Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Ballad of Maude Clare: Part Five

THE BLACK SCISSORS came this night,
and a cold, dark man was he.
My soul he stole and mended whole,
and took a faery doctor's fee.

     The girl's voice faded as a horse-drawn coach rumbled down a night road and clattered to a halt with a yell from the coachman as another horse, black as a night without stars, reared in its path. The rider, in a duster coat and tricornered hat, called out to those within the vehicle. His eyes glinted an otherworldly silver.
     Maude woke believing she'd heard hooves clacketing on the street outside. Her heart slamming, she slid up to look out the window. There was no horse, only leaf shadows and streetlight and the soft patter of rain...and the feeling that something had tried to warn her.
Maude asked Emily at the coffehouse where the Tiamats lived and Emily reluctantly told her, "Off of Nightshade Road, on Draper's Lane. Don't go there."
     The next day, Maude bicycled up a gravel path shadowed by Virginia creeper and oaks ribboned with moss. When she finally reached a clearing clotted with weeds, she breathed out. Across the clearing, hazy and unreal from the humidity, sat a plantation house, in ruins, its windows shuttered, cypresses twined into its black-streaked walls. Even at this distance, she could smell mildew and wood rot, cloying beneath the fragrance of magnolia and green things.
     She stared at the house. The glamorous Tiamats couldn't live there.
     A chill seeped through the heat. The buzz of the cicadas became frantic. The shadows around the house seemed too dark, like splashes of ink. It looked like a nesting place for horrors.
     "What're you doing?"
     She whirled, expecting Jack Tiamat.
     But the boy standing beneath an oak had hair the color of new corn. He wore bellbottom jeans and a Steppenwolf T-shirt and sunlight winked from his glasses.
     "That house," Silver bracelets glinted around one wrist as he pointed at it, "is dangerous. That's Snake Hollow. That's all swamp back there."
     She braced herself against the bike and glared at him. "Who're you?"
     "Ethan." He sauntered forward. "Mongoose."
     "Mongoose. I'm Maude Clare. I thought the Tiamats lived here -- is Mongoose really your last name?"
     "The Tiamats used to live here." His gaze slid to the sinister house. "And Mongoose is really my last name."
     She leaned against the bike. Her tripping heart had slowed. "You live nearby?"
     "Down the other side." He nodded in a general direction. "I was here, looking for something I lost."
     "Tell me about the Tiamats?" The buzz of cicadas was beginning to give her a headache. She could hear Led Zeppelin crashing faintly from a transister radio. She could smell barbecue and car exhaust and, although these ordinary things comforted her, she still felt freaked out.
     "They're a young family with old origins They're rich as anything, the best students at the university, and secretive as snakes."
     He sure spoke strange. She thought of Jack Tiamat's luminous skin and black eyes and the tricks that light and dark could play.
     Ethan Mongoose began walking and she followed, wheeling her bike through dandelions and creepers. He said, his voice carrying a faint lilt, "Don't get caught up with them. You hear?"
     Maude nodded. But this place of haunts and mysterious families made her forget other things. She'd been a little scared, but she had no intention of staying away from anyone now.

Lily's Note: The Black Scissors. I found only one reference to this name in West Virginia folklore. There was a highwayman who haunted the roads of this region some time during the 18th century. He was caught and identified as William Harrow, a nineteen-year-old tailor and indentured servant from Dublin, Ireland. He was hanged. No one ever claimed his body.
See also: Law and Crime in Colonial Virginia by Peter Saunders (Peregrine Press, 1977) Infamous Roads in Southern Folklore by Sandy Claimes (OldSmith Books, 1955)

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