Hudson asked me to put down on paper my story. I don't think he likes me to call him by his middle name, but if can call me "Jewels" by damn I can call him Hudson.
I was born in Kansas City 1950. I was half of a set of twins, but my sister didn't make it. She died an hour after birth. We were born in the seat of my daddy's Studebaker in the parking lot of City Hospital No. 2, the city's only black hospital. By the time he got her there she was already well into her labors. He could have tried to take her to one of the white hospitals but he didn't want me born in a basement or a filthy segregated ward. It was easier to just tend my momma right there than to take her in.
Tuberculosis was spreading like fire amongst the blacks at the time so it was probably just as well, my momma didn't make it into the hospital. Even so, she died a few weeks later. My daddy never did know what killed her, probably an infection though. He was fired from his job at Tension Envelope for missing too many days. His boss didn't care what the reason was. At that point there was nothin left for him in KC. He loaded me and his few meager possessions up in his Studebaker and headed down south. His daddy had a farm just outside of Kingsville and was always needin a hand. There weren't that many colored folk in Kingsville at that time, still ain't really, and white folks didn't like takin orders from a black man. My aunt had a baby girl she was still nursing so it would all work out.
My daddy and grandaddy did not get along too well. It was a good thing my aunt was there to keep the peace otherwise those two would've killed one another. When I was 16 I lied about my age and joined the army. That was in 66. They needed warm bodies in Vietnam and I did not get the impression that the recruiter cared whether or not this skinny colored boy got his ass blowed off and no one actually checked to see if I was old enough to sign up. I was out 18 months later on emergency medical discharge. I stepped on a makeshift landmine and it took my leg off just below the knee. Better than bein sent home in a box I guess.
I adapted to the wooden leg easily enough. Amazing what you can get used to when you got no choice. My Grandaddy passed away while I was gone so things was quieter when I got home. I had a hard time gettin my benefits and never really got the full compensation I should have. My daddy didn't want me to have to work the farm with a bad leg so he called in a favor from a man in town. Tom Martin owned Martin Trucking and my father had pulled his ass out of his first truck when it overturned just down the road from our farm. Insurance paid for the truck but if it weren't for my daddy. Tom wouldn't have lived to collect. It took me a while to figure out how to drive with the wooden leg, but it can be done. Lucky for me it was my right leg that was gone. Can't work the brake and the clutch with a wooden foot. But with practice I was able to work the gas just fine. And later as I proved to be reliable Tom had a hand operated accelerator installed on the steering wheel that his boy designed. So I drove his trucks delivering produce to the surrounding towns for the next few years. But Martin Trucking got bought out in 73 and the new owners hired their own drivers.
I went back to work on the farm. The newest piece of equipment my daddy owned was a 47 Farmall A model tractor. A strange looking beast, the engine was offset 9 inches to the left and the seat 9 inches to the right. It had been sitting for months when I decided to get her up and running. I found I had a talent for fixing up these old beasts and before I knew it people from all over the county were either bringing the busted tractors to me or driving me out to fix them.
I guess that is something me an Hudson have in common. But I never really worked much on cars, especially not these newer pieces of crap comin out of Korea and China. Of course I don't think much of anything is comin out of those places these days.
One day I was working on a Ford 641 Workmaster diesel tractor. Replacing the water pump. The owner was standing there handing me tools as I worked. I had a tendency to develop a case of tunnel vision while working. I will focus to hard on what I'm doin that I just loose track of everything around me. Of a sudden I noticed that the hand passing me the wrench I needed was not the calloused hand of the farmer I was fixin the tractor for. It was a smooth and delicate hand with skin the color of fine milk chocolate. My eyes followed up the arm, to her shoulder and finally her face. Her eyes were so dark they were almost black and they glittered with mischief. I was really too stunned with her beauty to talk. I was never a smooth talker with the ladies anyway. Wordlessly I took the wrench. I was always sure and confident when I was working. But that afternoon I must have busted my knuckles half a dozen times. Each time she just helped me pick up my dropped tools, smiling. She didn't tease or laugh. I eventually got the tractor running but it took a lot longer than is should have. I kept expecting Mr. Beckett to come out and cuss me for takin so long, but the only time I saw him was when I finally fired up the diesel. He came out to see it running. He paid me in cash without complaint. He glanced sharply at his daughter once just as she headed into the house. As he watched me go the expression on his face reminded me of when my Grandaddy had to sell his favor hunting dog. It took me a long time to figure out what it meant. And by that time I was walking my own little girl down the aisle to meet her groom.
