Poor Valley Witch: Further on Down the Road

This latest installment of Poor Valley Witch is a little late. Please forgive me; I’ve been revising my manuscript for Evolution: Book 2 of Mermaid Underground. It’s set for publication sometime in the next week or so!

For part one, click here. For part two, click here.

Here it is, Part III of Poor Valley Witch:

old blacktop

Landon blinked, and realized he was driving down a gravel road, a side-spur off the main, pitted asphalt track. Weird, he thought. He didn’t remember turning the wheel. Didn’t even remember seeing this road before turning onto it. As a kid, Landon had thought Poor Valley was always eager to spit him out again, but today…today it seemed like the Valley wanted to keep him a while. He shivered at the thought.

Ahead was a place that had a house trailer at its core, a little rectangular metal seed that had sprouted additions and porches until it resembled a forgotten treasure chest in the sea crusted over with years of barnacles. He stopped, vaguely wondering why, and got out of the car. He left it there, in the middle of the road, door wide open.

By now Landon had forgotten Sheila and her self-righteous warnings. He had even forgotten his grandmother, who might know he’d driven down here by now…some of her church allies would probably call, if they hadn’t already. If he had thought about it, it might have comforted him to think there had been witnesses to his departure into Poor Valley. As it was, all he could think about was the trailer house in front of him.

He made his way to what he thought was the front door: a homemade plywood contraption with a hole crudely cut where a doorknob would be. He lifted his fist, hesitated…then knocked. A muffled tock-clunk sounded with the action; the loose plywood bumped against its frame. The noise faded into the rest of the place, then seemed to rebound, reverberating louder and louder until he yelped and pushed his hands against his ears.

Come in. The whisper came at the heels of the deafening, echoing knock. He could not. He couldn’t do it; he turned around and scrambled up the bank to where his car stood, engine running, door wide open. He backed down the gravel road, which was much longer than it should have been. He didn’t see a place to turn around. How long was I out? he wondered. How long had he been entranced, driving under the influence of something or someone else … maybe whoever had whispered from behind the plywood door?

Almost to the asphalt once more, at the place where the road bent around to head toward town, a girl stood in the road behind him. She jumped into the grass, out of the way, looking terrified in his rear view mirror. Landon slammed on the brakes, fishtailing  before stopping in a little shower of gravel. He opened the door, heart pounding.

“You ok!?” he called to the girl, who was standing at the edge of the road in ankle-high grass. It was good he’d stopped. She didn’t have much room to go anywhere; the bank sloped steeply down to a barbed-wire fence before leveling off to a gentle pasture beyond. The foot of the mountain came down right to the road on the other side, shedding little bits of shale and clay in protest of the road’s encroachment.

The girl nodded, edging down the grass to come around his car, wanting to get out of his way.

“Going a little fast, mister,” she said. She wasn’t a girl, he saw as she came close and then went around him. He pushed up against his car to give her room. She was in her mid-twenties, a young woman. Her hair was braided, but working on an escape; a little cloud of baby-fine tendrils waved gently in the air around her face every time she moved. She smelled sweet, like freshly cut hay and the odd grape Kool-Aid odor of kudzu flowers. She stopped at his front bumper, feeling secure that he wouldn’t mow her down in reverse.

“Visiting?” she inquired. He shrugged, unsure of how to answer her.

“I thought I might, but to be honest, I got a little spooked.” He cocked his head toward the ramshackle house behind the girl. He could just see a corner of its roof, peeking at them…goosebumps raised on his arms when he looked that way. The girl threw back her head and laughed aloud.

“You…you didn’t even go in!” she cawed. “I thought you were brave, Landon. Out to fly in the faces of all those righteous folks up-Valley!” Her laughter had a curious effect on him. She was pretty, lovely when she smiled, and he felt shame creeping over his face in a blush.

“Well, it was loud, and then there was a whisper, and…” he stopped, absolutely unsure of how to continue.

“You go on home, now. Put your brave on. Come back and visit when you feel…up to it.” The girl smiled and turned away. Almost as an afterthought, she turned back and said, “Tell your Mamaw I said ‘hi.'” She turned away and walked on down the road, toward the house that seemed to watch them like a little kid peeking over the windowsill of the grassy bank.

***

Click here for Part IV of Poor Valley Witch.

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