The Last Excerpt Before the First Nightwalker Arrives
The last excerpt before the first nightwalker arrives:
“Sing one more for me,” Jasper called from the porch.
“I’m sleepy, Daddy!” Mary whined.
“Come on child, ya’ll sing one more. Just one.”
“But I’m tired! Lou’s tired too.” Mary pinched her younger sister, who sat next to her in bed, on her arm. “Ain’t you tired, Lou?”
Lou, who was closest to the window, leaned over the sill, looked out at her father and said, “I ain’t tired, Daddy. I’ll sing.” She looked back and stuck her tongue out at her big sister.
Jasper’s wife Cornelia smiled and shook her head at their daughters. “Ya’ll know your daddy ain’t gonna stop pestering you so you can get to sleep ‘til you sing his favorite with him.” She shouted at the open window, beyond which her husband sat on the porch enjoying an evening chew and sipping corn liquor: “Ain’t that right, Jasper?”
“Woman, I don’t know what you talkin’ ‘bout. I just wanna hear my girls sing.”
“You wanna sing too,” Cornelia laughed. “Girls, ya’ll go on and sing ‘Hoe Emma Hoe.’* Your daddy’ll come on in with you. Then he’ll leave you alone.”
Pouting, Mary began the song, singing the opening caller chant. Lou and Jasper responded with the chorus. Cornelia smiled and patted her foot in time to their sweet harmony.
After three rounds Mary stopped singing and called out, “Daddy, why you stop singing?”
Cornelia said, “Jasper, you fall asleep out yonder after you aggravated these children to sing for you? Jasper, you hear me? Jasper?”
Lou leaned on the window sill and peered out.
“He drunk sleep?” Cornelia asked.
Lou shook her head. “Daddy’s gone, Mama.”
She licked the place on his neck where she’d bit him, and it felt so good that Jasper was glad she’d hurt him. It wasn’t so bad, not really. He thought it would be all right if she did it again. He thought it would be just fine.
He heard Cornelia calling him, her voice coming closer to where he sat propped against the back of the woodshed with the young woman crouched next to him.
“Don’t hurt my woman,” Jasper said. “Please.”
The woman’s eyes looked like two gleaming moons. They pulled at him, made him feel like he was being drawn up even though he stayed on the ground. “You dreamed about me,” she whispered. “You can’t hardly remember it, but it was a dream.”
Jasper wanted to be pulled up to the moons. He thought it would feel just fine to be where they were, to be lost in their shine. “All right.”
“Jasper, where you get to?” Cornelia was getting closer.
The woman with the moons in her eyes stood up and said, “Stay here for a little while.”
“Please don’t hurt her,” Jasper said.
Cornelia wished she had thought to bring a lantern, but she’d figured Jasper had just gone around the side of the house to pee, or to the outhouse to do his serious business. But he wasn’t around the house or in the privy.
“Jasper, where you get to?”
She saw shadowed movement at the edge of the yard, near the woodshed, and went that way. “Jasper, what you doing over there? Ain’t cold enough to burn no wood. That corn make you sick?”
As Cornelia reached the front of the shed she wondered if she’d only thought she’d seen something this way. It was so quiet. Jasper wouldn’t be so quiet unless he was hiding and waiting to scare her.
“Jasper? You back there?”
She heard his voice—a slurred murmur like he was drunk—coming from around the back of the shed.
Cornelia crept through the shadows along the side of the shed, her head cocked to listen. What’s that he was saying? Was he talking to somebody? “Jasper?”
She was halfway to the rear corner of the woodshed. Now she could make out his words: “Please don’t hurt her.”
The implication of Jasper’s plea made Cornelia stop in her tracks.
She loved her husband, but the terror that turned her heart to ice was borne of her boundless adoration of her daughters. And she’d left them alone in the house.
Intending to run back to her children, Cornelia turned around and brushed against a woman standing just behind her in the dark.
BOOK ONE: NIGHT CHILD
*(Hoe Emma Hoe: a slave work song)