WRAPPED IN BLACK
Thirteen Tales of Witches and the Occult
HAIR SHIRT DRAG
by Gordon White
I ain’t never read the Key of Solomon, but I read the Book of Kings. Rest of the Bible, too, back when Mama thought that’d help me fit in. It didn’t, I won’t, and, truth be told, I ain’t all that broken up about it. It’s hard being the only son in a family of powerful women, harder still when people say you aren’t even man enough for that. But I’m just about over it all, really.
It’s a humid July evening, as Mama says, accenting both syllables. We’re on the porch, listening to the crickets and the frogs settle into their nightly delirium as fireflies rise up across the tobacco fields like ghost lights. Mama’s got a mouthful of needles as she helps me pin the dress I’m wearing. She’s ain’t thrilled to be doing it, but I need help on the back and at least out here the cicadas drown out her disapproving clucks.
An engine rattling across the field and a red dust cloud barreling down the driveway interrupt our work. It ain’t even really dark yet, but the car’s headlights are beaming like two wide eyes scared that something’s going to jump out at them. As it gets closer, I recognize Emma Turner, a girl I knew from school and the kind that shakes her long, blonde hair when she gets out of her car like this was a shampoo commercial. Almost without thinking, I brush my hand across the nearly shaved side of my own head, bristling out a fine mist of sweat. I’m not petty or anything, but she and I have never gotten along.
“Evening, Ms. Overhold,” she says to Mama.
Mama nods. “It is.”
Emma’s mouth hangs opens as she hesitates, deciding how to address me.
See, Overhold is a matrilineal name, passed on through our family’s women, although I ended up with that gift, too, despite my sex. Which was fine, until I got to Bushrod Johnson High and the kids all started calling me “Sissy,” but since that’s a diminutive – sometimes even an affectionate – of names like Melissa or Jesse, I could pretend it wasn’t all that bad. You know, if you squinted hard enough. Anyway, I never let it give them power over me because if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: Words don’t mean nothing. It’s only intention that makes things happen.
“Jesse,” Emma settles on my boy name, smiling as if she and I were on speaking terms. “You’re looking thin.”
Her eyes laugh the way her mouth wouldn’t dare in front of Mama. I must look a mess, hair frizzed out and make-up smearing in the damp air, probably more than a little five o’clock shadow. But girls like Emma eat weakness, so I lean in and smile back.
“You, too, Goldie.” It sounds innocuous, but she and I both know the rumors behind it.
Her smile hardens and she shakes her hair again, probably not even meaning to, yet ruled by an instinctual vanity. She tugs at her curls, a tell she’s had since middle school when lying to teachers or her boyfriend Tommy Stinz. “I like your,” her free hand waves, “get-up. Trash chic.”
Half made-up though I may be, I look good in this dress. The sharp lines, cut-outs, sloping hem and everything else is my design and my construction. So if queen bee wants to start start pulling on threads, jealous that I look better than she ever will, well, that won’t end nicely. I sweep the longer part of my hair out of my eyes to stare at her.
“How’s your family, Miss Turner?” Mama is louder than the question warrants, pushing herself into the conversation. “Your mother and the Sheriff doing well?”
I’m over it. I let go of the moisture-swollen railing, peeled paint stuck beneath my nails. It’s too hot for this nonsense.
“Yes, ma’am,” Emma says. Her smile is as thin and painted on as her eyebrows, but she sounds sweet as honey.
“That’s good to hear.” Mama hands me my pincushion and waves Emma onto the porch. “What can we do for you?”
“Well, ma’am,” Emma says, “I been told to come ask about your medicine.”
Read the entire story in
WRAPPED IN BLACK: Thirteen Tales of Witches and the Occult
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2014
Gordon White lives in New York, but was born and raised in North Carolina. As a result, his tastes are equal parts urban noir and Southern Gothic; bagels and barbecue. His fiction has appeared in venues such as Cease, Cows!, Lakeside Circus, and Dark Fuse’s Horror D’oeuvres. When not writing, Gordon also reads submissions for Kraken Press and contributes reviews to Hellnotes. His own much-neglected website is www.grizzlyspectacles.com.