The Prodigal, Part Four
8 July 1936
The stolen car kicked up dirt as it drew to a stop on the edge of a stretch of road across the Ohio River from Midland, PA. It was getting dark, so Jeremiah glanced around for headlights before opening the back seat and pulling out a body wrapped in bed sheets. He made his way to the edge of the water, and carefully set Joanna down just barely beyond the reach of the water.
"Aaboukingon!" he shouted at the river. "Show yourself!" The water in front of him bubbled and churned, and soon the water parted and Aaboukingon emerged, in his human form.
"You're my son," he said, smiling as he extended his arms, "the messenger told me."
"It's a bit late for all that," Jeremiah replied, turning away. "Where have you been?" Aaboukingon stopped and sighed.
"It took me many years to recover from my time away from the river, and once I had, I was in no condition to leave again and look for you both. Even now, I can only manage to go a few feet inland before I grow dangerously weak."
"Good thing you don't have to go so far." With that, Jeremiah, pointed down to the body, and as realization dawned on Aaboukingon he nearly collapsed onto her. He pulled the blankets away, revealing her face, and laid his forehead on hers as he cried.
"Could you not help her? Oh, if I had found you, taught you-"
"I did help her. This world is no place for someone who lives with her heart among the spirits." Aaboukingon's gaze snapped to Jeremiah.
"What did you do?" he demanded, rising to his feet with his fists clenched.
"I don't want to hear it from you. She spent a lifetime suffering because of her devotion to you, and of the two of us I'm the only one who bothered to do anything about it!" Aaboukingon raised his hand and Jeremiah stiffened, gasping for breath.
"You killed her! I could have given her a better life, you could have given her a better life, but instead you killed her!" Jeremiah's eyes began to glow, and then he forced himself free of Aaboukingon's power and, with his own power, threw the river spirit at the water. Aaboukingon slid across the surface before coming to a stop and standing.
"You're still weak. No one calls the river by your name anymore. Soon no one will remember you. Then what will you be? Just another forgotten underling to the mighty Ohio? How does it feel to be an inferior water spirit to someone born of flesh?"
"You're no water spirit. You are hate, and rage, and death. I will ensure you never find any welcome in the River Network as long as you stay on this path!"
"There are better spirits than you to judge me, Aaboukingon." Jeremiah turned and walked back to the car before driving away. Aaboukingon returned to Joanna's body, lifted her into his arms, and together they disappeared beneath the river.
The Prodigal, Part Three
5 July 1936
Joanna woke from a fitful nap, coughed a deep and wet cough, and rolled over for her medicine to find it being held by Jeremiah.
"How long've you been there?" she asked, weakly. He poured the medicine into a spoon and served it to her before leaning back into his chair.
"Only a few minutes, mama. Probably what woke you." She rolled onto her back and pushed herself slightly upright against the wall.
"I been hearin' about you, you know. I tried to keep track, met some occultists who've helped me out." He closed the medicine and set it on the small table beside her bed, next to the necklace holding the vial of sand.
"And what've you been hearing?"
"You been murderin' people, boy?"
"Now come on, mama, I heard you was sick and came to see you and you wanna talk about strangers?"
"Don't play coy with me!" she snapped, turning her face to glare at him. "Did I raise a murderer, or didn't I?" He sighed and looked down at the side of the bed for a moment.
"I only done what I needed to. Some people got in the way." She huffed.
"Got in the way? And where d'you think you're going, like that?"
"I was trying to make a better life for both of us. I was always gonna come home, get you out of shacks like this," he answered, waving his hands out to indicate the old wooden structure surrounding them.
"Yeah? Waitin' til you was done, though, I guess?"
"I knew you wouldn't understand. Not until I did it. I've seen so much, mama. I've walked in the realm of spirits, I've held power over life and death in my hands, I-"
"All that power, lookin' out at the world as it is now, and you didn't think to help no one but yourself?" He stopped, then hit the arm of the chair and stood abruptly to turn away and look out the window. "Maybe you was named right, boy. All that follows after you is lamentation." She turned back to look toward the wall while he rested his fists on the window sill and stared out at the river.
