The crackling sound of a warm campfire coupled with a clear, crisp October night was everything Larry Cullum needed to fall asleep. As the eighteen-year-old dozed, he could still hear the coon dogs in the distance.
Somewhere in Insley Bottoms, close to the endless parcels of land that Old Doc Hall bought up during the Great Depression, he thought. He then winced and removed a pinecone from under his blanket. As he did so, he opened his eyes to check, Shorty, his father.
“You’ll miss it,” quipped Shorty, brushing his brown hair back. “Hugger will tree and you won’t even hear it.”
Shorty’s infectious smile always worked its magic with the eighteen-year-old, but as far as coon hunting goes, Larry didn’t need much encouragement. Besides, his redbone had never treed a coon. He could find them, and hold the trail like a steam engine, but he always missed the tree somehow.
Then, one of the dogs bayed again. Dauphus Armstrong, a big, blond-haired Swede, quickly raised up as though sparking a new interest. “Is that what a redbone sounds like when he barks tree?” he asked as Shorty’s grin widened.
Larry frowned. “If you weren’t my neighbor, I’d shoot you,” he quipped.
“Shhh,” hissed Shorty as he sat up, peered out into the darkness, and then added, “We’ve got three blue ticks and a redbone out there. I hear Blue and Chigger and even Larry’s Hugger, but I haven’t heard Get It one time.”
“Bet they’ve got something,” pondered Dauphus as he slowly stood.
“It’s not a coon,” insisted Shorty. “Get It only barks coon.”
Larry slowly pulled himself to a sitting position, stared into the campfire, and listened. “They’re not moving,” he said. Then, as he started rolling up his blanket he added, “Hugger’s not barking tree and he’s not barking at a man.” Larry then looked at his father and added, “He’s barking scared and the others are growing strangely silent.”
“You’re right, and they’re close to Richardson Landing Road,” agreed Shorty as he scrambled to his feet and then grabbed his blanket. “We’ll take the Levee Road around the bottoms. That should put us close to the open field to the north.”
“Sounds like they’re in the field,” noted Dauphus as he emptied the coffee pot on the fire.
“But, there are no trees in the field,” said Larry as they all headed for Shorty’s old, white Dodge truck. “Why would coon hounds be baying there?”
Dauphus shrugged his shoulders. “Exactly why we should go and see,” he answered as he threw his blanket in the bed of the truck.
“Get in quick. This doesn’t sound good,” said Larry as he held the cab door open for Dauphus and then jumped in behind him.
Loose gravel flew to the shoulders as Shorty slid around the curves of the old levee road.
Larry rolled the window down and then leaned close to it. “I can’t hear a thing,” he complained. “When are you going to replace this muffler?”
“Wouldn’t worry on that if I were you,” quipped Shorty. “I’d be more concerned about that storm in Arkansas. That lightning looks like it’s getting close to the river.”
As Shorty made the turn around the ridge, he slowed to a stop, turned the engine off, and then got out of the cab.
“That’s more like it,” responded Dauphus as he all but pushed Larry out of the truck.
“Can’t hear mine,” said Shorty, “but Hugger’s still there and he’s in the field close to where that old black walnut is-.”
“Not good,” complained Larry. “He’s always been a fighter and if whatever has scared the other dogs to silence presents itself, he’ll fight it.”
“Come, let’s go to him,” suggested Shorty as they piled back into the old Dodge again. “We might just have a bear. That tree isn’t far from the river and that critter might have just swum it.”
“Doesn’t sound like a bear, Dad,” said Larry as his father started the truck. “He’s not scared of bears and he’s barking scared. He just doesn’t have the sense to leave.”
No sooner had Shorty put the old truck in gear than they spotted his three blue ticks running toward them in the headlights.
“Well, I just will be dammed,” said Shorty weakly. “Get out and put ‘em in, boys.”
Larry quickly bailed out of the Dodge and all but raced the dogs to the back of the pickup. When he opened the doors to the dog box, they all bowled him over getting in.
“What do you make of that?” asked Dauphus.
“Not a clue,” replied Larry as he shut the doors and then added, “They’re all huddled to the back of the box.”
“Maybe the lightning spooked them,” guessed Dauphus.
“Not close enough,” said Larry as he pushed the big man toward the truck door. “We’ve got to find Hugger, and quick.”
“Get in,” said Shorty. “I can still hear Hugger.”
As Shorty raced the Dodge down the levee hill toward the delta flats, Larry strained his eyes, hoping for another lightning flash.
“Look close,” encouraged Shorty. “The tree is just the other side of that old shack up ahead on the right.”
Larry eyed the old house as Shorty slowed the truck and then pulled past it. Its windows were mostly intact, but they were without screens. The old, rusty-looking tin roof looked as if it had been there before the depression. Imitation, red brick siding had once adorned the old place, but it was now hanging loose in more places than not.
“Look,” noted Dauphus as he leaned forward to look around Larry. “Looks like someone put in a brand new door.”
“Imagine that,” said Larry as his father slowed the truck to a stop. Larry then turned to Dauphus and added. “I think I saw a gold cross on it,” he added as he opened the truck door.
“Missed that,” said Dauphus, “but look at the lamp in the window.”
“Don’t get spooked,” chuckled Shorty. “That’s old Elam’s place. That old black man must be at least a hundred years old. My father knew him when I was a kid. I think his father was some kind of a preacher—Pentecostal I think.”
“Let’s get out if we’re gonna look,” suggested Dauphus as he looked toward the lightning flashes. “Looks like that storm’s getting closer.”
“Well,” said Shorty as he joined the others at the side of the road, “there’s the old walnut tree.”
Larry looked out across the freshly plowed field. About fifty yards away stood a tree that looked like it was older than time itself. Mother Nature had not touched it—not a limb was missing.
Larry then heard Dauphus chuckling. As he turned toward his neighbor, the Swede said, “If they’re any spooks in this area, they’re probably living in that old walnut.”
“Thanks a lot,” mumbled Larry as the lightning lit up the field again.
“I see him,” said Shorty as he pointed toward the tree. “I think he’s digging for something.”
“Digging?” echoed Larry.
“Come on,” added Shorty as he stepped across the little drainage ditch. “If that storm gets here before we get Hugger out from under that tree, we’ll be covered in mud before we get to the truck.”
“He’s barking a warning,” said Larry as he and Dauphus followed Shorty into the field.
“Warning? What do ya’ mean?” asked Dauphus.
“It’s like he sees something we don’t—like a burglar.”
“I can see him now,” exclaimed Dauphus, “and he’s still digging.”
“Leave him be!” shouted an unfamiliar voice from behind them.
They all stopped and looked back toward the road. A dim, yellowish glow seemed to be floating down the road toward the truck. As it got closer, they could make out an old man with a cane, hobbling as fast as he was able.
“Oh Lord,” said Shorty with a bit of a smile. “You’d best let me handle this. He’s about half a bubble off plumb.”
Shorty quickly stepped around the others and picked his way across the dirt clods toward the old fellow.
Dauphus then nudged Larry with his elbow. “Do you know anything about that old man?” he asked.
“I know no one has ever lived with him since his wife died back in the sixties. They say he watches a haunt.”
“A haunt?” echoed Dauphus.
“Yes,” answered Larry. As they started plodding across the field to join his father, he added, “It’s a place where something stays or comes to pretty often.”
“Shhh,” hissed Shorty as Larry and Dauphus approached. “I think he said something.” He then turned toward the old man as he walked up. “Pardon me, Mr. Jones,” said Shorty, “but I didn’t catch that.”
The old fellow walked up within five feet of them, held the oil lantern as high as he was able, and then said, “Dat’s my name,” He then looked closely at Shorty and then added, “You one dem Cullum boys ain’t ya?”
“Yes sir, I am? This young fellow beside me is my son, Larry and the older one is-”
“Armstrong?” said Elam weakly. Then, as he moved the lantern closer to Dauphus, a smile began to form on the old fellows face. “Bless my soul,” he said. Then, as tears welled up in his eyes, he added, “Your pappy was preacher, weren’t he?”
“Yes sir. He was a Methodist.”
“Finally, I get to rest,” said Elam as he wiped the tears from his eyes with his shirtsleeve. He then turned and looked toward the old tree and said, “Dis not Doc Hall’s land. Wouldn’t sell it to ‘em, but he works it anyways and gives me a little money to boot. My pappy was a preacher too,” he added as he continued looking at the old tree. “His church burnt some time ago. It used to be right across the street from my house, but yawl white boys never came did you?”
Larry leaned close to Dauphus and whispered, “It burned in nineteen and sixty five.”
“No sir. Not that I remember,” answered Shorty.
“Den ya’ll don’t know,” he replied as the lightning flashed and lit up the old tree, but only for a moment. It seemed to bring a smile to Elam’s face. “Dey don’t always come in every storm you know. But, when dey do come, it always be stormin’. He jus’ waits for ‘em you know. Always waits for ‘em; been doin’ it since Genesis, probably.”
“They?” asked Dauphus. “Who waits for what? Who are you talking about, and what do you mean by ‘you’ll finally get some rest?’”
Elam then turned from them, worked his way across the shallow drainage ditch, and then looked back at them. “I know you come for your hound, but he got more than jus’ a little treed. Jus’ like you Dauphus Armstrong,” he added as he pointed a crooked finger at the young man. “He got a callin’ too, and I think it was to bring you.”
“What’s he talking about?” asked Dauphus.
“I don’t know, but all this is starting to spook me,” replied Larry as they started to follow the old man toward the tree and the still-digging Hugger.”
“We just come for the dog,” said Shorty as they neared the tree, “go get him Larry.”
“No!” exclaimed Elam, making Larry freeze in his tracks.
The old man’s tone was much more than insistent. It sounded like a warning.
“He’ll put up with de animal,” continued Elam, “but you might not be so lucky.”
“He?” whispered Larry as he glanced back at his father.
Shorty shrugged his shoulders and said not a word.
“Here Hugger, here Hugger,” called Dauphus as he bent down and clapped his hands together.
Hugger looked toward them, back up in the tree, and then proceeded to dig and growl at the same time.
“Did I mention spooked?” reminded Larry.
“Stop it!” shouted Elam as he slammed the foot of his cane down in the dirt.
The hound immediately jumped to one side as if a stone had hit him.
“Come here Hugger,” called Larry as he patted his thigh.
The hound immediately ran to Larry’s side, but eyed Elam as if he was afraid to get closer.
“Put de animal up, Sir,” said Elam, “and don’t hunt dis side of de road any more, especially when it storms.”
“Yes sir,” answered Larry. “We’ll keep that in mind.”
“Come,” added Shorty as he turned toward the truck. “Let’s get out of this field before the storm breaks.”
As a reminder of the storm flashed again, Larry put Hugger into the box with the other dogs. When he shut the door, he noticed Dauphus, leaning on the open truck door, staring back toward the old tree.
“Is this place rubbing off on you?” said Larry as he walked up by Dauphus. “What’s got your attention?”
“Devidian!” exclaimed Elam as he struggled up the near side of the drainage ditch. “Devidian be his name, at least dat’s what my father, Elijah, called him. Not many see him but me and--”
“Thank you,” interrupted Larry loudly as he all but shoved the big Swede into the truck. “We’ll remember what you said,” he added as he climbed in behind Dauphus and shut the door.
“He’s dizzier than a wing-shot mallard,” said Shorty.
“Not so sure,” said Dauphus as he leaned forward for another look at the old tree. “I think I got a glimpse of what had Hugger’s attention.”
“Was it a ghost?” Shorty quipped as he fumbled with the keys. The smile on his face irritated Dauphus a bit.
“It looked like some kind of bird,” explained Dauphus. “The biggest, blackest bird I’ve ever seen.”
“Turkey?” guessed Larry. “Hugger might bark tree at one of them.”
“Bigger,” replied Dauphus, “and the sharp bend of the wings were held up strangely above its head.” He then turned and looked at Shorty, who was still holding the keys and added, “He was sitting on a limb no larger than a child’s arm.”
“Devidian!” exclaimed old Elam as he hobbled closer to the passenger side door.
“Start this thing,” said Larry as he hurriedly rolled up the window.
As the starter turned the engine over and over, Elam hobbled up and tapped on the window. “You saw him for a reason, Dauphus Armstrong. He has a plan for your life, Sir, jus’ like me.”
“Finally,” sighed Dauphus as the engine started.
“You’ll be back Mr. Armstrong, Sir! You’ll be back!” shouted Elam as the truck pulled back onto the road.
As the lightning flashed once again, big drops of rain started to splatter upon the windshield. Dauphus turned for another look at the old, black man as the old Dodge rolled away. He was still standing on the side of the road, holding the lantern high.
“Turn around, Dauphus,” complained Larry. “Your knee is killing my thigh.”
“He’s just an old man,” said Shorty. “Don’t let him spook you.”
“Yes . . . but I’ve never seen him before tonight, Mr. Cullum,” said Dauphus as he turned from the rearview window. “How did he know my name?”
“I’m working on that one right now,” answered Shorty.
“He only knew of you,” guessed Larry. “You do favor your father. He was only guessing.”
“But, what was Hugger trying to dig up?” asked Dauphus.
“Don’t know,” answered Larry as he also looked back toward the old tree.
“One riddle at a time, boys,” chuckled Shorty. “We’ll think on this tomorrow. Perhaps the storm will be passed by then.” Shorty then glanced at Dauphus and added, “You can move your things into the spare room tonight. That’ll do until we get a new roof on the guesthouse. If you’re determined to rent it, we’ll fix it up a bit also.”
The next morning, Larry was up early and sitting on the back porch with his cup of coffee. As his mother, Dorothy, cooked breakfast in the kitchen, he listened to the hounds playing in their pens. After a minute or two Larry stood up, stepped to the front of the porch, and then scratched his head.
“Something wrong?” asked Dorothy from the window, noting the worried expression on his face.
“Not really sure,” answered Larry. “I don’t hear Hugger, and he’s usually the loudest. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he’s there at all,” he added as he stepped from the porch and walked briskly toward the end of the yard where the pens were located. “Ah nuts!” he complained, noticing that Hugger’s pen door was ajar. “Hugger! Hugger!” he shouted as he neared the pen, but there was no movement from anywhere inside.
Larry then turned and trotted toward the house. As he neared the porch, Dauphus stepped out sipping his morning cup of Joe.
“Hugger’s gone,” said Larry, “and there’s only one place that would be on his mind right now—old Elam’s black walnut tree.”
Dauphus rolled his eyes, looked at Dorothy through the screen window, and then replied, “We’re not going back there are we? That old man told us to stay away from that place.”
“Not really,” corrected Larry. “He told us not to hunt there. Besides, that’s my dog and I’m going to get him with or without old Elam’s consent. Now come on. You gave me that hound and he’s the last living redbone from your father’s line.”
“Good grief,” grumbled Dauphus as he gulped his coffee and headed for Larry’s black, Ford Ranger.
In little time, the powerful V-8 was rolling toward Black Bottom Ridge and the grade that would take them down to Elam’s shack.
“He said I’d be back,” grumbled Dauphus, “and here I am—led by a dog just like he predicted.” He then turned to Larry and added, “Why don’t we give Hugger a little time. He’s never stayed lost for too long anyway.”
“Nothing doing,” said Larry as the Ford raced around the ridge and headed for the grade and Dock Hall’s land.
“Well, at least it didn’t rain much,” noted Dauphus, “and it’s clear as a bell.”
“And cold too,” said Larry as they rolled down the grade toward the old house and walnut tree.
Larry slowed the Ranger as it flew past the house and then slid up right across from the old tree. He then leaned forward and looked around Dauphus toward the haggard-looking walnut.
“There he is,” noted Dauphus, “and he’s not digging.”
“Yes,” agreed Larry, “and judging by that pile of dirt, I believe he’s finished. Let’s go and see what he’s found.”
Dauphus reluctantly got out of the truck, rolled his pants legs up, and then followed his best friend toward the tree in question.
The hound never tried to move as they walked toward him, nor did he even acknowledge their presence when they drew near. Something way up in the middle of the old tree had his undivided attention.
“What are you looking for?” asked Larry, noting that Dauphus was looking at the tree’s limbs also.
“Wait a minute,” said Dauphus. “Something just isn’t fitting the puzzle here.” Dauphus then looked toward old Elam’s house. “He had to hear you come up, and he’s not even on the porch. And look at this,” added Dauphus as he walked just under the tree and kicked at the dirt. “My boots are muddy from the field just behind me and this spot under the tree is bone try.” He then knelt, felt of the ground, and then added, “The ground is strangely warm here.”
“Just another part of the puzzle I guess,” said Larry as he walked closer to his hound. “Hey, boy,” he said as the two approached. “What have you found?”
“I don’t see a thing in that tree,” said Larry. He then knelt down and examined the hound’s bloody forepaws. “Lord Almighty,” he responded just above a whisper. “What in the world has snagged your attention so badly that it would lead you to do something like this?” Larry then looked at the five foot wide and two-foot deep hole Hugger had dug and then quickly stood up. “Get your mind off that old man, Dauphus, and come look at this,” he said with a hint of disbelief.
“Good grief,” said Dauphus as he stepped up by Larry. “It’s some kind of heavily engraved piece of copper-colored metal.”
“It’s not a piece,” noted Larry as he stepped down into the hole. Then, as he moved the dirt about at the edges of Hugger’s hole, he said, “I don’t see an edge. This thing is one, big piece of metal. I think it’s bronze, and heavily engraved,” added Larry as he knelt down and brushed at a strange winged being that looked as if he were blowing a long trumpet. “Go get the army shovel, Dauphus, this thing’s got writing on it in English.”
“What does it say?”
Larry brushed the dirt as best he could from the first three words and read--Through these gates... “That’s it. Go and get the shovel. It’s behind the seat and . . .”
Larry’s voice trailed off as everything suddenly went strangely dark, as if midnight had suddenly fallen upon them.
“What the Devil is happening?” asked Dauphus weakly as he stepped closer to the hole.
“Not a clue,” answered Larry as he then looked at Hugger, who had just uttered a low, guttural bark and then sat up.
“Ohhh God,” said Dauphus. “Hugger has seen something in that tree and now we can hardly see the limbs.
Just then, the old tree limbs began to move and rake against one another as the sound of a huge set of wings left the tree.
“Hear that?” asked Dauphus as he jumped into the hole, ending up next to Larry. “It’s circling right above us. Look at your dog.”
“It is, isn’t it?” agreed Larry as he watched Hugger follow the curious sound above them.
Then, the sound stopped suddenly as Hugger’s gaze froze on something between them and the trunk of the old tree.
“Can you see it?” asked Dauphus weakly.
“Shhh,” hissed Larry. “My gun is in the truck. I don’t even have a pocketknife.”
“Worry is but a human trait,” said someone who sounded as if he was right at the top of the hole they were standing in.
“Who are you?” asked Larry just above a whisper.
The voice then came again, “Through countless years I have been mute through this seemingly endless dilemma; yet, here before me stands yet another.”
The voice was that of man--tired, but sounding somewhat relieved nonetheless.
Larry grabbed Dauphus by the arm and whispered, “Who is he talking to?”
“How do I know,” replied Dauphus as he gripped the back of Larry’s arm. “I can hardly see you.”
“May we ask who you are?” asked Larry.
The strength in his question was barely enough to be heard only a few feet away.
“I am one in a line of many. One who tells you that the end of darkness draws near.”
“Show yourself,” said Dauphus, “and bring back the light.”
“I dare not,” responded the voice strongly. “I am not comely. My countenance will cause you to quake. In your world, I am depicted as fair and beautiful . . . . Hear my words,” he continued softly. “When my Master comes, Night and those who find comfort in him will soon lose their protector. The light that proceeds from the Master will rip that dark veil asunder and end evil along with its father.”
“You are the one Old Elam spoke of,” said Dauphus.
“I am Devidian. I watch the West Gate,” exclaimed the voice loudly.
As he stepped a little closer to them, the area around him brightened, but just enough to define his features a bit more than just a silhouette in the darkness. Cole-black hair he had, not unkempt, but with many curly tufts that pointed all about. Eyes of ice—ones that reflected light as it would be reflected off of chrome. His ears were pointed and curved upward into his hair. His nose, although not pointed or hooked, was still thin and long.
Larry sat down hard on the edge of the hole and noted the sharp bend in the being’s wings, which was now three feet above Devidian’s head. He then noticed the pearly-white teeth in the ‘I told you so’ grin on the being’s face. He was looking straight at Dauphus. Strangely enough, Hugger had moved and was now sitting at Devidian’s right side.
“Have you already forgotten your father’s ways?” asked the angel.
“No . . . No Sir,” answered Dauphus as he knelt a bit closer to where Larry was now sitting and then added, “We still attend church.”
“Your father, Johansson as he was called, was a good man. He believed in the place whereupon you are now standing.”
With that, the ground began to shake, roll like a lake, and shift. It was so violent that Larry and Dauphus fell beside one another and pleaded for it to end. When the quake finally ceased, the floor beneath them began to glow and turn strangely warm.
Larry and Dauphus scrambled to their feet, climbed quickly out of the now much larger hole, and then looked back at Devidian.
“He’s an angel,” whispered Dauphus weakly as Larry helped him to his feet.
“Dauphus Armstrong,” spoke Devidian softly, “look upon this gate, and read what you see.”
Noting that Dauphus could hardly take his eyes from the angel, let alone say anything, Larry looked down at the glowing floor of Hugger’s hole. Two huge doors fashioned as an arc as they met. Each of the glowing, brass doors was twelve feet wide and ten feet tall where they touched. Figures depicting angels and cherubs were carved upon its edges--the larger holding swords, and the smaller ones, trumpets and scrolls. All faces were turned toward the writing across the middle of the doors.
Larry stepped closer to the edge of the hole and read, “Through these gates, all hope is lost.” Before he could say another word, or look up, he noticed the angel’s feet. He wore a dark, burgundy robe that reached almost to the ground, but his feet were plainly visible nonetheless. His feet were as dark as his arms, with almost an olive tone. His toenails were hard-looking, brown and curved like the talons of a predator.
“Dauphus Armstrong!” exclaimed the angel loudly, sending Larry right back to his friend’s side. “The time of my Master approaches. Your seed and the seed of all mankind will soon be cut off. Elam Jones is at the end of his days and has kept the curious from this place, as did all the guardians before him. I do much the same for Satan’s remnant from time to time. Behind those doors are the rest of his legions put there after the first Great War.”
Dauphus wiped the sweat from his brow and said weakly, “What have I to do with you?”
“Stay with old Elam for his time is near. When his health fails, comfort him. He has been my servant for almost thirty years. He will teach you what to do and how to do it. Fear not, neither for your safety, nor for your wellbeing, for Elam will also make known to you the one who has taken care of him. In less than two years, another much like me will come. His name is Adrian. He will have the keys to this gate. Care for him as you would any other Christian.”
Devidian then backed slowly away from the two. His ice-colored eyes reflected the glowing gates giving him an eerie and unsettling look as he faded into the darkness.
“Come out, Dauphus Armstrong, and bring your friend with you,” called Elam from somewhere behind them.
Then, as quick as a cat’s sneeze, the morning’s light returned like a silent explosion. Both, Larry and Dauphus stood there shielding their eyes from the light of day as they looked for the old black man.
“It’s gone,” said Dauphus as he looked all about the area where they stood. “There’s not a sign of even Hugger’s hole. It’s like it was all a dream.”
“Hugger’s still here,” noted Larry. “He looks as if nothing has ever happened.”
“No dream,” said old Elam. “Things dat happen here are never imagined, and never left to your own interpretation.” Elam then looked at Hugger and said, “Go and wait at de truck.”
The hound stood, sniffed where he had located the doors, and then raised his head and looked at the old man.
“Go on, I said,” repeated Elam loudly.
Hugger then bounded off across the field toward the truck.
“He won’t do that for me,” mumbled Larry as he followed the hound a bit and then looked back at Elam.
The old fellow just stood there and grinned at the young men for a moment or two. Then he finally said, “Not many souls blessed to see an angel afore they die.” He then looked straight at Larry and added, “He make a believer out o’ you?”
“You bet,” was all that Larry could muster up.
Elam then pointed his walking stick right at Dauphus and said, “How ‘bout you?”
“You were right,” agreed Dauphus weakly. “I was lead back here by a dog. Now, I’m looking to you for answers. What now?”
Elam then looked at Larry and said, “You can go with your animal.”
“Please, sir,” asked Larry, “let me hear what you have to say.”
Elam then looked at Dauphus.
“He’s honest. I’ll swear to that,” assured Dauphus.
“Very well den,” said Elam as he again glanced at Larry, “but what is said here, stays here.”
“Yes sir,” responded Larry quickly.
“No sense in me explainin’ Devidian. I know he did that himself. There’s a young, blue-eyed girl, ‘bout eighteen I’d say, who brings me food and things I need,” said Elam as he stepped a bit closer. “Mind you, she’s no white girl. Her hair’s de color of corn silk and she talks a bit funny. It’s a dialect I haven’t been able to place. When my time comes, she’ll fetch you.”
“Devidian said to stay with you, Elam,” explained Dauphus.
Elam stopped, looked back at the old walnut tree, and then to Dauphus. As his eyes welled up with tears, he tried to speak again. “It’s true den,” he barely managed. “When last she came, she said my reward was near. Guess I misjudged her meaning.”
Elam then turned and started slowly picking his way back across the plowed ground toward the road.
“Sir,” said Dauphus as he caught up with the old man,” I feel awful funny about crowding in on anyone, especially a perfect stranger.”
Elam then stopped dead still and turned to look at Dauphus. “You do as Devidian said. I’ll show you de ropes, and I’ll introduce you to Dana. She’s de one takes care of me . . . and now you.” As he turned and continued toward the road he added, “Got a radio, but no television. Don’t need one. Things never dull around here especially when de storm clouds gather above dat old tree. De ground shakes ‘neath de old shack’s blocks somethin’ fearful, but de old house, she don’t move at all.”
Larry put his hand on Denis’ back and said, “I’ll help you fix up the old place a bit.”
“No need,” responded Elam. “If you did dat, it would look out of place. Besides, my old house looks lots better on de inside,” he added as he started laughing. “It be dry when it rains, cool in de Summer, warm in de Winter, and interesting as Hell itself,” he added, laughing out loud as he did so. “Jus’ like dat angel you jus’ seen—un-measurably awful on de outside and solid gold where it counts.”