Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Ballad of Maude Clare: Part Four

SHE DIDN'T DREAM ANYMORE of the dark rabbit-man, but of places that were weird copies of reality; a school with scarlet windows and ghostly children; a red land with a giant moon the color of sea foam and houses filled with old books; a pterodactyl gliding past an ivory skyscraper with the silhouettes of people inside.
     In the late afternoon, Maude returned to the field behind the cemetery.
     The birdcage/dollhouse of black metal was gone. She wondered if she'd imagined that too. Disappointed, relieved, she sat beneath a tree and opened the book she'd brought and read until the sun began to fade.
     She looked up at a crow's call and a sudden chill.
     Jack Tiamat was sitting on the low wall that divided the field from the cemetery. In bellbottom jeans and a red shirt with ruby cuff-links, he seemed too elegant for his environment. She shut the book and breathed out, "I saw you at the Lantern."
     He slid down from the wall. "Walk with me?"
     "Through the cemetery? Because you're on that side now."
     "No crowds."
     She rose. As she slid over the wall, he reached out and steadied her, his hand sure and warm on her bare arm. She wanted to ask about the red-eyed boy in moldy clothes, but didn't, because she didn't want him to think she was crazy. It would be worse if she wasn't crazy, and that creature had been real.
     As they wandered among the tombstones knotted with trees she thought might be banyans, he indicated a giant that rose in the middle, its roots like massive serpents among the graves. Beneath the tree stood a mausoleum guarded by a black marble figure in a long coat and wide-brimmed hat. It held a key in one hand and, in the other, a pair of scissors that looked like a weapon. Maude gazed at the strange, sharp face. "That's creepy."
     The dusky light burnished Jack's curls as he stepped up onto the statue's base to read the inscription, "'Here lies the bride of the Dubh Deamhais. May the divine have mercy upon her soul.'"
      Leaves rustled in a sudden wind and Maude shivered as if she were standing on the threshold of a dark, ancient place. "Who is the...what you just said?"
     "Dubh Deamhais. He's called the Black Scissors." He stepped down. "He's like the Headless Horseman here, only not headless and only dangerous to some. He was a highwayman in the 1700s who made a deal with something bad."
     "The devil?"
     "No." Jack didn't smile when he said, "Faeries."
     She felt a chill, but smiled to show such a word didn't scare her. "Like the elves in those Tolkien books?"
     "No. Not like elves. He became a sort of wizard...not like Gandalf." His mouth curled and she liked that. As he moved past her, he said, "There's more."
     She followed him through shadows that seemed almost subterranean, to a part of the cemetery tangled with wood vines and ferns and prickly bushes that scratched her skin. The air was heavy with the scent of clover and the spice of magnolia. He moved toward a crypt which loomed among the broken stones, its walls rippling with kudzu, its base ringed with pale toadstools. Another statue stood here, a hooded figure of lichen-splotched granite with a large serpent curled around its bare feet. The inscription read 'Tiamat'.
     "Your family."
     "They are now." He touched the crypt's plaque. She noticed the rings he wore, how they seemed dulled by age.
     "This place," Maude drew back from the crypt built to resemble a mansion. It reminded her of the black metal cage/dollhouse. "I don't like it."
     "It is a graveyard." He turned. "I like it."
     She wanted to ask him why, but there was a powerful stilllness that prevented her. She tried not to think about what lay beneath her feet, bones and rotting matter and nothingness--
     She flicked her gaze to Jack and saw the darkness that had swallowed the whites of his eyes.  She backed up a step. His skin seemed luminous, as pale as the toadstools.
     She turned and fled through the cemetery, toward the low wall. The breath searing from her throat, she tumbled into the field and grabbed her bike.
     As she pedaled away, she looked over her shoulder once and saw only darkness among the tombstones and banyans.

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