The shaded wagon truck bounced down the bended road with only a hot orange sunset behind it. Curve after curve, the thumping of the undercarriage on the road bumps created a wild manmade cadence that only proximate nature was privy too. The driver was a real cool man, faded pinstripe pants, shirt and vest about him while a crumpled fedora sat with a feather plume on his head. Humming and jiving with no particular tune in mind, the man was a laid back, happy one. His easygoing drive down the many roads bumping along was punctured once he saw her. Flowing black hair in a stitched floral dress, the scattered image of wildflowers coloring red and white. In her hand was a sack and on her face was trouble. Her presence at this time of day in this part of the outskirts was something to question, then again the fluidity in which her body moved along the road was truly a marvel. Would he? Should he? The truck’s gears shifted and hummed, slowing down to a cool stroll as the woman turned back to look and stuck out a pale thumb capped with pink nail polish. The driver decided to oblige.
“Evenin’ Miss Ma’am. You be needin’ a ride?” asked the driver with an easygoing drawl.
“Much kindness to you for stoppin’, I’m heading north a good ways, got me a brother somewhere and I’m goin’ to stay with him.” replied the woman. Her voice dripped with charm and did nothing to quell the humidity that might affect any red blooded males in the area.
“Oh that be so? He stay up in the city? Wherebouts you gettin’ too?” his voice rolling smooth again.
“Not sure which city you mean. I’m not from round these parts. I come somewheres in Flow-rida. He sent me a letter sayin’ he lives up north a long, long ways and I’m just tryin’ to get to him. Make me a better life.” said the woman. The driver shifted his gait, looking right into her blue eyes.
“Flow-rida? Miss Ma’am, you know you a long ways from there, I knows you didn’t walk that far, did ya? he asked. “Oh no”, she replied “I had a few rides here and there. Last one was a small time driver hauling some sorta goods, he let me off down near the big river. I been walkin’ ever since, dependin’ on the kindness of dear strangers for a an extra bite of food or a chance to clean up some.” The fading sunset was going down more and more with each passing word between the two.
“I dunno how far north you got to go and what not,” said the driver, “but I was on my way to a little shindig up near the city, out on the delta. Now, they sometimes do barbecue real real good and there be some drinkin’ too. But it’s just a place to hear some really good blues. People come and go through there, but if you ain’t had nothin’ to eat and all, well I can make sure you get somethin’. Maybe you have a little drink and take in them blues.......rest ya soul some.”
Something about his smoothness, had the woman in the truck, obliging him for his offer. The truck geared and bumped to life down the bending roads again.
“I’m Conlee by the way,” said the driver, extending his hand. “But most folks round here just call me Con for short ya know. What be your name? Unless you want me to keep callin’ you Miss Ma’am?” he chuckled. The woman blushed and chuckled back, “I’m Rosasharon. But you can just call me Rose.”
Con, ever the more true to his word, delivered Rose to the shindig right outside the big city. Stepping out of the truck, she glanced at what the scenery afforded her. The sun was gone and replaced by the shadows of an early evening. Before them was what was once a burned out cotton gin mill. Massive and blackened, it had been victim to a horrendous fire at some point in its life and was disfigured, but firm in its constitution by the big river. It was opened up in some spots and boarded up with others in such a way that it resembled a crude amphitheater on the river water. Up across the river in the distance was the big city, “the ‘Phis”, as Con kept calling it on the drive over. The lights in the ‘Phis sparkled with yellow and blue dots, if Rose listened closely, she could almost hear the soft and dull hum they gave off. Near the entrance to it, was a great barbecue pit with a fire already roaring to the prime of its life. A heavyset black man in a white shirt with plain pants was slapping down hunks of raw meat. Every slap to the pit elicited a sound of sizzle and drove dizzying amounts of fire sparks into the night which could have easily been mistaken for a mess of fireflies. Looking around, only few automobiles were parked. Singles and couples strolled up in arms with one another, laughing and feeling right with the evening. The people were mostly black, but a few other whites were in attendance. Everyone dressed more for a Sunday morning service than a Friday night shindig. Rose glanced down at the grass and noticed by the faint fire lights that it was blackened, no doubt scorched from the fire that tormented it so long ago. Only now the torment Rose smelled was the delicious barbecue in the nearby distance.
“Miss Rose,” said Con, “This is the place. I know that barbecue must be smellin’ real good to you right bout now. Rose sniffed the air, taking in scent of it all.
“I thank you twofold for givin’ me a lift here. I hope your evenin’ friends won’t mind a stranger in here takin’ a bite.” she said. With a grin as wide as the big river Con shot back, “They won’t mind you to be trouble at all.” The two of them stepped forward towards the pit.
“Oh Rawlo, my man, give me and my guest Miss Roseasharon, oh that be Miss Rose now, give us a taste of what you got goin’ tonight!” cracked Con. Rawlo tipped nodded at Rose. “The best we got Con, you know that now. Here we got mostly rib slabs tonight, biggest ones on the Delta that is!” he said with a laugh. “Also now inside Honeykin has some sweet drink for everyone. And then o’course there the reason why we all here.” preached Rawlo. “That would be the blue music. Gotta rest these weary bodies out these weary souls sometimes. Miss Rose, I hope you find the music intoxicatin’.” said Rawlo with a sincerity in his voice.
Charred wooden beams flexed in all directions inside the old cotton mill as it was now an amphitheater by way of its concave shape. Outward and upward, the back corners of the once-was-walls, shot out into the sky. The fire had done its damage up all the walls, but still some walls and flooring remained intact, giving off just a dull glow from their red and gold finishes. Rose glanced along the wall at faded black and white pictures of various musicians and people who had been there. Pensive sax players and pretty singers stood posed on the stage that had once been. Rose glanced over to where the stage had once been, nothing remained. The whole floor was chewed, looking as if something had bitten it off…when a lady stepped in her view.
“Care for a sip, suga’?” asked the lady, holding a waxy mason jar up to her face. She was beautifully tanned with a sparkled blue headband to hold in her flowing mane. “My name is Honeykin” she said while Rose took the drink and sipped. “I understand you the pretty little thing Con brought here. Said you on a trip up north somewhere…hope you have time to rest your soul some here tonight.” The sweetness of the drink went straight to Rose’s head. She had eaten some blackberries she picked off a bush earlier that day, so there was nothing to her stomach.
“Mmm, this is quite sweet and good. I thank you. And yes, yes he did find me traveling on the roads today. Headin’ up north I am, to see my brother.” said Rose. Noticing her empty hands, Honeykin stood back and gasped. “And these fools hadn’ done anythin’ to give you to eat I see.” Taking Rose by the arm she escorted her to a nearby table, one of a few dozen in the place, and sat her down with her drink. Snapping her fingers, Honeykin summoned a serving girl over who quickly dished Rose a tin dish with a slab of ribs to eat.
“You eat up now darlin’. Sip that drink, and in only a bit we get the music started.” said Honeykin, her voice dripping with smoothness.
Rose looked at the bent tin dish in front of her. Her manners might as well have fallen off into the river because she dug right in. Ripping the chewy, blackened meat off the bone with her teeth. It melted proper all over inside her eager mouth, satiating her cheeks reminding her what a hearty bit of food tasted like again. The meat was tender and savory, but something about it tasted foreign to her. The bone was far longer to be either a pork or beef rib. Rose couldn’t reckon the bone and soon gave up, devouring what she could of her ribs and obliging herself more sweet drink. The only light other than from the moon, was given off by a scant few oil lamps and candles which soon were blown out by various people. Embarrassed to eat in the dark, Rose ceased, pushing the tin further on to the table as Con slinked into a chair beside her. He said nothing as he grinned and pointed out towards the water. Standing at the edge of the amphitheater was a four piece band. A bass player, saxophonist, trumpeter, and drummer. From the far left of the edge out came a woman. She was older, with jet black hair on a white and gold print dress. A greyed feather (or two) hung down from a pin in her hair, giving Rose the inclination that the woman was an Indian. Choctaw or most likely a Seminole. There was a Seminole reservation still in Florida that Rose had once seen, and this lady looked to be of the same heritage. With the lights out and the bright moon bouncing off the river, a light purple haze was cast inside the amphitheater as the band started playing. The bass line played on its own as the sax and trumpet dueled their high melodies. The heartbeat of the piece was the drummer, keeping them all in time, soon the woman began to croon in a foreign tongue. Rose couldn’t understand the words, but felt them in her mind as she found herself swaying little by little in her chair. Around her others began the sway as well, nodding and beating along with their knuckles on taps of the tabletop. The rapturous hum of it all had Rose feeling drunk with love and peace. She felt her body and mind, down to her soul, hit all at once with the electrical charge of revival. Closing her eyes, she swayed in her own chair, feeling too tired to give a damn about the road and her path up north. She suddenly wanted more from her soul, and found herself taking a trip inside her own mind. Running over wave after blue wave looking for exactly for that revival charge she found so refreshing. Her weary body began going numb to music as she lost herself completely within her own mind. Drunk on it all as the night air cooled her face, the gentle calling lull of the bass line had them all renewing their spirits against the rolling waters of the river’s shore.
