Coming Soon

Read the first part of Mist Skinner (a selection from Relics From the Grave) for free

Relics from the Grave Book Cover

Mist seeped into the valley on the morning Barbara Sue was to bury Mama.  Damp tendrils of fog oozed out of the lake created by the Tennessee Valley Authority back when Mama was just a girl.  The curls of mist looked like clawed fingers that bled puffs of smoke, and then the smoke billowed up into the hills folding around the lake.  

Aunt Willie called the arrival of mist a bad omen, as if Mama’s overdose on OxyContin wasn’t bad enough.  “Old Darkie be a’comin’,” she said, flipping fried eggs in a sizzling pool of pork fat.  “Gonna carry off your skin.  Make you stay here where you belong, girl.  With us.  With your own kind.”  

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Barb said.  That’s what she liked to be called.  And anyway, she belonged up north.  Not down here with Mama’s racist folks where the Civil War had never ended.  They still thought of her as Barbara Sue. 

“Don’t you sass me none, child.”  Aunt Willie shook her spatula, spraying droplets of grease across the linoleum floor.  “I seen Old Darkie myself.  Sweet Kenny was with me.  He’ll tell you it’s so.”  
Oh right.  Crazy Kenny was certainly a reliable witness.  “It’s just a story, Aunt Willie.  A legend.”  
“Uh-uh.  Ain’t so.  They hanged Old Darkie for stirrin’ up trouble.  Started a slave revolt, he did, and they all run off from the iron furnace.  Burned down barns.  I reckon Old Darkie got what was a’comin’ to him, ’cept he didn’t think so.  I’m tellin’ you, he ain’t done with us decent folk yet.”  

“I won’t be around long enough to trouble him,” Barb said.  She couldn’t wait to get out of here.  
“Hogwash.  I reckon it’s up to me to learn you good from now on, now that your mama passed on to the Lord.  After all, what’s the point of havin’ young’uns if they up and leave?”  

Barb didn’t know.  But she did know Aunt Willie liked to mix her stories.  The truth was, no one could trust the mist.  Sometimes Barb could hear a far-off, long drawn-out screech, muffled in the mist, and she thought maybe some of the stories were true.  Stories explained the unexplainable, naming monsters like Tailypo or Boo Hag or whatever.  Under cover of the mist, who knew?  Aunt Willie always said the mist was like a shroud that covered up the no-good business of no-good doers.  

Aunt Willie slid the greasy eggs onto a chipped dimestore plate and hollered, “Come and get it,” even though it was only the two of them here in the two rooms of her house on stilts.  “Set yerself down, child, and et.  You ain’t nothin’ but skin and bones.”  

Barb shivered, maybe from the damp chill of late autumn, maybe from anxiety about getting out of here before freezing rain set in to trap her.  After burying Mama, Barb would leave Coal Blossom Hollow, this place of shrouds and tales, and never come back.  Barb had grown up in the world beyond these hills, and she only came back to Mama’s roots for Mama’s sake.  There would be no reason to return, not ever again, without Mama being here.  

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