Crossed (Part Two)

by Denise Winters

Continued from Part One

Hannah’s mouth dropped and she was almost knocked flat out on her back with the realization of what the demon was saying. “The golden fiddle. You mean you want the golden fiddle?” First prize in the contest got to win a genuine gold fiddle. “You, you the one who lost to that boy over yonder in Georgia.”

Smoke billowed from the creature’s nose, but the way its face fell Hannah guessed it was frustration and embarrassment more than any kind of anger. The demon dug its hairy hoof into the red-brown dirt.

“It’s not the losing so much as what I lost. Like I said, I wagered something that wasn’t mine to give.”

She stood looking at the creature, sweat bubbling on its neck and rolling down the collar of its shirt. Hands worrying with the tan hat and toe twisting a hole in the dirt. Even with it standing there talking about my granddaddy’s life and soul like they was poker chips, she couldn’t feel fear of the thing anymore, or anger for that manner. Wasn’t ‘xactly feelin’ pitiful for it, what with having lost the fiddle trying to bring a soul to damnation and all, but couldn’t feel scared of it either. The smoke billowing around him was still somewhat terrifying though,

“How I know my granddaddy’s life or soul is yours to grant?”

The demon looked up and grinned like it knew that her leg was inching towards the snare. “I’m the one he sold his soul to, that’s how.”

She tilted her head. “Why’d he do that? And why’d anyone even want to accept it?” Everything she’d seen and heard seemed to suggest he was hell-bound anyway. At least that was what the preacher, and her daddy, and her grand aunt all said. She had never put much stock in it, her granddaddy was a good man as far as she was concerned. Always quick to smile and even getting her to her fiddling lessons after her ma had said she couldn’t be taking no more lessons from Mr. Davis on account of him being a heathen. She couldn’t care less who did what kind of drinking when, or laid with what kind of woman where. Truth be told, she knew all their denouncers, granddaddy’s and Mr. Davis’ both, didn’t have any kind of trouble running to this and that hoodoo man or women when things looked tough.

“It’s always good to sure up a deal, who goes where ain’t exactly decided how you may have been led to believe.” The demon’s smile faltered. “As to why he would do it, well, your grandmamma’s new man was awfully bad to her, But she wouldn’t leave him, you see.” The demon waved its hand, “ Still felt bad about leaving your granddaddy she did, and couldn’t bare to be a twice divorced woman.”

“I don’t believe you.”

It shrugged. “You don’t have to. But it’s the tyrant’s honest truth. Your granddaddy knew she wasn’t gonna up and leave him, so he made the man disappear. And I made sure he got away with it.”

It sounded too right, no matter how hard she tried to disbelieve it. Everybody in town thought her granddaddy had killed that man out of jealousy. Everybody. Didn’t even try to hide their suspicions from him. But there had never even been a trial.

“And you can give him back his soul?”

“Gladly, if you win me that fiddle.”

“No. No, you give him back his soul if I agree.” She licked her lips and tried to stop her legs from jimming. They had started up again the minute she made up her mind, the minute she knew how she would change the deal. “You only gotta extend his life if I win.”

The demon sneered, its lips parting slow and unnerving like a snake peeling its skin. “Now, why I’m gonna put myself in a position like that. Girl, you up and lose that contest and I’m outta a soul and still out the fiddle.”

I shrugged. “Reckon you talking to me because you think I’m the only one got even a chance of winning it for ya. Plus, what if I get it for you another way?”

A dark hiss squeezed from between its teeth and slithered onto the ground. “You got some kinda nerve, you little…”

“Whatever nerve I got come from granddaddy. And that don’t answer my question. What if I don’t win it, what if I get it for you another way?”

“I don’t care how you get it truth be told, just get it for me.”

Hannah nodded, wondering what it meant that the fiddle didn’t have to be won back fair and square.

