Spirit in the Sky

We don’t get’m as often as some other counties, but I don’t care what they say – come late spring, it gets bad, even out here in the Panhandle. Yeah, we get ‘em too, but older folks say they’re different from what they used to be, say they got some sorta divine purpose now, or somethin’. Some say they’re searchin’ for somethin’ or someone . . . kooky old fools. I think they started sayin’ all this jes’ after The Visitations, but I was only an infant when those were happenin’ and I’m still not even sure I believe the stories.

A twister took him one day in May. The sky was dark and full of dust and hatred, and he was out there in the afternoon takin’ a walk through the field like he likes to do, even though he’d always come home with ticks galore, and he was wearin’ his headphones – he was always listenin’ to the strangest music – and he was well out of earshot from the house and we couldn’ even see where he was, and he must not’ve heard it comin’ – it came outta nowhere – but he shoulda come home seein’ as the sky was fixin’ for a storm – but he always did like walkin’ ‘neath those stormy skies jes’ before it started to pour.

When we saw the first wisp of that twister through the kitchen window right above the sink, Uncle Jim and I ran out and called for’im ‘cause he didn’ave a cell. We shouted ‘til our voices became hoarse, and ran all ‘round lookin’ for‘im ‘til we had to retreat reluctantly to the basement to escape the approachin’ twister. It never got to the house, but it must’a got to Tommy. Uncle Jim and I jes’ sat huddled in the dark basement where the only light was the murky sky’s darkness comin’ in through a tiny window near the ceilin’, and he had this look on his face like the twister was rippin’ somethin’ out of’m, somethin’ dear. I think I musta looked the same, ‘cause I felt like there was a parta me fallin’ down a well and I’d never see it again, and Uncle Jim’s horrified eyes looked into mine and clutched me tight and that’s when my chest tightened up and my breathin’ got real heavy and fast like a dog in the heat, and I started sobbin’ uncontrollably into his shoulder. I’d never felt a hell more real, and I still shudder when I think about that eternal moment of gut-wrenchin’ agony.

We thought we’d never see ‘im again, but he turned up about a year later.

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The day was hot, but the air was dry and there was a constant wind which kept the wind chimes chimin’ and the tall grass a’swishin’. Sudden gusts’d blow the grass down in waves – alternatin’ patterns of light-green and dark-green stripes a’sweepin’ through the field.

We were sittin’ on the porch when he miraculously approached barefoot and forlorn down the dirt road toward our house. His clothes were torn and ragged. Jumpin’ out of the porch swing, I threw down my banjo and it hit the swing with a violent clang, and I ran to him in awestruck disbelief. I yelled his name and my voice broke up. Uncle Jim stood up from his rockin’ chair and put his hands on his hips and squinted his eyes at the boy. I don’t think he realized that his mouth hung ajar. Embracin’ Tommy, I found that he stood limp-armed, and when I let go and took a step back, I saw a disenchantment in his dirt-smudged face.

We escorted him up the porch steps and into the house. With my hand supportively on his shoulder, I think I felt a faint jitter run through his bones as he heard the familiar sound of the screen door slammin’ shut.

Once inside, he looked ‘round the house with his head turnin’ slowly, lookin’ like he recognized the floral wallpaper and Ma’s ceramic trinkets but jes’ couldn’t recall what place it all had in his past.

“I’ll get’m cleaned up, I s’pose,” Uncle Jim began. “Git started on supper, will ya?”

I’d prepared some chicken and potatoes in the clunky old Vitaprinter we got from the state a while back, and set everything on the table just in time to see Tommy, all fresh-lookin’, follow Jim into the dinin’ room. He still bore that same dull look on his face as when he’d found us.

We were, all three of us, sat down eatin’ supper with the only sounds bein’ our silverware against the dishes and food gettin’ chewn up in our mouths. That is, until I heard a faint buzzin’ sound comin’ from somewhere, sounded as if it came from a distance, had a hollowness to it like it was tryin’ to be louder but jes’ couldn’t be any louder. It sounded like the buzzin’ that comes from the insects in the tall grass, only the sound was too unchangin’, too immaculate, and I waited a couple’a minutes before sayin’ somethin’, jes’ to be sure my ears weren’t ringin’ for whatever reason.

“You hear a buzzin’?” I asked Uncle Jim across the table.

He rolled his eyes diagonally upward and squinted a little, like he was tryin’ to gather the capacity to listen more carefully. With our supper noises now stopped, the buzzin’ became even more apparent, and Uncle Jim looked at me and said, “Yeah, I hear that.” He raised his head and peeked over mine and out the window above the sink. He slowly rose from his chair and walked around the table behind me to get a good look at whatever it was he was lookin’ for – the source of the buzzin’, I reckon. He stood real still behind me for a good minute before I turned ‘round in my chair and looked up at the back of his head, which had a tangerine glow about it as was cast by the set’n sun, and the delicate buzzin’ continued.

Uncle Jim said, “Your brother hasn’t made a peep yet,” and he didn’t for the rest of the night.

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