Authors: Poppy Z. Brite
Steve wondered what manner of things lived in that pale head, what Ghost was
made of, of what substance were his visions. Steve had heard nothing back there
on the hill, nothing but the wind and the power plant’s faraway hum. He had
seen nothing but the old scarred oak tree, wild against the sky. But he
believed that Ghost had seen a pair of twins long dead, the twins that had died
in his dream and come back to life in his waking hours. Steve no longer even
considered disbelieving the things Ghost saw and heard, the things Ghost knew without
faith in the high omniscient gods of his childhood —Santa Claus, the Easter
Bunny, and an eccentric creature apparently designed just for him, the Haircut
Fairy—had been blasted by older, more worldly friends who advised him to stay
awake and see whether it wasn’t his dad spiriting away the carefully wrapped
package of dark and unruly hair clippings, whether it wasn’t his mother
delivering all those mystical goodies. The Easter-morning chocolate never
tasted quite se wondrously creamy after he found out that it wasn’t brewed and
molded under the roots of a tree deep in some enchanted forest, in the vast
subterranean workshop of a
-ant rabbit he had
pictured as bearing a strong resemblance to Bugs Bunny, but with bright pink
later, when his aunt and cousins took him to church, he suspected that this was
more of the same magical gobbledygook updated for grown-ups. With the cynical
hope of an eleven-year-old he prayed for the successful flight of the
hyperspace machine he and his friend R.J. were building in the Finns’ garage.
But the motors they had salvaged from hair dryers, refrigerators, and one
precious wrecked motorcycle left them stranded on earth, no matter how many
adjustments they made, how many dials they twisted, no matter how many times
R.J. pushed his glasses up on his nose and checked the spiral notebook from
Walgreen’s that contained his calculations, no matter how bitterly Steve cussed
and kicked at the mess of machinery.
thought his belief in magic might well have died there, at the hands of a God
who cared nothing for a hyperspace machine built by the labor and thievery and
faith of two skinny, sweaty boys who had hoped all through a long summer.
Steve’s faith might have been shattered beyond salvation, might have died right
there on that garage floor, along with the snips of wire, the scraps of metal,
the broken drill bit that his dad whaled him for.
might never have believed in magic again. But a few weeks later—right around
this time of year, he realized, twelve years ago to the month—he met Ghost, and
everything changed forever.
was near the end of his eleventh summer, when the season was about to turn,
when Steve was poised at the last reach of childhood. The passions and
excitements of children no longer seemed so heady to him. He felt faintly silly
for having tried to build a hyperspace machine, or indeed for doing anything
that was not dictated by the realm of the practical. He cringed now to think
how different he might have been. He might never have picked up a guitar, might
have graduated from N.C. State with a bachelor’s degree in advertising or some
thing. If he hadn’t met Ghost.
locusts were still singing in the trees and in the long weeds by the side of
the road, but their song grew sad, the harbinger of another summer’s end.
School was in session. The days would be relentlessly hot and sticky for
another month at least, but some new coolness in the night air
the golden mantle of fall. As at the beginning of
every school year, there Was a new kid. This year the new kid was a pale,
frail-looking boy whose hair was a little too long to meet the current
standards, who came to school wearing shirts that were clean but always seemed
to hang from him too loosely. Steve sat behind him in class and saw that his
shoulder blades were as distinct and articulated as the joints of birds’ wings.
rote the new kid was ignored at first, though there was some discussion of his
funny name and his hillbilly origins. Then, by virtue of his appearance, his
quietness, and his disinclination to join in the sixth-grade touch-football
games at recess, he was judged a fag and thereafter jeered at. Everyone knew he
must be smart because he’d come up a grade and was a year younger than the rest
of the class. Most of the kids in Missing Mile had something weird about them:
their fathers had died in the big fire at the old cotton mill, or their mothers
worked as strippers in Raleigh, or they lived out on Violin Road and were so poor,
the rumor went, that they had to eat
children were happy to have someone to look down upon. The new kid didn’t seem
to care, or even really notice; even when the sixth-grade boys zinged him with
pinecones and chunks of gravel, he looked around bewilderedly as if he thought
they might have fallen out of the sky. He checked out grown-up hooks about
space from the school library and spent his recesses in the fringe of woods at
the edge of the yard.
was curious. He’d heard the new kid and his grandmother had moved here from the
mountains, and he wanted to hear about the mountains. He and his parents had
driven through them once, and to Steve they had seemed a place of dark mystery,
of lushness, of a foreboding beauty that verged on the sinister. In the
mountains you wouldn’t need a hyperspace machine; in the mountains they kept
giant possums for yard dogs.
one day Steve forsook the touch-football game—it was kind of a stupid affair
anyway, less concerned with the actual rules of football than with knocking
down as many kids as possible and grinding their faces into the dirt—and took
his own walk in the woods. He walked with his hands stuffed in his pockets,
feeling awkward, half-hoping he wouldn’t meet the new kid, who probably only
wanted to be left alone, who surely thought he was just a roughneck
like the others. The woods were sun-dappled and
quiet, but Steve kept walking into old strands of
that stuck to his face and made him think tickly legs were racing down his
back. He was about to give it up and go play football after all when he heard a
quiet “hey” from above his head.
looked up into the calmest blue eyes he’d ever seen. No wonder this kid didn’t
mind insults or pinecones. Set in a face that was far too delicate, framed by
wisps of rain-pale hair, those eyes were nevertheless at peace. Steve wondered
what it felt like to have eyes like that.
kid was perched comfortably in a tree, his legs stretched out along a low
branch, his back snuggled against the trunk. He raised an arm and pointed to a
spot along the path just past Steve.
first Steve didn’t see anything. Then all at once it came clear, the way an
optical illusion will suddenly resolve itself: an intricate and enormous web
that spanned the path, and hanging head-down at the middle of the concentric
gossamer circles, a particularly large, juicy-looking brown weaver. Another
couple of steps and Steve would have walked right into it.
tried unsuccessfully to suppress a shudder.
are spinning all over the woods,” said the kid. ‘That means it’ll be cold
went against the rationality that Steve so loved. It sounded childish. What
could spiders have to do with the weather? “How do you know?” he said.
grandmother knows all that stuff.” The blue eyes did not challenge Steve to
kid had an air of quiet sureness; there was nothing cocky about him, nothing
arrogant, but he seemed to know he spoke the truth.
was interested despite himself. Anyway, a kid from the mountains was surely
entitled to his share of weird folklore. “Yeah?” he said. “What else does your
grandmother know about?”
of stuff.” The kid hesitated. “If you want to meet her, you could come visit us
sometime. We live out on Burnt Church Road right by the dead end.”
should have been hard to extend that invitation, being the new kid with no real
friends, not knowing whether Steve might just laugh at him and walk away. And
it should have been difficult for Steve to accept. But already there was an
easiness between them that surpassed any words they had exchanged. Standing on
the path in the sun-dappled September woods staring up at the skinny kid in the
tree, the kid he had not yet known for ten minutes, Steve felt comfortable, as
if he could say anything. It was not quite déjà vu; it was not so unsettling,
but it was somehow familiar. When he remembered it now, Steve thought that it
was not so much like meeting a friend as like recognizing one.
loosened his grip on the steering wheel and stared ahead into the sparkling
but he was tense—first his bad mood and the whiskey, then the spooky shit on
the hill. His nerves were as fight as the thrumming of the wheels on the road.
Ghost mumbled something, but when Steve glanced over at him, Ghost was still
sleeping, his eyes soundly shut and his hands lying limp in his lap. He was
dreaming again. Ghost always dreamed, but only sometimes did his dreams come
true, Now they were coming into the outskirts of Missing Mile, the place called
Violin Road, where dark pine branches hung over the dusty gravel road, where
the land was peppered with heaps of old scrap metal and chicken Coops and
family graveyards that sprouted from the tired grass like sad little crops of stone.
Whenever Steve drove out here in the daytime, he saw kids with ragged clothes
and faded eyes playing on rickety jungle gyms, digging holes in the dirt of the
scrubby yards, standing aimlessly, their heads
to follow the T-bird as it went by. Once he had seen a group of small kids
hunkered down around a dead possum by the side of the road, poking it and
turning it over with sticks, looking for maggots. That had been a
hundred-degree August day, and Steve had caught a
of ripe possum as he’d driven past.
now, under the cold September moon, the trailers and rusty cars and trash heaps
seemed to fade, to grow insubstantial. Only the grass and the low-hanging trees
appeared to shimmer and come alive. Steve wondered who lived here, scratching
out a place to exist, holding the kudzu and the wide empty sky at bay. Were
they farmers gone broke trying to beg crops from this dirt that had gone barren
fifty years ago? Were they field hippies, aging bohemians who thought living
off the land meant a couple of scraggly tomato plants and
yogurt from the 7-Eleven two miles up the road?
glanced down at the gas gauge. Nearly empty, but the change from the Pepsi
machine would buy a
tomorrow. The T-bird was
damn thirsty these days. Piece of shit, he thought with affection.
were almost home now. Steve would sleep in his once-cheerful wreck of a room,
swathed in filthy sheets, trying to fend off nightmares. In the morning Ghost
would make whole-grain banana pancakes and bring him a beer. The presence of
Ghost in the next room, drunk and dreaming, would be a comfort. It had been a
years later, Christian’s bar was not so very different than it had been on that
last night of Mardi Gras, that night of blood and altars. That delicious night.
of the stained-glass windows had been broken in a fight, on a rare evening when
the bar was crowded and the liquor flowed too freely and tempers reached a
sodden white-hot pitch.
never found a replacement for the antique glass. The window was covered with
black cardboard; it kept the sunlight out during the daytime, kept the shadows
in at night.
in Christian’s room, the bloodstains Jessy had left on the carpet grew pale
brown and edgeless as Christian walked over them in black leather boots, in
slippers, with his bare, long-toed, knobby feet. Fifteen years of his footsteps