The demon reared back and sneered. Hannah stumbled back a few steps before realizing the demon had started laughing. “Okay girl, okay. It’s a deal. You just agree to try and win that fiddle back for me, and he gets his soul back. You win, and it’s his life.”

“I agree to,” Hannah brought her hand to her chin. Her nervousness was returned, and she struggled to not let it show. She could still be tricked, and she had to make sure the wording was right. Say what it wanted, she still didn’t trust this creature as far as she could throw it. “I agree to do my best to get that fiddle and for that you will give William T. Freeman back his soul. If I get the fiddle to you, you will ensure that William T. Freeman lives, with no complications from his illness, and dies of old age and in comfort.”

“Done.” The demon snapped its fingers and Hannah jumped back as it went up in a puff of foul black smoke. She was worried about how quick he had been to accept. Hannah bent down and picked up her bike. She could see no remnants of the demon’s presence, not even an after-smell in the air. She was more certain than ever she would tell no one of this. She couldn’t even be sure it had happened herself. The only thing giving her faith she was in her right mind was the fear and disgust memory of the fog brought up. She was more sure than anything that no one could imagine anything that would make them feel so off, like terror itself was riding after them. Hannah needed to get on over to Mr. Davis’ house.

“You sure you wanna do that girl?” Mr. Davis sunk deeper into his couch. He picked at a hole in the olive green cover, pulling out pinches of yellow fluff while his cigarette dangled between his teeth.

“I’m sure, my momma and daddy would whip me raw if they found out I got up there on that stage.” Hannah leaned forward in the wing-back, her feet just touching the ground. “Mr. Davis please?” She elongated the word and clasped her hands in front of her. “I have to get in this contest.”

He waved his hand at her, letting a cluster of fluff drift to the scuffed up floor. “Okay. But I find it awfully funny you did not seem to care about all that before.” He shrugged and rolled his shoulders, “But I guess even you can get some sense scared into you from time to time.”

He shook his head as he hobbled over to the kitchen table. Mr. Davis didn’t look to have eaten at the table in years. It was covered in yellowed newspapers and phone books, old bills stamped with “Past Due” in big red letters faded to the color of old blood, and big photo albums. The albums were the only thing on the table that weren’t faded and hadn’t been there so long the disappeared into the surroundings. Well, the albums were the next to only thing.

Mr. Davis lifted his fiddle case from the table and motioned for her to follow him into the den. Hannah relaxed the moment she entered the space. Being in what passed for the old man’s music room always left her in high spirits and capable of seeing the positive in everything.

He motioned for her to sit down across from him. Hannah bent down and got the practice fiddle out of the case. It was smoothed by years of use and dozens of hands. Mr. Davis had been teaching the fiddle for a long time, even to those so broke they couldn’t afford their own. After her parents made her stop spending so much time with her granddaddy, Hannah had paid the cost of continuing to learn with raked yards, washed dishes, and folded laundry. Until her parents found out about that too.

“I got an awful lot that needs doing before tomorrow.”

I nodded. “Just a warm-up then.”

Mr. Davis nodded and listened as I started on my scales. I stayed to the simple pieces and tried to ignore the mistakes and stumbles along the way. Mr. Davis’ face was as impassive as ever, betraying nothing with regards to what he thought of my music.

“That’s enough.”

I nodded and put away the fiddle. “Are you going to be playing?”

“Girl hell no. What I need a silver-plated doodad for?”

“So, do you know why the under 16 category gets the golden-covered and not the silver?”

Mr. Davis stared at me over his glasses and leaned back in the chair, hands crossed over stomach. “No. Something the contest organizers decided.”

“But you are one of the organizers.”

He shrugged. “it’s shinier. You younguns like shiny.”

I opened my mouth but clamped it shut. Mr. Davis wasn’t one to converse with most of the time.

To be continued…

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Posted in Divide and Conquer, Fantasy, Fiction, Short Story (<7500 words)
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February 2014
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