She stood at the side of a dusty and poorly-maintained stretch of interstate highway, just on the edge of the high desert country of Arizona, sweating and waiting. She’d known the pickings would be slim in an area so remote, but when the need took her over and became undeniable, she had no choice but to indulge it. She’d long since learned the only way to silence the ghosts of her past was to add to their numbers…as if the newly-made spirit gave the myriad of others that followed in her wake someone to commune with that distracted their attention from her. She had, as yet, found them nobody to sate their interest this day and that was not good.
Frowning, she retreated into the meager shade offered by her rust-bucket Dodge and drank a bit of water from the bottle on the passenger seat. Glancing again to either direction up and down the road, she saw no prospects and decided it was safe to relax. Removing the thin jacket she wore, she turned the bottle on end over her head and let the water flow over her tawny hair, down her neck and shoulders and over the tattoos covering her arms from shoulder to wrist.
To one familiar with body art, the tattoos were somewhat…crude and unrefined, with a look only slightly more proficient than the prison tats worn by countless other faceless and nameless women such as her. Thickly-drawn green vines wove around the muscles of her arms crossing and stretching downwards towards her wrists. At no less than two dozen points along those ink-drawn vines had been placed stylized roses. While the vine work had, obviously, been done by a single artist, each of the roses had a slightly different styling as if no two had been drawn by the same hand. In point of fact, they had not been. Refreshed, she replaced her jacket, concealing the artwork but not the memories of a time when she had not worn any such adornment on her thin body.
She was not, actually, nameless. Her given name was Priscilla Jean though no one had called her by that name since the death of her mother some twenty years before. With her death, Priscilla Jean had been abandoned to the indifferent care of her father. A coarse, abusive and alcoholic sort, he was, nevertheless, not atypical of the men to be found in the flyspeck town of her birth, nestled deeply in the hardscrabble hill country of southern Arkansas.
To him, she was of less use and, therefore, less interest than his old bluetick hound. At eight years of age she became solely responsible for keeping their ramshackle home clean, cooking to the extent she was able and performing whatever other…tasks he deemed necessary. It was him who had first dubbed her Poplar. As she was a rather plain-looking, quiet child he determined she was no more of note than any of the hundreds of trees that thickly dotted the countryside. As those individual trees had no claim to a proper name, so, he determined neither did she. And so, Poplar became her name to any and all with a reason to address her at all.
She was, to her sire, useful only when he traded her in marriage for five acres of prime flatland and a good mule to a young man who neither loved nor respected her any more than had anyone in her brief, unhappy life. Treating her with no more care than he would her sylvan namesake he saw no problem with carving on her or beating her for the slightest perceived offense. She bore it in silence, accepting it as her lot in life, because she knew no other way. Until one night when, following an especially brutal beating, her tenuous hold on reality and sanity dissolved and she slit his throat with his own straight razor.
She had walked away from all that she had known that night, his blood and her tears marking her and she had never looked back. In the two decades that followed that night, she’d travelled across the length and breadth of the great American land staying nowhere long and always moving onward.
For each of those tattooed roses, more of the evil within her seemed to flow out into an inky reminder of the mutilated dead man each flower represented. Yet, though some of the evil flowed out of her, an endless wellspring within her always furnished more...a never-ending flood of anger, rage, abandonment and betrayal, swirling deep and bottomless.
She was drawn out and away from her inner demons by the unmistakable sound of an approaching car. It was as if she donned a mask at that point and became not herself but a hapless, vulnerable female motorist…at the “mercy” of the big, strong man who would “rescue” her. She had played out this same scenario so many times before and in so many other places that she knew the script well. As it, almost, always had happened before, the sick twisted bastard would seek to take advantage of her…to exploit her…to prey upon her helplessness. She would have no choice but to defend herself against his untoward advances and it was then that her razor would appear and she would take his life in a mindless orgy of blood and gore.
This story came about as part of a very innovative and special creative collaboration that was envisioned by my dear friend, Ruth Long.
Ruth’s friend Big Earl Matthews put out a CD called: My Friends And I, featuring a group of local bands. Ruth became the driving force behind a writing/music promotion, merging several creative forces and disciplines.Thus were assembled a group of thirteen exceptionally-talented writers: M.L. Gammella, Ruth Long, Sarah Aisling, Lillie McFerrin, Jenn Monty, Jeff Tsuruoka, Lisa Shambrook, Lizze Koch, Samantha Geary, Nick Johns, L.E. Jamez, Jeff Hollar and Bradley Richter.
Our task? Write a story (1,000 words give or take) inspired by the track of our choice. This presented me with a difficult situation since music doesn't, as a general rule, have much of a place in my creative process. But I do so enjoy a challenge and, certainly, wasn't going to back down from this one. So, being the brave soul I am, I told Ruth to give me whatever track was left when everyone else had made their pick. I was privileged to write for a song called: You Make Me Ink by Lovecore Singing Telegrams (I LOVE that name). While I'm not at all sure the ladies of this group will embrace my vision for their song, where The Muse leads...I must follow.
|Cover Art by Micah Van Zandt|
An electronic book has been produced (Links to be added when book live) and the artwork donated by the talented – Micah Van Zandt artist, musician and performer. He used the writers’ pictures to design an e-book cover, mimicking the CD cover. To view the other stories included in this collection please follow the link:
The CD "My Friends And I" is available from: Amazon and CDBaby, or you can listen on Spotify.
Here is the album's Kickstarter page: