Just a little bit from The Spirit that I thought I'd share. I'm writing, I promise. But, these two are going to drive me to drink first.
“Jesus Christ, Annie, tell me you ain’t serious!” Shep was pacing the little sitting room of the cabin, red-faced and crowing like a rooster that got shut out of the hen house. His raging didn’t slow Annie down any though, her body working a fast as her mind as she sped around the room, cupboard doors slamming and bottles rattling as she gathered her supplies up in her arms. The spirits that had followed them back through the woods were agitated, flickering in and out of her senses and fluttering around the cabin in wordless alarm.
“That makes eight times you took the Lord’s name in vain, Shep,” she answered without breaking stride in her frantic harvest. It was here, somewhere, and she didn’t have time to calm hysterical ghosts or hold Shep’s hand while he not so quietly pitched a hissy fit about the company she did or did not keep. She wasn’t keeping anyone’s company. She was saving McAllen from something so much worse than whatever punishment Shep was convinced was waiting in the hereafter for her immortal soul.
Annie didn’t need her soul. She needed a little help and longer arms as she swept her hands under the dresser and over her momma’s hutch, her fingers coming up with nothing but cobwebs and dust. She really should get around to cleaning the place one day but, that would have to wait and see if the cabin was even still standing when they got back from - wherever it was they were going.
“Then you’d best mark me down for nine. You made a deal with a goddamned savage! A heathen that don’t want nothin’ but you in his bed and you’re just gonna jump right in the sack ‘cause he says he can keep these folks from freezin’ to death?! Use some sense for Chrissakes, Annie!” Shep’s fist came down on the little table next to the rocker, the wood splintering under the impact and shuddering aftershocks across the floorboards, curling one odd board up where it joined another in a slip that she was sure her daddy would never have missed. The spirits circling the room churned into a flurry like embers scattering on the wind and it felt less like they were trying to gain her attention than they were trying to divert it. She was being led and she paused the inner chaos of her thoughts to try and listen. Only Shep was still spewing his arguments and making it difficult to concentrate in the whispered syllables and mournful bits of song that was the ghosts’ way of speaking to her.
“Wes ain’t just some red savage, Shep! I tole’ you! He’s the Great Spirit, as much god to them as the saviour is to you and I! He’s got the power to get us all out before the storm hits. I’d have made a deal with the Devil himself if it would save this town so don’t you start lecturing me on right and wrong.” Annie didn’t break stride in her mission, dropping to her knees on the creaking floor and hooking her fingernails into the seam where the slightly off-colored board met another. “Now you can either shush and let me hear what the spirits are tryin’ to tell me or you can get back to the church and start gettin’ those folks ready to head into the holler.”
The spirits had gotten their point across though, coordinated in their quiet melody as she curled the tips of her fingers to the end of the board for a better grip. A little tug and the already loose nails pulled free, the plank warping up to reveal a hollow place beneath. “Thank you,” Her thanks was for the ghosts crackling around her and Annie's lips curved up in victory as she reached into the gap beneath the floor, pulling a small, dusty box from out of the hiding place and sitting back to brush the years from its worn lid. “You’re wrong about something else, too. I ain’t jumpin’ into nothin’.”
Not entirely. But, Annie couldn’t deny wanting to see him again, her blood heating in her veins as she flushed with the memory of how Wes had felt against her, pinning her to the tree as their power crashed around them. That wasn’t a force that had scared her, though. The force that captivated her. The force that was calling her back to the holler. To him. But, she wasn’t about to go unprepared, no matter how the spirit had affected her. He had affected her, that was undeniable and she was startled for just a moment to realize just how much.
“Wes? He’s Wes now? Annie what in the depths of merry hell-” Shep pretended to not notice that she was talking to someone he couldn’t see but, a shiver ran down his spine nonetheless, as he came around to where she sat on the floor. Annie could tell that he was gearing up for another round, holding the box in the flat of her palm and murmuring quickly under her breath.“If you think I’m gonna let you go out there and...Merciful Christ.” That last was breathed in quiet amazement, his steam dissipating as the box in Annie’s hand lifted into the air with a soft golden glow.
“That’s ten,” she answered calmly, her voice soft as if afraid of disturbing the thing in her hand. Her fingers waved and it seemed to float on a breeze, the rhythmic motion catching the attention of the spirits surrounding them and pulling them in to dance with it.
“That ain’t funny,” Shep gruffed, staunchly trying to stay his course of disgruntled argument.
“I ain’t laughin’.”
“Annie, what-?” Shep’s gaze was fixated on the little box where it hovered above Annie’s hand, spinning like a top, its glow casting amber shadows on the walls.