That Ford tractor for some reason developed chronic problems over that summer. I was out to the Beckett place sometimes twice a week. Each time Nancy was there to help me. It was weeks though before I worked up the nerve to ask her out. We were married exactly one year after she tapped her daddy's shoulder and sent him into the house. That was 1977. We had four children. Our first boy Matthew died in a car accident in 94 by a damned drunk driver. He was just 16. My second boy Mark was killed in Iraq. My youngest son Luke works with computers. I don't even pretend to understand when he tells me what he does all day. My daughter Mary is a single mother. Her husband left her two days after she told him she was expectin. But she toughed it out up there in KC on her own. She worked full time while going to nursing school. She never took welfare or WIC or any state aid. The church she attended regular sometimes helped her out with food, diapers and cloths for a fast growing boy, and they helped her with daycare. But she gave back to the church whenever she could and when she got her RN certificate she was always helpin someone at that church. Some of it may have exceeded what she had legal ability to do, but nobody was ever hurt from it and it was the right thing to do, law be damned. Some of those people hadn't seen a doctor in years.
Nancy died two years and three months ago. She started forgetting things and she joked about it, saying she was just gettin senile. Then one day she couldn't remember her own name. An MRI showed several tumors in her brain. She had good days and bad days, but soon the bad days outnumbered the good days. And one day while I was sitting there beside her she just looked at me with those glittering black eyes and smiled. And it was her last day.
Back in April, I was sittin at the counter of a local diner having lunch, passin the time with some old friends in town when it happened. My arthritis pills were making me a bit fuzzy. I don't like takin them for that reason, but my hands was hurtin so bad that morning. I was lookin down at my soup, trying to figure out why my chicken noodle soup didn't seem to have any chicken in it, when it sounded like everyone threw down their spoons at once. The clattering spoons and dishes was accompanied by a sudden silence. A car whizzed by outside and plowed into a phone pole. A car that had been pulling out of the diner's gravel parking lot slowly idled across the street into a parked car. All the seats and booths were not occupied by little piles of laundry. I felt real uncomfortable looking at those clothes. Felt like I was invadin their privacy.
Since, well shit, I don't even know what to call it happened, I have gone up to KC to check on My daughter and grandson. I found an empty apartment. From there I checked the church daycare center where Jacob would have been. I found several sets of children's clothes from infants and toddlers up to elementary school age. None of them had names in the waistband. Back when I was a child, it was common for parents to mark clothes with the kid's name. I did find a KC Royals ballcap like the one I had bought for him at a game last year. I didn't want to believe though. At the hospital where Leanne worked I searched for hours before finding a pile of cloths with her ID badge. A tiny little picture on the badge smiled up at me. A smile I fear I will never see again. I still have the ballcap and the badge.
I'm afraid I broke down a bit at the hospital. One by one everyone I've ever cared for has been taken from me. Despite everything, I never cursed God before. But I did that night. And I fear that he heard me. Something was sniffing around the hospital that night. I though it was just my mind playin tricks on me. But I felt uneasy in the hospital so I left. Spent the night at a hotel nearby. I forgot the name. It was well away from the fires.
It was not till my third night in the city that I encountered one of things Hudson calls Wraiths. I jokingly called them bodachs, but that does not really fit them. These are very real, and very solid creatures. I came across it that night while coming back from my gathering supplies. The lights had gone out by this time so I was carrying a flashlight. But no weapons. It was hunched over the body of a dog. It used a long claw to open its belly, then its mouth closed over the incision and it just seemed to suck the insides out of the animal. I just stood there afraid to even move, till it looked at me. I just happened to be standing next to a delivery van and climbed into it as fast as I could. I don't move too fast these days. I slammed the sliding door shut behind me just as it hit the van. The thing sure had some bulk to it, that's for sure. The door was dented in about 6 inches and the van was rocked as if it had been hit by a damned cannonball. The van was all aluminum really little more than a pop can with wheels. It would not take much for that beast to hammer its way through. The keys was still danglin from the ignition so I started it up and took off. I didn't know doors was open in back till the thing was almost in the front seat with me. I fastened my seatbelt and aimed the van for building. I got jerked around pretty good but the seatbelt held. The bodach or wraith or whatever you want to call it did not fare so well. A large cable reel had come loose in back and crushed it against the door frame between the cab and the box. But it was still trying to claw at me. It was weaker than a new kitten at that point, but not as innocent. I got out and limped away as fast as I could. There was hootin and hollerin all round now, but I did not see anything. I got in the first car I could find that still had keys and didn't stop driving till I got back to Kingsville. I seen some strange tracks that Hudson confirmed was theirs, but ain't seen any more up close and personal. Don't want to neither.
I guess I gone on long enough. My hands is gettin to hurt from all this writing. Never really learned to type so Hudson is going to have to type this up if he wants people be able to read it.
© 2009 R. Keith McBride