THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part 43
Roosevelt had helped Mathilda carry her burden from the house to the waiting taxicab. Now, as she climbed from the stale interior of the automobile out into the hot, wet night, she would have to carry it alone. With care, she unloaded her basket and three plastic grocery bags and set them at her feet. The driver watched her but did not offer to assist. Mathilda dug in the pocket of her single-piece dress and handed the young Latino some rolled up bills.
“Appreciate you drivin’ me out here,” Mathilda said.
The driver uncurled the money in his palm. He stared at it as though concentrating, then looked up to meet her gaze.
“You gave me too much money,” he said in his accented English. He separated one of the bills and extended it over the car seat to Mathilda.
“No, you keep it,” Mathilda said.
“Huh?” He blinked. “But it’s a hundred dollars.”
“You keep it,” Mathilda repeated. “You is a good boy.”
He blinked again. “Okay. Muchos gracias.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Mathilda started to gather up her things. “Does you know Jesus, chile?”
“Huh?” He still sat turned around, looking over the seat at Mathilda. The overhead light glared, and a low chiming warned him that a door had been left open. “Oh. I’m Catholic.”
“Ain’t what I asked,” Mathilda said. “You needs Jesus jus’ like ever’boby else do.”
“Ol’ Satan wanderin’ around seekin’ whom he may devour,” Mathilda said.
“Hey, uh, I don’t think, maybe it’s not a good idea for me to leave you alone out here at night,” the young man said. “I can wait for you. No extra charge,” he added.
“No, no,” Mathilda said. “You get home, chile.”
“But how you gonna get back?”
“You ain’t got to worry ’bout that, now.”
“I don’t mind waiting.”
Mathilda stared at him over the rim of her eyeglasses. “You do as I says. You get gone. You get gone or I take that money back what I give to you.”
The driver pulled away. The crimson glow of the taxi’s taillights washed over her, then faded along with the sound of the engine. Mathilda stooped, pulled one of the jars from a plastic bag and, using both hands, threw it down on the highway, smashing it. The pungent aroma of her poultice filled her nostrils as she gathered up the rest of her supplies.
“Jus’ You an me now, Lord,” Mathilda said.
Mathilda started up the hill towards the line of pine trees. The full Moon made it easy enough to see, almost as bright as day. She didn’t even need her flashlight. The straps of the basket and the handholds of the grocery bags cut into her fingers, hurting her. The jars clanked together, their weight threatening to rupture the thin plastic of the bags.
*Lord, give me strength.*
Mathilda panted, swayed, but kept climbing. She reached the top of the hill where her parents’ shack had once stood. The ghosts of her family were silent tonight. Only the cicadas and the tree frogs raised their voices in greeting. Oblivious, still thinking it summertime, perhaps, they offered Mathilda a serenade. She ignored them.
Almost tripping over a large rock half-buried in the earth, she stopped. She took a second jar from the bag and smashed it against the rock.
Down into the pine thicket she went. Darker here, but not by much. Still, Mathilda sat down her bags and basket. She stooped, grunting, and unfastened the clasps of the basket, pulling out her flashlight. She clicked it on, picking everything up again with a groan, holding the flashlight in the same hand as the handles of the picnic basket. Dead leaves rustled as some small animal startled and ran for cover.
Mathilda’s heart pounded, her chest tight. *You shut up, now. Be able to rest soon enough.* She tramped down the other side of the hill, towards the cave.
Mathilda froze. Her eyes went wide. A shiver ran up her back, gooseflesh breaking out on her arms. He stomach churned and threatened to erupt.
“Oh, no!” Mathilda tried to move faster, to urge her aching legs to greater effort. She swung the grocery bags and basket at her sides. Her tongue hung out like a panting dog’s.
*Oh, Lord, why You did’n tell me before?!*
She almost lost her balance, caught herself. Her knees and thighs screamed at her, awash in lactic acid. Mathilda paid them no mind. Just ahead, she could make out the black maw of the cave.
The beam of the flashlight bounced and danced with the swinging of the basket. Mathilda slowed at the mouth of the cave. She swung one of the plastic bags against the cavern lip, shattering the jar inside it. She dropped it there and entered the cave, leaving the glow of the full Moon behind her.
*It done already happenin’!*
She followed the cavern on down, not daring to pause for rest, not even for an instant. The tunnel branched; Mathilda followed the turn to the left. She bumped into the cave walls, hit her head where the ceiling lowered, but kept going. Deeper, deeper. At length, the beam of the flashlight brushed across a standing row of slick, rotting posts. Like jagged teeth, they jutted up from the cavern floor. Another set protruded from the ceiling.
The old mine.
Long ago, this had been one of the walls erected by men to separate the tunnels they had dug from those dug by other hands. The Little ‘Uns. But the wall had long since been breached. The heavy, thick posts were nothing more now than shards, stalactites and stalagmites fashioned of wood, serving no purpose at all, save perhaps as a warning.
Mathilda stepped through the jaws of the tunnel. The floor became steeper as she followed it down, less smooth. Mathilda stopped, dug out another of the jars and smashed it on the cavern floor. She kept going. After a while, she could go no further.
Mathilda dropped to her knees. *This have to do.* She sat the flashlight on the cavern floor, balanced on its flat bottom to point upward. In the feeble light, Mathilda pulled the remaining jars of her poultice from the bags and her basket. One by one, she broke them against the tunnel walls. The air became thick with the stench of the poultice, almost drowning out the other scent, the worse one. Like cockroaches or a snake’s den or something long, long dead and dried up to bones and parchment.
The Little ‘Uns.
Mathilda sat back on her thighs, trembling with exhaustion. No time for the recitation of the spells, the prayers. No time for her to strip down and anoint herself, or for the laying down of the salt lines, or for the tracing of the ritual symbols in chalk. No time to cut herself, even. No time for the required sacrifice of blood.
Be fine. Won’t need no sacrifice, Mathilda said to herself. Be plenty blood spilled ‘fore this night be over. Plenty blood spilled.
* * *
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!