a few seconds. “Who…what is she?”

“Witch of the Woods,” Michael said. “Leastways, that’s what I think she is.”

“You dreamt of her too?” David said.

“Not last night. Last night was… nothing.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Not this time, David,” Michael said. “Though I don’t expect you to trust me. Hell, I wouldn’t trust me.” He cracked the same grim smile as before. “Dreamt of her for a while now. Long while, maybe since I got sick. Most nights since then. Thought maybe it was the fever, but she sticks around. In that little house. I usually don’t know I’m dreaming. She’s familiar, that’s the problem.”

David nodded. “I thought she was my wife.”

“She take you to bed?”

“No,” David said.

Michael nodded silently, and David refused to voice the question in his mind, of just what he had given in to with the nameless witch.

“What do we do?” David asked.

“Hell if I know,” Michael said.

“Why haven’t you told anyone?” David said. “Why haven’t you talked to Father-”

“Yes, I imagine Father would take that seriously,” Michael interrupted.

“-or the minister…” David shook his head. “Or someone, damnit.”

“Who would believe me?” Michael said. “And I just thought I was going crazy. Sick in the head to match sick in the heart. Besides, who do you know who knows what to do?”

“I’ve heard of demon possession,” David said. “Ezra knows about it. She has a book. Maybe…”

Michael chuckled. “Do you think I’m possessed? Jesus Christ I hope not.”

“Or whatever is wrong. It’s something unnatural,” David said. “We have to try something.”

“I am,” Michael said. He patted his jacket pocket.

“The coffin water?”

“Can’t haunt what’s already dead, right? Two drops before bed, and sleep like the dead.”

“You didn’t overhear that from the slaves. Who told you about this?”

“Not saying, but it worked, didn’t it?”

“Like hell it did,” David said. “You saying she slid one room over?”

Michael shrugged. “Least I know now I’m not crazy.”

“Yes, at least,” David said. He watched the horses out the window again.

“Well, we know what works, eh?” Michael said.

“You know, Ezra said coffin water could be used to break a curse,” David said at length. Maybe-”

He couldn’t finish voicing his thought, for at that moment the front door opened, admitting his father, who was dressed in a finer jacket than David had seen in a long time. He loped over to table.

“Up you two,” he said. “We’ve more guests coming for dinner. I want both of you in your good shirts and trousers. David wear your black jacket. Michael,” Henry Smith paused as he looked at his middle son, “Wear your least wrinkled jacket. We can excuse you early.”

“Yes sir,” Michael said.

“Who is coming?” David said.

“Where have you been all day?” Henry said. He shook his head in frustration and walked out of the room grumbling to himself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *