by Jeffrey Murrell

Chapter 8
The Babe

Morning soon came and again she was gone;
and he was alone on his chair.
The light was put out, but not his pain;
he was hardly able to rest at all.
On the floor, giant cockroach palmetto bugs
crawled along the squiggly red streaks left by the mice,
their mandibles twitching and lapping the blood.
Bark! Bark! Bark! went the dog,
a cheerful canine inquiry
sent out into the swampland greens
for whatever response might return.
It pleased him to hear the friendly animal,
still walking circles out on its rope.
And he felt himself start to cry again,
and he bowed his head to pray,
"Lord, I know I ain't been right wit' you,
but I'll make myself right if you help me out o' here,
and let me go to try an' make amends
fo' all the bad thangs I done."
And he had never really prayed before,
not a real prayer, anyway.
No, his god had been the Tech-9,
his god was the god of "respect."
He felt around the cords behind him more;
He had one knot loosened up with his pinky finger,
and--pop! He got it undone,
then--pop! went another one!
Finally, he was undoing her crafty work!
But it would take time to undo all the others.
The cat had tore up the cords 'round his legs
when it threw its hideous fit the other day,
and stretching his feet,
he could hear the fibers splinter
as they were now weak and could easily break.
But outside, there came a sound,
the sloshing of wet boots on the ground,
then a familiar hack
from the throat of the old hag,
and a curious little cooing cry,
like that of an infant-child.
Bark! Bark! Bark! went the dog.
"Shush, you, yuh ornery thing,
or Ah'll hang yuh by that rope!"
And then again--a baby's whimper,
then the sound of wet ground some more,
slushing and sloshing, boots full of water,
squishing and squashing upon solid dirt,
then trickling steadily; drip-drip-drip . . .
drip-drip-drip in the dirt.
Then sloshing heavily, one slimy splash,
off they came down to the dirt!
But again, slushing and sloshing,
squishing and squashing,
pattering around out in that dirt,
his senses betraying his perception,
the sounds were not of what he thought occurred.
"Now be good! Don't make no more noise!"
Clump-hop, clump-hop upon the porch,
clump-hop, clump-hop through the door,
with cane in one grasp and nude infant in the other,
wielded around by its feet upside-down,
pale and gutted, slit throat drained of blood,
like a nice plump roasting hen for her!
She flopped the white carcass on the table,
put out a shallow pan beside it,
dipped her blood-stained hands again,
then wiped it down and put it in the pan.
"Now wasn't that nice o' that Katie Sue
to give me this bastard child to cook?
She and Ah had a score to settle,
and this was her price, Ah decided.
Yes, sir! Not her first, but still a fine, fat roaster!
The thing caught her off guard--
she didn't know what ta do
when the papa done run off on her!
So Ah said Ah'd help her on out,
and she knowed mah prices 'er steep!
But now she kin relax in peace, 'cause it's all over."
He turned away and couldn't look,
as she banged other utensils around,
and opened up the oven door
to slide the carcass on in,
stoking the coals with fresh wood
through a smaller bottom door.
And the fire crackled for over an hour;
he could hear the carcass inside sizzle,
the baby fat melting away from the flesh,
the skin turning golden brown and crisp,
making the old woman lick her lips,
making him want to be sick.
"Ah think that thing's jist 'bout done!"
she exclaimed, sipping her coffee and chicory.
She opened the oven, "Yes, out it comes!"
then presented it upon her table,
shriveled and blackened in its pan,
looking now more like a cooked 'possum,
fingers all scorched off the hands,
feet now just charred, bony stubs.
"Now don't this look perty!"
She smacked her lips, drawing out fork and knife,
then carved off the legs and thighs,
promptly depositing them in her pot.
Then she sat down, plate before her,
coffee cup nice and full,
carved herself off a nice big slice,
and gobbled it down her throat!
He was still numb, but now with straight shock,
the pain didn't matter anymore.
His fingers worked over the lumpy knots
quicker and more agile than before
to escape the insanity of this witch,
and rectify his own soul,
to make some better sense of life
and to avoid her in the aftermore!