“It’s my caul. Momma saved it.” Her caul. The veil that had covered her eyes at birth, lifted by her mother’s own hands to show her the world beyond the world. It was the proof of her power, a well of magic that she’d promised to save until there was no other answer to be found and it was the answer she needed now. Maybe the only answer she could give Shep that wouldn't have him tearing the holler apart looking for a spirit he couldn't possibly take on just to save her virginity. Annie wasn’t entirely sure she wanted it anymore but, her momma had raised a witch, not a fool and no matter how loud Shep got, she wasn’t about to let him change her mind for something so insignificant as her innocence. “He has the power to save everyone in McAllen, Shep. But, don’t you go thinkin’ for a second that I’m so simple as to let him between my thighs without knowin' we're all safe. Wes is gonna’ help us. I’m gonna make sure of it.”
Shep crouched down beside her with a heavy sigh, understanding only that the caul was a source of power, the foundation of her magic and that whatever she was planning required its use had him twitchy, even more than knowing they were surrounded by ghosts did. “How are you so sure, Annie? They can’t be trusted.” His voice wavered on the last word and he hoped to God she was too distracted to notice when Kokumthena’s warning came back to him and stole a conviction he couldn’t honestly say he’d really had. Kicking the natives out of the woods had never sat right with him, or with some of the others, the indians' brutal eviction from the mountain leaving a trail of blood that no amount of prayer was ever going to wash from the forest. Maybe this was their penance and at the very least it was divine justice that he was now being asked to trust a people that McAllen had once tried to erase from the land with their very lives.
“Aint about trustin’ him. It’s about makin’ sure he don’t have a choice.” Annie’s crystal eyes found his, lit from within with the flare of her magic, fueled by the box she held. The spirits that had been hovering close murmured and Annie realized their numbers had grown, pulled toward the caul like moths to flame.
She sounded so sure and Shep wanted to believe her but, something told him that Annie wasn’t telling him everything she was thinking, if she was thinking at all. They will live...as long as Annie is not swayed from her path. He exhaled and it felt like all his fight left along with the air in his lungs. His eyes closed for a moment in a prayer for strength and for guidance but, the Lord was strangely silent this time. All Shep knew was that he had to protect his friend. Despite Kokumthena’s assurances, he had no reason to trust that she truly meant Annie no harm. But, if the old woman was telling the truth and there was a chance...just a chance to save the town, he owed it to the families there to try. Annie would feel no differently, no matter the risks. But, he’d be damned if he’d let her face this Great Spirit and the mystical old woman without him by her side. “Alright, Annie. But, if you’re set on doin’ this, you ain’t doin’ it alone.” On that, he was as unmoving as the mountain itself.
“Ain’t nothin’ that you’re going to be able to help me with, Shep. Not this time.” Annie closed her hand around the box, stopping it from its perpetual rotation. The glow softened until it disappeared, settling quietly in the palm of her hand.
The object of his fixation shut away, Shep’s brow creased, more than a little bothered. “Now you hold on just a goddamned minute.”
“ANNIE! Now you’re gonna slow down and listen to me or so help me, you’re gonna wish to Hell I did leave you to deal with this Wesho...Weshi…”
“Wes.” She corrected simply.
Shep grimaced but, it was barely a stutter in the steam he was building back up. “Oh, all right. Wes. I don’t care what you want to call him but, you ain’t facin’ him alone again. Now you say you mean to make sure he don’t have a choice about helping. You need to tell me what you’re plannin’, Annie.. You need to let me help.” Shep’s lips turned up in a diabolical smirk. “Or I could just make you tell me.”
“You wouldn’t.,” Annie glared up at him, instantly knowing where his threat was headed.
“I would,” he grinned back, realizing the instant that Annie had lost the upper hand and he’d gained it.
Annie realized it too and exhaled, grabbing her skirts up and pushing back to her feet with the box clutched to her chest. “You always were a brat, Shephard.”
“Ayuh. And you always were easy to bully, Anna.” Shep lumbered his way off the floor and stood looming over her, shaking out his coat and settling it back to rights on his shoulders as he straightened. “Now what’s in that connivin’ little head of yours?”
Annie couldn’t help but be relieved that Shep would be with her, and she had to admit she enjoyed watching the lines in his face darken. His cheeks began changing into all sorts of interesting shades of red as she laid out her plan for assuring Wes’s help in saving the people of McAllen from the coming snow. It had to work. The people were counting on her to keep them safe.. to keep them on the mountain, come rain, fire, snow...or the Great Spirit himself.
“You’ve lost your goddamned mind, Annie,” he exhaled when she finally finished speaking.