Rose found herself on the verge of a state of consciousness, within the sacred realm of sleep. Her senses were almost there until she felt an overwhelming need to awaken. The need grew stronger as her body felt cold and painful. Terse jerking she felt a warm wetness on her shoulder, her arm. Madly her eyes snapped open back to the purple haze of the night that she fell so deeply in love with. Focusing hard she glimpsed up to see Rawlo, clawing hard into her body with his own hands, only they were not hands. Gazing, Rose saw he possessed a badly misshapen pair of claws. His skin was no longer black, but scaled over green. Rawlo’s face twisted and stretched, baring fangs along crooked teeth, he was growing a snout. Even worse was his eyes, they grew small and were blacked over. His body reeked of a foulness that killed any scent which could have been human about him. Rose stood, falling with her hip on the tiny table, she felt for anything she could with her free arm. Struggling, wanting to scream she was lost in a hotbed of panic and fear, but she instinctively wanted the pain to stop and fend off Rawlo. Her hand gripped only one of the cleaned rib bones she had eaten earlier. The bone felt heavy enough in her hand that she could at least hit him off of her, when she remembered. As a child her brother always taught her how to be tough and fight back other mean children. Asking where best to hit someone, her brother always told her, “Hit ‘em in the eyes Rose.” Mimicking a knife handle, Rose swung high and then back down into whatever resembled Rawlo’s eye. The dull and narrow point of the rib bone burst his eye open like a rotten plum. Gelatinous blood and watery plasma popped from his socket in every direction. The wailing scream he now made was not that of a man but of an unknown creature. Tumbling backwards with pain, his deformed legs tripped on and overturned chair, his torso twisted and he fell face first onto the floor. The weight of his engorged head propped up with the bone against the floor caused it to spear violently through his skull dropping him dead on impact.
Rose glanced around her with panic as she saw many of the people transform into reptilian creatures. Some resembling alligators or spiders, others became serpentine. One such was Honeykin whom she saw now possessing snakeskin, wrapping her elongated body around a hapless young man, squeezing him blue. Her hair fallen from her head which now glanced narrow, she looked directly at Rose and spit a forked tongue in her direction. The terror and fear struck her with a chill that only the pain from her wound could overrule. She turned back towards the entrance and broke for it, glancing all the way at the people being ripped or eaten. Making it outside, her only instinct was to run down the road she had come in on. Breaking for it again was the option once more, but was halted by a painful grab. She came face to face with Con. A triangular jaw jutted down from his face as his eyes peeled back red and his skin began to curdle with scales while a slender tail broke free out the back of his pants. He still resembled a man, but to Rose the only other thing he could have been was a lizard.
“Missssss Roooosseeee.” he croaked.
“Oh Gawd,” she screamed. “Why did you bring me here?”
“Caausssse you woulda tasssstee goooood.” he hissed.
Rose tried like mad to fight his grip and she struggled with it all. She felt the overpowering muscles he had, take over. Her body was almost frozen with fear and she could have very well been going into shock, when searing pain hit her leg. She didn’t need to glance, but felt it. The hot sizzle of the barbecue pit had burned her leg. The painful burn snapped her into reality, away from submission. At that moment Con’s grip briefly weakened as his body broke into that of a malformed lizard. Seizing the momentum, Rose struggled free and spied the grill and reached grabbing a barbecue fork that rested near the coals. She turned around in time to see his tongue slither out towards her face as she thrust upward with the fork. It pierced his tongue and she pulled hard on it. The heated fork ripped part of his tongue off and he hissed with pain. Greenish blood water spewed forth as he stumbled on her. She felt the weightlessness of his attack in her arms as she mustered her whole strength in flinging him towards the barbecue. Con fell onto the still hot grill and jumped off it, catching part of his tail within the griddle bars. He pulled at his tail with reckless fury feeling each passing second of the heat against his scaled skin. Rose was quick to stab him in the back with the fork. She stabbed and plunged the fork as she hard as she could, gaping wounds on his cruel body. Finally, Con broke his tail free. Staggering and bleeding he gurgled blood trying to hiss towards her. The choking was too much as he fell over dead, drowned on his own foul blood. Rose threw down the fork and broke for it. Down the road and into the night Rose felt safer to stop as she looked back incessantly, seeing no creature, no human, and no light on her. She felt forever violated as she staunched her bleeding with her free hand. Running away into the night, the shining moon beaming off the black water of the river kept everything in a blue haze. Wiping back tears of indifference and pain from her evening of terror, she continued onward. She continued north.