"I came to help you," he finally said, softly.
"I always said I was gonna free you, from this life, from this misery. Give you something better. I know how to do it now."
"You know I'm ill."
"You won't be anymore." He turned around and walked to her side. She turned her gaze to him, and he gave a weak smile and placed his hands on either side of her head, leaned down, and kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes as he did so.
"You know I love you, boy. I know you can do good in this world, if you choose." A tear began to run down his cheek.
"I know, mama. I love you, too," he said. Then there was a crack as he snapped her neck, and the room fell silent as he lowered her head back onto the pillow and pulled himself away. "You'll see. It's not so bad as all this where the spirits live."
The Prodigal, Part Two
PORTIONs OF THE DAMAGED DIARY OF JOANNA WOZNIAK, AS RECOVERED BY THE POLICE DEPARTMENT OF ERIE, PA, ON THE EVENING OF MAY 28, 1974.
Power in the Blood, Part One
11 September 1906
PORTIONS OF THE DAMAGED DIARY OF JOANNA WOZNIAK, AS RECOVERED BY THE POLICE DEPARTMENT OF ERIE, PA, ON THE EVENING OF MAY 28, 1974.
12 September, 1906
He was welcomed in by the doctor and led to Joanna's room, where he was warned that the child had recently fallen asleep and asked not to disturb him. The reverend agreed, then softly entered. He made his way to an armchair in the room and sat down.
"Good morning, Ms. Matteson," he said, just loud enough for her to hear, while removing his hat. "I don't believe we've formally met."
"I know who you are, Reverend, and a little of your opinion of me. The city does love to talk."
"My congregation has told me about the circumstances surrounding your marriage, yes."
"I can imagine how kind they were about it, seeing how they've treated my parents." He sighed, lowering his gaze and brushing some imaginary dust off his hat.
"I have tried, of course. But I don't yet have the respect to really stop them. I doubt it will be an issue much longer, I'm told they're leaving the city."
"And does that suit you, Reverend? To see them leave in disgrace and poor fortune, so long as you don't have to deal with it anymore?"
"That is not-"
"Why have you come?" He looked back at her and was met with a firm gaze. He swallowed hard, then attempted to meet her stare and brace himself against it.
"The child." She turned, smiling as she placed her hand on the edge of Jeremiah's basket.
"I'm sure it's not what you see, but he's beautiful, isn't he?"
"I think we both know, ma'am, that he isn't...human."
"He's human enough. I should know."
"Joanna, his father-" Her face snapped back to the reverend, and he flinched as her gaze borrowed into his skull.
"His father is gone, maybe forever, because of this mindset. This hatred for what you don't understand, this rejection of people who need your help but don't see the world how you do. Are you like them, Reverend? Are you here to condemn a lost man and his son whose only sin was being born? Is that all your collar is good for?" He glanced to Jeremiah, who stirred a bit at her tone.
"Look me in the eye and say what you've come to say." He turned his face to her, straightened his back and hardened his voice.
"There is no place in this community for that demon-spawn, and there never will be. Your desire to carry it to term is admirable, if misguided, but now you must choose whether to turn it aside and return to the people who care about your soul, or commit fully to this godless path you've been walking." They stared at each other for a long moment.
"I will raise my son, Reverend." Her voice was cold and steady. "With or without you, with or without his father. I will not abandon my own flesh and blood to appease those who have already rejected me. Good day, sir."
"Ms. Matteson, you must consider-"
"I said good day." She turned to soothe Jeremiah, who was beginning to fuss in his sleep. The reverend stood, put his hat back on, and straightened his shirt. His eyes narrowed at he looked at the child, then he turned and left the room.
Boost on TopWebFiction
Tall Tales: Volume Two Now available
Back In The Day
Born Of Water
Brood Of Nachash
Dr Francesca Harris
Dr Harold Price
East Of Eden
Father Benedict De Monte
Father Josef Klappenger
Huginn And Muninn
King And Queen
Land Of Goshen
Power In The Blood
Rev Liam Halzberg
Road To Perdition
Shadow Of Death
Skin And Bones
The Devil's Church
Valley Of Dry Bones
Walls Of Jericho