Your wife called to me, John Bell. She came to the craggy grin, the doorway to my home under the ground. She let her tears fall and I did lap them up. For this kindness, I whispered in her ear a lullaby my mama sang to me, and she fell into a child’s sleep.
Your wife invited me into your home, John Bell. And for this kindness, I brought her bowls of cherries. Skinned rabbits and wild onions. She fed me too, with stories of her childhood – her father’s horses, and the limestone cliffs that loom over the Crockett river like the proudest of gods. She told me her worries for the children – that her daughter was to be married to a man with a temperament like yours, that her son was often sickly and pale, his weakness drew your ire.
Your wife prayed to me, John Bell. From this, I grew. Without the tedious limits of bone, without the constraints of flesh, I stretched to fill the corners of your home. Like mold or rot, I spread before you ever knew I was there. While you all were sleeping, I frightened the mice from your floorboards and kept the corners clear of cobwebs. I tucked the quilts in over your children. I whispered the lullaby to them as they slept.
I held your tongue, John Bell. In so doing, I found a louder voice. I screamed truths so bright you could not sleep. You could not yell back, of course, and I laughed at your confusion – we rejoiced in it. You began to look for me everywhere as though I was something you could catch, that you could beat with your fists. Instead, you found me in omens – your name spelled out in the orb weavers web, the milk freshly fetched gone sour, the black cats that yowled from the woods, the candle that refused to be blown out.
I slithered beneath your fat, John Bell. I danced between your ribs. Like an insidious disease, I spread within you. You felt my touch, my fingers, silk – you could not grab hold.
I pushed aside your bowels, your grease, and slipped inside your skin like a glove, wriggled my fingers until I fit. I wore you, my husk, and pulled at your gristle – around my finger I wrapped the sinew that glued your bones, and made them move. I felt the early morning rain on your skin and the winds that signaled the change of the season in your hair. I tasted the ale with your tongue, tasted the roast with your tongue – tasted your wife with your tongue. Through me, you were a better man and that’s how you will be remembered. Only when your flesh began to rip at the seams did I let you rest and this –
this was my kindness to you, John Bell, to put you in the dirt. The suet leaked from where you split and you fed the worms, and the worms spread you to the soil, and in that way, your fields flourished.
You feed your family and they will prosper. Your wife will grow happy and round on the harvest. Your son will heal, healthy and tall. Your daughter will beget sons, joyful boys who fill her life with laughter.
And as for her husband, well – if she calls on me, I will answer.
Janice Leadingham is a Portland, OR based writer and tarot reader from somewhere-near-Dollywood, Tennessee. You can find more of her fiction in HAD, The Bureau Dispatch, and The Ghastling. She is @TheHagSoup on Twitter, @thehagsoup on Instagram, and hagsoup.com.